Tag: music

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.

Broadstairs Mozart

Broadstairs Mozart posted in Eleison Comments on January 27, 2018

Between 18h00 on Friday evening, February 23, and mid-day, Sunday, February 25, there will be held at Queen of Martyrs House in Broadstairs a modest musical weekend featuring exclusively music of the famous Austrian composer of the late 18th century, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). Why music, when the same time and effort could be spent on something more directly religious? And why Mozart in particular?

Why music? Because music is a gift of God to the world He created, an expression of the harmony which He planted at the centre of His universe, to which all living members of that universe respond, not only angels and human beings but even animals and plants in their own way. As for plants, Colorado researchers in the USA once built four boxes with identical light, air, humidity, soil and plants in all four, and they piped into three of them Gregorian chant or classical music or Rock, while the fourth they left in silence. With the Rock the plant grew but withered, with the chant it flourished, with classical music and silence the result was in between. As for animals, many a cowherd pipes into his cow-stalls at milking time tranquil music to increase the flow of milk, just as supermarkets pipe in tranquil music to increase buying by the human customers. Surprising? It is God that has made us, and not we ourselves (Ps. IC, 3), we are His creatures with the harmonious part that He designed for us to play in His universe as a whole.

For human beings, music is the supreme God-given language of access to that harmony of God, even if, like Brahms, one believes in no God. Music is therefore natural to human beings, and has a huge moral influence on them, for good or bad. As Mother Church resorts to chant and polyphony to lift souls towards Heaven, so the Devil uses Rock and all kinds of modern music to cast souls down to Hell. “Tell me what your music is, and I will tell you who you are,” goes the saying. Nearly every man has some music in him, and woe to him if he does not – Shakespeare says (Merchant of Venice, V, 1) –

“The man that hath no music in himself

Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils . . .

Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”

One could say that the man that has no music in him is untrustworthy because he is out of tune with God.

And the modern world is out of tune with God, which corresponds to the wretched noise which so often today passes for music, and yet which people love, because music is so natural to man and goes so deep in his soul. And this ugly noise is what is in the soul of countless people around us, and through them it can only bear on ourselves, and bear us away from God, if we let it do so. The question is religious after all. Anything deep-down human bears on God, and music is certainly deep-down human.

On the other hand Mozart belonged to a much saner world than ours, and his music corresponds to a special moment of harmony and equilibrium between the old order and modern emotivity. Mozart is the musicians’ musician. Here are a few of the testimonies from famous musicians – Tchaikovsky said, “I find consolation and rest in Mozart’s music. In it he gives expression to that joy of life which was part of his sane and wholesome temperament.” Schubert said, “What a picture of a better world you have given us, O Mozart!” Gounod said, “Mozart, prodigal Heaven gave thee everything, grace and strength, abundance and moderation, perfect equilibrium.” Brahms said, “It is a real pleasure to see music so bright and spontaneous expressed with corresponding ease and grace.”

Mozart wrote all kinds of music, but outstanding are his operas and piano concertos. In Broadstairs we cannot manage the operas, but John Sullivan who played half of the Beethoven sonatas here in 2016 can easily manage a similar feat with Mozart’s piano concertos and sonatas. Let us know if you plan to come, so that we may have an idea of numbers. No tickets to buy. Mozart is priceless!

Kyrie eleison.

Colour, Poetry…

Colour, Poetry... posted in Eleison Comments on January 21, 2017

“One cannot live any longer on politics, on balance-sheets, and crossword puzzles. One cannot live any longer without poetry, colour, love” – words of Antoine de St Exupéry (1900–1944), French aristocrat, aviator and writer, not Catholic, but struggling in his soul with 20th century materialism. He said of himself, “I am a man raking through ashes, a man struggling to find the embers of life in the bottom of a fireplace.” And describing in his philosophic memoir Wind, Sand and Stars (1939) a scene of workers and their families huddled all over a night train from Paris to Warsaw, he wrote that he was tormented not by their desolate condition, but by “seeing, a little bit in all these men, of Mozart murdered.”

