Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beyond Church as Lecture Hall or Rock Concert

I found an interesting discussion this morning on a blog run by Christianity Today Leadership Journal: Beyond Sermons and Songs
This is the second of the set that begins here: Beyond Sermons and Songs part 1

And another blog that I have yet to explore:

Looks like some good reading and there are lots of comments.

And this: Anglican Mission in America

Sunday, March 19, 2006

On a Lighter Note

One of the sopranos in my choir gave this to me today and since the three of us are involved in church choirs I thought everyone would appreciate it. It is sung to the same hymn tune as Immortal, Impossible, God only Wise and this version is attributed to Dr. Austin Lovelace.
"Immoral, impossible, God only knows
How tenors and basses, sopranos, altos,
At service on Sunday are rarely the same,
As those who on Thursday to choir practice came.
Unready, unable to sight read the notes,
Nor counting, nor blending, they tighten their throats.
The descant so piercing is soaring above.
The melody only a mother could love.
They have a director, but no one know why,
No one in the choir deigns to turn him an eye.
It’s clear by his waving he wants them to look,
But each of them stands with his nose in the book.
Despite the offences, the music rings out.
The folks in the pews are enraptured, no doubt,
Their faces are blissful; their thoughts are so deep.
But it is no wonder, for they are asleep."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Karl Barth's Letter of Thanks to Mozart

My dear Conductor and Court Composer:
Someone got the curious idea of inviting me and a few others to write a "letter of thanks to Mozart" for his newspaper. At first I shook my head and even looked at the wastebasket. But if there is anything which has to do with you, I can say "No" only in the rarest cases. And did you not also write more than one somewhat funny letter during your lifetime? So, why not? They certainly know more there where you dwell now, unimpeded by time and space, about each other and about us than do we ourselves down here. Thus I actually do not doubt that you have known for a long time how grateful I have been to you almost all my life and always will remain. Nevertheless why shouldn't you read this in black and white?

Two excuses have to be made first. Number one: I am one of those Protestants of whom you are supposed to have said once that we were unable to understand properly the meaning of Agnus Dei, qui talus peccata mundi. Pardon me, probably you are now better informed on that. However, I do not want to bother you with theology. Believe it or not, I actually dreamed of you last week. Here is the dream: I had to examine you (why, I don't even understand, myself). I knew that under no circumstances would you be allowed to fail the examination. I asked you about the meaning of "dogmatics" and "dogma," by pointing in the most friendly way to your Masses, which I like especially. But to my great regret I got not the least answer from you!! Don't you think we'd better give this point a blessed rest?

The second excuse is far more complicated. I have learned that you could enjoy only the praise of connoisseurs, even in your childhood. As you know, there are not only musicians but also musicologists on this earth. You yourself were both. I am neither the one nor the other. I play no instrument nor do I have the faintest idea about the theory of harmony, let alone the mysteries of "counterpoint." Those very musicologists disturbed me deeply whose books I tried to decipher when I drew up an address for the recent celebration of your two hundredth birthday. By the way, I cannot help thinking that if I were young and had to start this kind of studying I would clash with a few of your most outstanding theoretical interpreters in the same way that I did with my theological masters forty years ago. But be that as it may, how can I, under these circumstances, thank you as a connoisseur? In other words, how can I make you happy?

To my relief, I have also read that you sometimes made music for hours and hours for very lowly people. This you did only because you somehow had the feeling that they were pleased to listen to you. In this way, with a repeatedly delighted ear and heart I have heard and still hear you play. I myself am so utterly naive that I cannot tell in which of the thirty-four periods of your life, according to the classification of Wyzewa and Saint-Foix, you are nearest to my heart. Surely, surely, you began to become really great, let's say, about 1785. But I hope I won't hurt your feelings (or will I?) in confessing the following: It has been and always will be impossible for me to listen without deep emotion not only to Don Giovanni and to your last symphonies, to the Magic Flute and the Requiem but no less to the "Hafiner" Serenade and the Eleventh Divertimento, etc. Actually, I am deeply moved even by Bastien and Bastienne! Consequently, you are interesting and dear to me much earlier than the moment when you can be praised as the "pioneer" of Beethoven!

What I owe you, frankly, is this: whenever I listen to your music I feel led to the threshold of a world which is good and well ordered, in sunshine and thunderstorm, by day and by night. Thus you have repeatedly given me, a human being of the twentieth century, courage (not haughtiness!), tempo (not exaggerated tempo!), purity (not boring purity!) and peace (not complacent peace !). If he really digests your musical dialectics he can be young and become old, he can work and relax, he can be happy and depressed; in short, he can live. You know now, far better than I, that much more is necessary for that purpose than the very best music. But there is music which helps men to this end (ex post and only incidentally!) and other music which cannot help toward it. Your music helps. This I have experienced all my life (I am going to be seventy years old and if you were living you would dwell in our midst as a patriarch of two hundred years!). Moreover, I am convinced that our century, which is becoming more and more obscure, especially needs your help. For both these reasons I am grateful to you that you have lived, that you wanted to make and did make pure music in the few decades of your life, and that you still live in your music. Please believe me that many, many ears and hearts, scholarly and unscholarly, just as my own, still like to hear you for ever and ever - not only in the year of your jubilee.

