This past weekend, as I was beginning to practice my organ repertoire for this Reformation Sunday, I was reminded of a masterclass during my undergraduate years in which the instructor informed us of Luther’s statement about the organ:
“The organ in worship is the sign of Baal.”
Of course, most of us needed an explanation of who/what Baal is, and why this was such a terrible thing.
I encountered this Luther quote several more times during my education and career, and it always rankled, especially those times it was coupled with a follow-up:
“The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews.”
(Sad to say, the anti-Roman, anti-Semitic tone helped boost the quote’s credibility as coming from Luther.)
Moreover, the anti-organ quote seems to run 180 degrees counter to Luther’s generally positive view of music in general, and of using all human industry and skill in praise of God, not to mention his “what is not prohibited is permitted” approach. So, in my own kind of “tribute” to the 500th anniversary, I did a bit of digging.
It did not take long to learn that, like Augustine’s supposed quote “The one who sings [well] prays twice,” this quote is found in no primary Luther source. I found a rather succinct summary that debunks it.
My Bach partita in a few weeks will seem just a bit more exquisite!