These quotes come to mind after a visit last year to the Bertramka, a villa lying close outside the centre of Prague in the Czech Republic, and made known in the late 18th century by visits there of the famous composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At that time it was reached from the city by a half-hour walk along country roads and a path lined with horse chestnuts to the gate into the front courtyard, opening onto a sloping garden with flower-beds and fruit-trees. Today the shady lane has given way to an enormous shopping and business centre along a city street loaded with heavy traffic, heeding only the traffic-lights. The gate is still there but the sloping garden has run wild, with a lonely statue of the great musician and with the stone table where he is supposed to have finished composing his world-renowned opera Don Giovanni. Soon afterwards he conducted its first performance in the city opera-house, still in use. As for the two rooms occupied in the Bertramka by Mozart, they have been faithfully preserved, but a once handsome collection of Mozartian exhibits was no longer there this October. The Bertramka still has atmosphere, but much there whispers only of “Mozart murdered.”

Yet 18th century Prague had been very kind to him. In 1786, unlike Vienna, it gave a rapturous reception to Mozart’s equally popular and famous opera the Marriage of Figaro, as it gave in the following year to Don Giovanni. And when Mozart died in 1791, his home city,Vienna, gave him merely a poor man’s grave, whereas Prague honoured him with a lavish Requiem Mass attended by thousands, and performed by a hundred musicians refusing any payment. It was Catholic Emperors and nobles who, to restore Catholic Bohemia after the devastating 30 years’ religious war (1618–1648), had established widespread musical education for Bohemian youth to be able to play music in Church services. It was this Catholic education which generated in Prague a public capable immediately of loving Mozart and his music.

Can the same be said for Catholics today, or are we also “murderers of Mozart”? For St Exupéry, Mozart was somehow the very opposite of materialism. But how many Traditionalists today are bored with a sung Mass, and cannot wait to get back to their balance-sheets and crossword-puzzles? Alas, are not many of our boys almost ashamed of knowing how to sing? And as for our girls, Oh my! Would a mass of them not prefer to be astronauts or volleyball stars rather than know how to play a musical instrument which might help them to civilise their husbands, humanise their children and put harmony in their home? A German proverb says that men make the culture but women transmit it. Is it not suicidal for a society not to promote in its girls the true “culture, poetry and love” which will go deep into their future families and through their families into society?

As for Mozart, he is certainly not the height of spirituality in Western music, and later in life he did join Freemasonry, then fashionable in Vienna. But he is far more spiritual than the world of shopping centres and traffic lights, as St Exupéry well saw, and it was certainly not Masons but deeply Catholic parents who formed in the child and youth the Catholic heart from which sprang all the spirituality of the music of the adult. Surely the most often performed piece of all Mozart’s music, composed shortly before he died, is his Ave Verum Corpus, because it is so frequently performed at Mass. And his deeply Catholic Requiem he was still composing on his deathbed. May his soul rest in peace.

Kyrie eleison.

Culture Alert

Culture Alert posted in Eleison Comments on December 29, 2012

As the leadership of the Society of St Pius X seems to be faltering, so Catholics who love the Society because they have received so much from it in years gone by might be tempted to think that there is nothing much that they as simple faithful can do about it. They would be wrong. Let them read these reflections from a friend of mine, and they should be able to read between the lines that if God does not rescue the Society for them, as of course he could do, then it has at least in part depended on them. My friend’s letter is adapted here below:—

“A practical agreement would be ruinous to the cause of Catholic Tradition. One need only look at what has happened to the Traditional Redemptorists in Scotland . . . The two Masses cannot co-exist. One will always drive the other out . . . At a Novus Ordo Mass I attended recently, the whole church was pervaded by chatter and continual clapping . . . The two sides are simply too far apart for an agreement to work. No meeting of the minds is possible between modernity and Tradition.

