Friday, April 3, 2009

The ‘G’ in ‘Music’

We live in an age of extreme political correctness and expressed belief in God is considered ‘uncool’.

For the classical music fan though, God is a recurring theme. Not just in the masses and requiems, the cantatas and chants. But also in so many of the so-called secular works that express a spirituality and a ‘God encounter’ as intensely as any obvious scared masterpiece.

This may in part be explained by the commonly held belief amongst many great composers that their inspiration came from a divine source.

Bach was known to initial blank manuscript pages with the letters ‘INJ’ (‘In Nomine Jesu’ or ‘In the Name of Jesus’). It was almost his unsaid prayer for inspiration and his way of sanctifying his every composition. Taking another example, Haydn was known to write the phrase "Praise to God" at the end of completed scores. Elaborating on the arduous gestation of his great oratorio 'The Creation', Haydn said "I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work."

Apart from the conviction that God (to borrow an expression from Aquinas) was “the first cause” (in this case) of music, many composers also felt that music was the purest tongue in which to communicate with and about God. This again is not difficult to accept when we realize that music is perhaps the most elusive of all art forms and it is precisely because of this formlessness that music can be used intuitively to express the inexpressible. The great conductor Leonard Bernstein said it simply: “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

Do you see the ‘G’ in ‘music’? Which particular composer or composition has spoken of God the most compellingly to you?

1 comment:

  1. You got me!

    There is only G in my music experience. Music is nothing without its source, the creator. Only a fool will see the beauty and not admire the source of beauty. God created with a 'word' a sound, not even an action. The power of sound (and the expression achieved through it) cannot be undermined. God is the source of the scale, the math in the music, the patterns, the rhythms and melodies. Before man struck his first notes, God was hammering chords out in the universe, in the cosmic forces of creation, whispering intriguing rhythms and intervals through the songs of the birds and the murmurings of the forests. God is the source of the beauty and diversity of music, the diverse cultures, and the very need in man for music. In the history of art, the noblest and best has, I think, had some G connection. Whether people acknowledge it or not, music is from God, and to deny His hand behind every masterpiece is arrogance and blindness. Even if not all the great composers, most of the greatest openly spoke of God as their source. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Bruckner, Liszt..

    One of my deepest, strongest, most constant experiences of God is in and through music. When I first loved ‘classical’ music I saw God’s wisdom in Beethoven’s fifth – that soul shattering, intense, beautiful, glorious masterpiece. And there began a journey of discovery through music that only drew me closer to God. Perhaps my deepest experiences of God have come through the music of Beethoven – The Missa Solemnis, the 9th, the last quartets, the last piano sonatas, the violin concerto…to name some. Indeed, I have had 'visions' of God listening to that monstrous 9th symphony! But that experience cannot be described; such an experience can only be shared either by the music itself or in silence. Words are useless here where music connects the human soul with the Divine spirit in an experience that elevates, liberates and enraptures.