Music Scholars Michael Marissen and Lauren Belfer '75 Collaborate on Bach Monograph, Novel

Michael Marissen and Lauren Belfer '75

The New York Times: A Literary Couple Grapple With Bach and His God

Husband and wife both publish books in May: Given the vicissitudes of publishing, it would have been quite a feat even if they had bent every effort to it. But this was not uppermost in the minds of Michael Marissen and Lauren Belfer '75, though they had been working more or less in concert for a decade.

Mr. Marissen, 55, is a musicologist and professor emeritus at Swarthmore College; Oxford University Press is issuing his “Bach & God,” a book of scholarly essays from the last 20 years. Ms. Belfer, 61, is an established novelist ("City of Light," "A Fierce Radiance"), and HarperCollins has just released "And After the Fire," which has much to do with, well, Bach and God.

Mr. Marissen had an extremely conservative Dutch Calvinist upbringing in Ontario. Though he now declares himself an agnostic, he has put his profound knowledge of the Bible ("it was shoved down my throat") to use in examining the sources and deeper meanings of Bach’s sacred texts, especially as regards their attitudes toward Judaism. Ms. Belfer had a liberal, minimally observant Jewish upbringing in Buffalo. No surprise, she shares many of the qualities of her latest heroine, Susanna Kessler, whom she describes as atheist-Jewish. "And After the Fire," partly based in history, posits the rediscovery of a fictional Bach church cantata with a particularly bilious text.

Read the full feature at The New York Times

Michael Marissen is Daniel Underhill Professor Emeritus of Music at Swarthmore College, where he taught from 1989 to 2014. He has also been a visiting professor on the graduate faculties at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (Princeton, 1995), Lutheranism, anti-Judaism, and Bach's St. John Passion (Oxford, 1998), An Introduction to Bach Studies (co-author Daniel Melamed; Oxford, 1998), Bach's Oratorios (Oxford, 2008), Tainted Glory in Handel's Messiah (Yale, 2014), Bach & God (Oxford, 2016), and essays in Lutheran Quarterly, Harvard Theological Review, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

Lauren Belfer graduated from Swarthmore in 1975 with a double major in medieval studies and art history. Her third novel, And After the Fire, has just been published by HarperCollins. Her second novel, A Fierce Radiance (HarperCollins, 2010), was named a Washington Post Best Novel, an NPR Best Mystery, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her debut, City of Light (Random House, 1999), was a New York Times bestseller, as well as a number one Book Sense pick, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal Best Book, and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. It has been translated into six languages. She lives in New York City.