“Then there is the profound revolution which has overwhelmed modern civilization, including the Traditional movement, and which has for the most part been missed by the leadership of Tradition . . . Electronic technology has wrought a cultural revolution in our lives, especially of the younger generation. If it is not managed properly, it certainly weakens the faith because it can take over people’s whole lives. Youngsters are liable to be captured by it. They hang on it all day long. People too engulfed in it become dysfunctional, unable to get up in the morning, or to maintain a live conversation, or to hold down a job.

“Now if a sports team is not admonished by its coach, its playing standards begin to fall. If Catholics are not admonished on cultural issues like music, women’s dress, or watching television, their cultural standards begin to fall, which has profound implications for their faith. Traditional parents are being left to struggle alone with their families to keep the worldliness of modern society out of their homes, because the leadership of the SSPX has either missed this cultural revolution, or it is not giving it the attention that it deserves. I have had many long discussions with Traditional families who are concerned about the way that the Traditional movement is going. Religious movements must take a stand on cultural issues if they are to flourish. Tradition was strengthened when it used to take a stand on television. But if a stand is not taken on cultural issues, the stand on doctrinal issues soon begins to weaken.

“The latest Chapter of the SSPX may have pulled the organization back from the brink, but I cannot take much comfort from it. It spent much attention on defining the parameters of any future discussions with Rome in making an agreement. Yet, Rome is basically unchanged from 1988. In my opinion, the SSPX needs to recover the prophetic role that it performed when Archbishop Lefebvre was still alive. The Traditional movement needs to strongly denounce the modernism and liberalism that is leading the Catholic Church to its destruction. These denunciations lately have been muted. Perhaps many Traditional priests are distracted by the comforts that they think an agreement with Rome would bring them.”

Over to you, dear readers. Away with trashy and valueless music in the home. Get rid of the television set. Reduce electronics to a minimum. Mothers, wear skirts whenever possible, which is most of the time. Otherwise do not complain if God does not rescue the Society. He forces his gifts upon nobody. Blessed be his name for ever.

Kyrie eleison.

Angelism – II

Angelism – II posted in Eleison Comments on February 18, 2012

Alert readers of these “Comments” may have picked up on an apparent contradiction. On the one hand the “Comments” have repeatedly condemned anything modern in the arts (e.g. EC 114, 120, 144, 157, etc.). On the other hand last week the Anglo-American poet T.S.Eliot was called an “arch-modernist,” and praised for launching a new style of poetry more true to modern times, certainly chaotic.

As the “Comments” have often said, modernity in the arts is characterized by disharmony and ugliness, because modern man chooses more and more to live without or against the God who has planted order and beauty throughout his creation. This beauty and order are now so buried beneath the pomps and works of godless man that it is easy for artists to believe they are no longer there. If then their art is to be true to what they perceive of their surroundings and society, only an exceptional modern artist will convey anything of the divine order underlying the disordered surface of modern life. Most modern artists have given up on order and, like their customers, wallow in the disorder.

But Eliot was born and reared in the late 19th century when society was still relatively ordered, and he received in the USA a good classical education when only a few secret villains yet dreamt of replacing education with training in inhuman subjects. So Eliot may have had little or no access in his youth to true religion, but he was well introduced to its by-products since the Middle Ages, the classics of Western music and literature. Sensing and seeking in them an order missing around him, Eliot was thus able to grasp the deep-down disorder of the rising 20th century, a disorder which merely burst out in the first World War (1914–1918). Hence the “Waste Land” of 1922.

But in that poem he is far from wallowing in the disorder. On the contrary he clearly hates it, showing how empty it is of human warmth and value. So the “Waste Land” may bear little trace of Western religion, but it does finish on scraps of Eastern religion, and as Scruton says, Eliot was certainly tracking the religious depths of the problem. In fact a few years later Eliot nearly became a Catholic, but he was scared off by Pius XI’s condemnation in 1926 of the “Action française,” a condemnation in which he recognized more of the problem and not its solution. So out of gratitude to England for all it had given him of traditional order, he settled for a solution less than complete, combining Anglicanism with high culture, and a Rosary always in his pocket. However God does write straight with crooked lines. How many souls in search of order would have stayed away from Shakespeare or Eliot if they thought that either of them, by being fully Catholic, had answers only pre-fabricated, not true to life.

