human nature

Mozart Questioned

Mozart Questioned posted in Eleison Comments on June 2, 2018

After issue # 550 of these “Comments” highly praised Mozart (Jan 27, 2018), a reader wrote privately to say that he had a problem with the famous composer: Mozart was an enthusiastic Freemason, he completed in the second half of his life no major work for the Catholic Church, and his operas treat of man-woman relations and of morality in a very casual manner. Now music is so important in people’s souls that this reader’s objections deserve to be answered in public, so that people who do not yet know Mozart may be encouraged – obviously not forced – to make of him the music of their leisure moments. So let us highlight some principles for each of the reader’s three objections.

That Mozart was a Freemason raises a most important principle: the artist and his art are not separate, but they are distinct. What makes the moral goodness of the artist as a person is not the same as what makes the artistic goodness of the artefacts that he produces (Summa Theologiae, 1a 2ae, Q57, Art. 3). Thus Picasso was a personal scoundrel, but his art, purely as art, is brilliant, whereas countless Victorian painters may have been personally very moral, but their paintings are as dull as ditch-water. Thus Masonry certainly entered into some of Mozart’s later music, notably the “Magic Flute,” but the music stands on its own feet, and it certainly owes its beauty not to Masonry’s war on God, but to Mozart’s Catholic parents and his early upbringing in the highly Catholic Austria of the Empress Maria-Theresa.

That, secondly, the mature Mozart never completed another major work for the Church is true insofar as the C Minor Mass and the Requiem are unfinished, but how often those two works are played, and with what religious effect! Also, is there any piece of music so often played or sung in Catholic churches and chapels as Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus”? And if we distinguish music implicitly from explicitly Catholic, can anyone deny that Mozart, like Shakespeare, is a tremendous carrier of Catholic values, in Mozart’s case the values of harmony, order, beauty and joy for countless listeners? And are not these great artists, implicitly and by heritage Catholic, a mercy of God to enable post-Catholics to enjoy Catholic values without realising it? If post-Catholics did realise it, would they not repudiate those values like the arrant liberals presently “de-constructing” Shakespeare in the so-called “universities” and no doubt Mozart in the “music conservatories”? In fact, can today’s liberal actors and musicians get anywhere near the heart of Shakespeare or Mozart? What does that say about that heart? Not liberal!

And thirdly, that some of Mozart’s operas are in part so light-hearted as to have incurred the scorn of Beethoven – “Never could I write such frivolous operas,” he said – leaves out of view the serious part of the same operas. Alongside Zerlina’s flirting are the flames of Don Giovanni’s damnation, alongside the Count’s philandering is his sincere apology to his suffering Countess; alongside the Seraglio is the highlighting of forgiveness. Real life in a fallen world is both comic and serious. See how at the beginning of “Don Giovanni,” Mozart combines musically a duellist’s duel and death with the burbling panic of Don Giovanni’s rabbit-servant, Leporello. Surely Mozart, like Shakespeare, “saw life steadily and saw it whole,” as Matthew Arnold said of Sophocles.

However, one side of Mozart does remain that of a naughty boy (cf. the film “Amadeus”), and he is an integral part of a Christendom already decadent at the end of the 18th century. But, when compared with the downfall of music ever since, is his music not almost angelic, without its being so far removed from our own times that it can seem inaccessible? Any man harms his soul by getting used to listening to music which is trash, with little or no intrinsic value of melody, harmony or rhythm. He will not usually harm his soul by getting used to Mozart, on the contrary.

Kyrie eleison.

Modern Art – I

Modern Art – I posted in Eleison Comments on April 17, 2010

Why is modern art so ugly? Does it have to be so ugly? Cannot artists of today do something nice for a change? And why, when they do something nice, is it normally second- or third-rate as art, sentimental, somehow not authentic? Such recurring questions are raised by a painter like Van Gogh, considered last week, who was on his way to modern art. The questions are easy to answer if God and the human soul are for real. They have no reasonable answer if the spiritual God and the spiritual soul are fictions of self-deceiving man.

If God is the invisible but real “Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible,” then he created the invisible human soul, most intimately united at conception to a visible body to constitute every human being that ever was or will be. His purpose in creating creatures with a spiritual reason and therefore free-will is his own extrinsic (not intrinsic) glory, which increases with every human being who uses that free-will so to love and serve God in this life as to deserve at death to be unimaginably happy, by giving to God glory without end in the next life.

And how does a man love and serve God in this life? By obeying his commandments (Jn. XV, 10) which constitute a moral framework of good and evil for all human acts, a framework which men can defy but not evade. If they do defy it, they will put themselves in more or less disharmony with God, self and neighbor, because God created that framework not arbitrarily, but in perfect harmony with his own nature and the human nature bound by him to act within it.

Now art might be defined in its broadest sense as any confection of materials (e.g. paints, words, musical notes, etc.) over which man takes special trouble to communicate to other men what he has in his mind and heart. So if mind and heart belong to a soul which at any given moment must be in a state of greater or lesser harmony with that moral framework set by God for all its acts, then any artistic product proceeding from that soul is bound to reflect the objective harmony or disharmony within it. And now we are in a position to answer our original questions.

Modern arts are so ugly because all modern souls belong to a global society falling daily deeper into apostasy, such that a huge and influential number of these souls are at war with God, consciously or unconsciously. The artistic products of souls immersed in such an environment can only reflect their internal disharmony with God, self and neighbor, which is why they are ugly. Only from any genuine harmony still remaining in their souls can anything genuinely beautiful proceed. Wilfully “nice” art proceeds from a disharmonious wish to feign harmony, which is why the effect will always be in some way false or sentimental, not authentic, and second- or third-rate as art.

On the other hand if God, and the immortal soul coming from him and due to go to him, are mere fictions, then there is no reason why beauty should not be ugly and ugliness beautiful. That is the mind-set of modern artists, but from the moment that I recognize any ugly artifact of theirs to be ugly, I am implying that there is a framework, not theirs, which they are defying.

Kyrie eleison.