Having begun today by writing for Examiner.com about yesterday's performance by the American Bach Soloists (ABS) of Johann Sebastian Bach's BWV 245, setting of the Passion based on the Gospel According to Saint John, I feel a need to riff a bit on why I pursue ABS concerts eagerly, particularly when their namesake is involved. It has nothing to do with whether or not the music has an "immortal" qualities or, for that matter, whether they count as "masterpieces." Rather, it has to do with the fact that such thoughts never occurred to Bach; and, because his only real focus was on those immediate tasks presented to him, he deserves to be remembered as the quintessential working musician.
Whether he was in the service of a nobleman whose Calvinist beliefs thought little of music being used at all in a religious service or whether he was worrying about having music ready for the next service at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, his number one priority was simply getting the job done to the satisfaction of him employer. If Bach gave any thought to posterity at all, it was to make sure that those who followed him received and mastered all the necessary pedagogical training for getting future jobs done with equal satisfaction. Any more "elevated" thoughts about Bach that would later emerge amount to trying to turn the man into a monument, a practice that is as inappropriate for the appreciation of Bach as it is for Ludwig van Beethoven (about whom I have advanced similar arguments).
If those who are exposed to Bach in the course of a religious service feel that their sense of faith has been enhanced by his music, then so much the better. That means that Bach is as good at doing his job today as he was when he was alive. What is important is that thinking of him as a "man at work" does not diminish the impact of his legacy. It only provides us with a more realistic view that we would do well to direct towards those making music today.