Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Music--Benedict XVI

From Benedict XVI, via a powerful essay in NRO by Michael K. Beran:

For me, an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death [in 1981] of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas faded away, we looked at each spontaneously and right then we said, ‘Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.’ The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.

The context:

The pope adheres to old Greek belief that words and sounds — and the rhythmic patterns in which they are bound together in music and poetry — have a unique power to awaken the mind. He has spoken frequently of the power of rhythm to prepare the soul to receive truths that would otherwise remain unintelligible. In 2002 he described the experience of listening to music as an “encounter with the beautiful,” one that becomes “the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes.”

Of course, the Pope speaks of music-which-is-art, not that which is 'filler' or merely noise.

It is this conception of the educational power of rhythm that underlies the pope’s defense of the Latin Mass and of the baroque and Gregorian traditions. It is a fair assumption that, in liberating these forms from liturgical purgatory, His Holiness hopes that their rhythmic virtues will serve as a bulwark against the bad rhythm (kakometros) that today permeates the West.

Critics of the Tridentine rite who contend that the Latin is a barrier to what the pope calls an “encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist” overlook the fact that the words of the liturgy, beautiful and mysterious as they are, are but approximations of the Word (et Deus erat Verbum) that, according to the Gospels, was born in Bethlehem, died on the cross, and ascended into heaven — the logos which, St. Paul says in first Corinthians, we perceive now only as an αινιγμα, a dark saying, a riddle, an enigma. The music of the Mass does as much to illuminate this mystery as the words.

This next is, perhaps, the most intriguing commentary:

Nor is it only in the rhythms of its language that the poetic intensity of the Mass is made manifest. Its rhythms of motion have their own peculiar power. Eliot described the Mass as “one of the highest forms of dancing” he knew. It was this interplay of sound and movement that led him to say that “the consummation of the drama, the perfect and ideal drama, is to be found in the ceremony of the Mass.”

That "tanz" is what was recalled by Thomas Howard in his "Chance or the Dance?" It is the tanz of the Bach Magnificat's first movement. It is the tanz of the Kyrie of Hassler's Missa Secunda. Of the strong, quick-moving 2 of the In Gloria Dei Patris of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Or of Bach's Ruht Wohl, the penultimate movement of the St. Matthew Passion. What-- you think that the underlying triplebeat is there for another reason?

Pope Benedict is attempting to restore a rhythmic balance that has been lost in art, in popular culture, and in the Church itself. “The writings of Plato and Aristotle on music,” he wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy,

show that the Greek world in their time was faced with a choice between two kinds of worship, two different images of God and man. Now what this choice came down to concretely was a choice between two fundamental types of music. On the one hand, there is the music that Plato ascribes, in line with mythology, to Apollo, the god of light and reason. . . . But then there is the music that Plato ascribes to Marsyas, which we might describe, in terms of cultic history, as “Dionysian.” It drags man into the intoxication of the senses, crushes rationality, and subjects the spirit to the senses.

The golden triangle--Beauty, Truth, Goodness. The West is in the process of losing its bearings which emanated from that triangle. The loss of one assures the loss of the others, and the West has demonstrated that loss of Truth is well within its capacity.

Not for nothing that this Pope chose the name Benedict.

HT: Gerald.

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