Bach and the Calov Bible

Author Lisa Nichols Hickman says in her book, “Writing in the Margins,” “[a] margin acts as a bridge from the text of [the Bible] to the context of this world. It is sacred space.” In 1830s Philadelphia, a stack of old books, including a Bible commentary, was purchased for a family library. When a friend of the family, a Lutheran pastor, opened the commentary by 17th-century theologian Abraham Calov on Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, he recognized a familiar signature: Johann Sebastian Bach. In the commentary were more than 300 markings and underlinings, and 25 marginal notes—noting biblical texts with musical insights. It came to be known as the Calov Bible—and was credited with the inspiration for more than a thousand of Bach’s musical works.

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