This may sound very odd for me to stray from my habits of writing about theology, history, and literature; but today I have come across something that is greatly involved with at least two of our central topics for discussion, history and theology. It is so depressing to me that so few young men and women in this age truly appreciate the music that has greatly shaped Western thought and culture; music that I think will be sung in heaven. God has gifted man with a love for music so that we may appreciate the grandeur, creativity, and glory of God. I think there is something to establish here that makes classical music so beautiful, the idea of high and low art.
I will make a confession; I am quite a Country music fan, though probably to my detriment in the amount I listen to. I can sing it all day long and even use some lyrics as daily proverbs or idioms. The same goes for Southern rock, bluegrass, and maybe even celtic music. It is easy to listen to and entertains in the same way a movie does. However, when the music of Bach,Mozart, Beethoven or even Lord of the Rings soundtrack music enters my ears, something different happens. I become caught up in the movement of the music, the tempo, the harmony of the various instruments, and it often feels like it is a part of something higher and more noble; it describes life in its grandest, happiest, or darkest moments. That is why I think it is called high art. There are two areas of classical music, particularly Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which make it so grand.
First, the music; my favorite part of the Ninth Symphony is the last movement, primarily for its chorale splendor. However the music should not be overlooked; the way the cellos introduce the piece just makes my blood boil with adreneline. Such deep notes combined with the high tenors of the violins can not be found in such beauty in any other music. The actual melody of Ode to Joy is quite simple but the way Beethoven wrote it made that rather simple tune much more beautiful. The way the tempo rises and falls to give a sense of suspense before the chorus is one of my favorite parts. It gives the song a hint of life or story, such is the beauty of classical music. The Lord of the Rings soundtrack is a phenomenal example of this since it is made to complement the movie. When the tempo rises, I feel caught into it as if I am on the battlefield leading a sortie.
Second, the words; not all classical music has lyrics but when they do you can be guarenteed that those who sing it will not have twangy or bad voices. When I hear the choir sing, I envy them for the voice God has given them. Their voices complement the music and vice versa. When classical music is sung in its original language it is so much more beautiful, especially German; I may have said German is gutteral rough language but when it is sung it has a beauty and grandeur that makes it hundred times better than English. Now the actual words to Ode to Joy are tremendously beautiful, it is different than a hymn yet it is almost the same since it is a song to praise the Lord. Here is the translation of the actual lyrics by Beethoven.
O friends, no more these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-Inspired we tread
Thy magic power re-united
All that custom has divided
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendour of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
As a hero going to conquest.
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your Creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must He dwell
This song is full of praise and truth. It acknowledges the power of the gospel where “All men become brothers Under the sway of thy gentle wings.” It also talks about the common grace of God which “All creatures drink of joy At nature’s breast. Just and unjust Alike taste of her gift.” It speaks of being content in our daily walks of life and to be faithful in running the race of faith. It also talks about the need for the world to praise its Maker. There is so much more and it qualifies it for a hymn, which it already is! However I think these words are better than the words of the hymn we sing in church.
Oh how I wish God would raise up men to write such verse as this; where God is praised and man is in awe of the splendor and majesty of God just through song! Alas that we are children of the Enlightenment and that we would rather listen to something as fleeting and shallow as “All You Need is Love”, “Soulja Boy”, “Party in the USA”, and yes, even “That’s The Way Love Goes” (although I think Merle Haggard’s music is a tad more deeper than any other “low” art musician). I would encourage all to listen or learn to listen something that takes thought and takes you out of the present world to a place of beauty, battle, defeat, darkness, but ultimate victory. Such can be found in classical music; high art in the medium of music.