by Bob Whitesel 10/20/14
Here we uncover the story of a man whose selfless acts would ensure that his place in history would be downplayed, and that the memory of an earlier rival would be esteemed.
This Christian’s story is drawn from the annuals of musical history, a genre that some may deduce to be a rather unlikely arena for a course on church leadership. But this man’s aptitude toward honoring others makes him worthy of our scrutiny.
Praise the Lord.
Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in his mighty heavens…
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 150. 1, 6 (NIV)
What kind of humility does it take to overlook your own emerging career and champion the artistic efforts of an earlier rival? Felix Mendelssohn was not only one of the most successful composers of his time, but also a champion of the all but forgotten works of Johann Sebastian Bach. By Mendelssohn’s time, Bach’s brilliant concertos, fugues and symphonies had suffered decades of obscurity. Mendelssohn, due in part to a strong religious faith he shared with Bach, sought to reintroduce the world to Bach’s genus and skill.
Mendelssohn’s letters reveal a deep and abiding faith in God. The Bible served as not only the cornerstone of his life, but also as the inspiration for his work, such as the celebrated oratorios Elijah and Saint Paul. Once when a librettist altered the Biblical text of his composition, Mendelssohn observed, “I have time after time had to restore the precise text of the Bible. It is the best in the end.”
Mendelssohn had been impressed since a youth with Bach’s The Passion According to Saint Matthew. From the time he first sung it as a young choirboy he had been touched. As a successful adult he set out to “recover” and champion Bach’s neglected music. He personified the admonition of Psalm 150 to “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” He sought to breath new life into the majestic compositions of Bach, reintroducing them to a new generation and assuring these majestic praises would be given a voice for posterity. So impressed was Mendelssohn by one of Bach’ choruses that he wrote, “If life had taken hope and faith from me, this single chorus would restore all.”
It required a great degree of humility and grace to champion the genus of an earlier rival. Today we recognize Bach as one of the greatest composers of all time chiefly because of Mendelssohn’s efforts. Mendelssohn’s labor might best be summed up in the verse “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.”
Sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge others in lieu of ourselves. Such modesty and humbleness allows others to share in our successes. When you feel envious or resentful of another’s talents, the best remedy may be to focus on the giver of those capabilities.