I have only a hazy feeling about the music played there where you now dwell. I once formulated my surmise about that as follows: whether the angels play only Bach in praising God I am not quite sure; I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart and that then also God the Lord is especially delighted to listen to them. Well, this alternative may be wrong. Besides, you know that better than I do, anyhow. I mention this only in order to hint metaphorically at my meaning.
And so, with all my heart,

From Barth's Mozart Festival Address, "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart."
In other words, Mozart's Figaro has nothing to do with the ideas of the French Revolution and Don Giovanni has nothing to do with the myth of the eternal libertine (as Kierkegaard asserted!). Certainly there does not exist a special Mozartian "philosophy of Cosi fan tutte" either, and one should not read too much "humanity-religion" and/or political mysteries into Mozart's Magic Flute. The fact is that, whether we like it or not (and it can be seen in his letters), neither the nature surrounding him nor the history, literature, philosophy or politics of his time touched him directly or in a concrete sense. Nor was he moved to represent or proclaim any decisions or dogmas. It is to be feared that he never read much, and he certainly never speculated or taught. There is no Mozartian metaphysics either. He sought and found only his musical possibilities, themes and tasks in the world of nature and spirit. With God, the world, men, himself, heaven and earth, life - and, above all, death - before his eyes, in his ears and in his heart he was an unproblematic person. For that reason he was a free man, in a way which was apparently allowed, ordered and therefore exemplary for him.

This involves the fact that his music was uniquely free from every exaggeration, basic friction and contradiction. The sun shines but does not dazzle the eyes, nor demolish nor scorch. Heaven arches above the earth but does not press upon or crush and swallow it. And so earth remains earth, but without being forced to hold its own against heaven in titanic revolt. In the same way darkness, chaos, death and hell render themselves conspicuous but are not allowed to prevail even for a moment. Mozart makes music, knowing everything from a mysterious center, and thus he knows and keeps the boundaries on the right and on the left, upward and downward. He observes moderation. Again he wrote, in 1781, that "the emotions, strong or not, never should be expressed ad nauseam and that music, even in the most horrible situation, never must offend the ears but must please them nevertheless. In other words, music must always remain music." He was (and I quote Grillparzer's beautiful words) the musician "who never did too little, and never did too much, and who always arrived at but never went beyond his goal."

There is no light which does not know the darkness too, no happiness which does not include sorrow; but also inversely, no alarm, no ire, no wailing to the aid of which peace would not come, from near or far. There is no laughter, therefore, without weeping, but no weeping without laughter either. There never was a Mozart of such utter gracefulness that the nineteenth century, after praising him, could grow justly tired of him. But neither did there exist this "demoniac Mozart" whom our century wanted to substitute. The very absence of all demons, the very stopping before the extreme, and precisely the wise confrontation and mixture of the elements (let us say it again) amounts to the freedom in which the true vox humana speaks in Mozart's music. In it the entire scale is unmuffled, but at the same time undistorted and uncramped. Whoever correctly hears him, may, as the human being he really is, feel himself understood and called to freedom: as the clever Basilio, the affectionate Cherubino, as Don Giovanni, the hero, or as the coward Leporello, as the gentle Pamina or the raging Queen of the Night, as the all-forgiving Countess, the terribly jealous Electra, the wise Sarastro and the foolish Papageno all of whom lie hidden in us. Or we may think, as all of us do, of ourselves as persons destined for death, who yet live on and on.

Something at the last, however, must be perceived and mentioned. Mozart's center is not like that of the great theologian Schleiermacher, identical with balance, neutralization and finally indifference. What happened in this center is rather a splendid annulment of balance, a turn in the strength of which the light rises and the shadow winks but does not disappear; happiness outdistances sorrow without extinguishing it and the "Yes" rings stronger than the still-existing "No." Notice the reversal of the great dark and the little bright experiences in Mozart's life! "The rays of the sun disperse the night" - that's what you hear at the end of the Magic Flute. The play may or must still proceed or start from the very beginning. But it is a play which in some Height or Depth is winning or has already won. This directs and characterizes it. One will never perceive equilibrium, and for that reason uncertainty or doubt, in Mozart's music. This is true of his operas as well as of his instrumental music, and especially of his church music. Is not each Kyrie or Miserere, even if it begins at the lowest depth, carried by the trust that the prayer for grace has in fact been answered? Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini! In Mozart's version he has apparently already arrived. Dona nobis pacem! This prayer, too, has already been answered in Mozart's music, in spite of everything. For this very reason his church music has to be called truly spiritual music, in spite of all well-known objections. Mozart never lamented, never quarreled. He would have been entitled to do so. Instead, he always executed that comforting turn which is priceless for everyone who hears it. That seems to me, as far as it can be explained at all, to be the secret of his freedom and thereby the nucleus of his singular quality, for which we asked at the beginning.

I leave one question unanswered: How is it possible that I, an evangelical Christian and theologian, can so proclaim Mozart? How could I do this even though he was such a Catholic and even a Freemason and besides through and through nothing else than just a musician? He who has ears to hear has certainly heard. May I ask all the others, who perhaps shake their heads in astonishment and alarm, to be momentarily contented with the general reference to the fact that the New Testament speaks not only about the kingdom of heaven, but also of the parables of the kingdom of heaven?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

There Is Hope

Today I participated in a church group sponsored talent contest as a judge for students displaying their music talents. It was a good day. The contest includes catagories in preaching, piano, voice, drama, and instrumental music. I judged instrumental solos and ensembles. There were a few participants who tried to perform arrangements of contemporary songs. I say tried, because looking at the sheet music one Jr. High clarinet duet submitted I realized they were going to be interesting. And as I suspected, they completely butchered the syncopation playing more free form with absolutely no sense of rhythm. But, there is hope. Several participants played some nicely arranged hymns of high quality, including "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee", taken from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. So, our kids are being exposed to excellent music and learning it. Maybe in several decades when they are my age they will be judging in a talent contest making some of the same observations I made today.