That is sad, but it is so. Now souls may well be deceiving themselves in one way or another if they shy away from Catholic authors or artists on the grounds that these are untrue to real life, but it is up to Catholics to give them no such excuse. Let us Catholics show by our example that we do not have minds made cosy by artificial solutions necessarily false to the depths of the modern problem. We are not angels, but earthy creatures invited to Heaven if we will pick up our modern cross and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ. Such followers can alone remake the Church, and the world!

Kyrie eleison.

Virtuous Pagans

Virtuous Pagans posted in Eleison Comments on October 22, 2011

On reading (EC 221) how the music of Brahms is proof of a certain greatness of soul, a young Brazilian reader asks if the wick smouldering in Brahms was not smouldering better than it does in a lukewarm Catholic (cf. Mt.XII, 20). The contrast is designed to highlight the virtue of the pagan and to question the virtue of “warm, lazy” Catholics. Of course pagan virtue is praiseworthy and Catholic lukewarmness is blameworthy, but a greater question lies behind: just how important is it to be a believing Catholic? How important is the virtue of faith? The answer must remain, it is as important as eternity is long.

That faith is a virtue of supreme value is evident from the Gospels. How often does Our Lord, after working a miracle of physical or spiritual healing, tell the person involved that it is their faith that obtained for them the miracle, e.g. for Mary Magdalene (Lk.VII, 50). Yet Scripture makes it equally clear that this meritorious faith is something deeper than just an explicit knowledge of religion. For instance, Roman centurions can have known little to nothing of the true religion in its day, the Old Testament, yet of one of them Our Lord says he has not found so great faith in Israel (Mt.VIII, 10), another of them recognizes as the Son of God the crucified Jesus whom the experts in religion had done nothing but mock (Mt.XXVII, 41), while a third, Cornelius, blazes the trail for all Gentiles who will enter the true Church (Acts, X, XI). What did these pagan centurions have that the priests, scribes and ancients did not have, or no longer had?

From beginning to end of all men’s life on this earth, pagans and non-pagans alike are constantly confronted with a variety of things good, all coming ultimately from God, and of things evil, coming from the wickedness of men. But God himself is invisible while wicked men are all too visible, so it is all too easy to disbelieve in the goodness or even existence of God. However, men of good heart will believe in the goodness of life while discounting, relatively but not absolutely, the evil, whereas men bad of heart will discount the good that is all around them. Now neither may have any explicit knowledge of religion, but whereas good-hearted men, like the centurions, will pick up on it as soon as it crosses their path, the bad-hearted will scorn it, more or less. Thus the innocent Andrew and John picked up immediately on the Messiah (Jn.I,37–40), whereas the learned Gamaliel took rather more time and persuading (Acts V, 34–39). Let us say then that at the heart of the explicit and knowing virtue of faith lies an implicit trust in the goodness of life and in whatever Being lies behind it, a trust that can be undermined by false doctrine or shaken for instance by scandal.

If we return to the case of Brahms, the question then becomes, did he have at least this implicit trust in the goodness of life and of the Being behind it? Surely the answer is no, because he spent the whole second half of his life in what was then the capital city of music, Catholic Vienna. There the beauty of his music must have led numerous friends and even priests to urge upon him the explicit fulfilment of that beauty in the profession and practice of Vienna’s religion, but all such appeals he must have refused. Therefore it seems all too possible that he did not save his soul . . . God knows.

Nonetheless we thank God for his music. As St Augustine marvellously said, “All truth belongs to us Catholics.” Likewise all beauty, even if crafted by pagans!

Kyrie eleison.