Friday, November 23, 2012

Harmony & Trinitarian Christianity

The Roman Catholic church remembers November 22 (yesterday) as St. Cecilia's day.  I had no idea about this and had never heard of St. Cecilia until a few weeks ago.  Apparently, St. Cecilia is the patroness of musicians and church music.

In his excellent, little book, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (IVP Academic, 2012), Michael Reeves illustrates the harmonious relationship between Christianity and music using John Dryden's poem, A Song for St. Cecelia's Day, 1687, which was later set to music by George Fredric Handel (1739).  I didn't catch the full power of this illustration until I heard Reeves introduce it and explain it in greater detail in the second of three audio lectures which are available online.  This is magnificent, and the point is clearly established.

Take some time and listen to the audio (at least the excerpt outlined below).  If you have about an hour to spare, I encourage you to watch the YouTube video listed below and follow along with a copy of Dryden's poem.  It is truly beautiful and a great example of theology leading into doxology.

Follow these links to the website in order to either listen online or download the audio files.
Enjoying the Trinity 1: A Delightfully Different God
Enjoying the Trinity 2: The Spreading Love
Enjoying the Trinity 3: This Changes Everything!
It is in the second lecture, "Enjoying the Trinity 2", that Michael Reeves speaks about "the sweet relationship between Christianity and music." He argues that this relationship is based upon the Trinity. The entire lecture is excellent, but here is an outline to his comments on music, harmony and Christianity:
At 21:34 he begins to address Christianity's relationship with music.
At 23:20 he contrasts the music of trinitarian Christianity with "less-trinitarian Christianity".
At 25:16 he introduces John Dryden and his A Song for St. Cecilia's Day.
At 27:01 he begins to play G. F. Handel's musical composition, Ode for St. Cecilia's Day. [The music ends at 29:35.]
At 28:25, while the music is playing, Reeves speaks of the NT description of the church as being made up of different members with different gifts yet constituting a harmony. This was also awesome.
A beautiful performance of this cantata can be viewed on YouTube here: ~ Händel Ode for St Cecilia's Day Arts Florissants, P Agnew.

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687 

Stanza 1
From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
               This universal frame began.
       When Nature underneath a heap
               Of jarring atoms lay,
       And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
               Arise ye more than dead.
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
       In order to their stations leap,
               And music's pow'r obey.
From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
               This universal frame began:
               From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
       The diapason closing full in man.

Stanza 2
What passion cannot music raise and quell!
                When Jubal struck the corded shell,
         His list'ning brethren stood around
         And wond'ring, on their faces fell
         To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
                Within the hollow of that shell
                That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot music raise and quell!

Stanza 3         
The trumpet's loud clangor
                Excites us to arms
         With shrill notes of anger
                        And mortal alarms.
         The double double double beat
                Of the thund'ring drum
         Cries, hark the foes come;
Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat.

Stanza 4         
The soft complaining flute
         In dying notes discovers
         The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.

Stanza 5         
Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
         For the fair, disdainful dame.

Stanza 6
But oh! what art can teach
         What human voice can reach
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their Heav'nly ways
         To mend the choirs above.

Stanza 7
Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place;
                Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder high'r;
         When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
An angel heard, and straight appear'd
                Mistaking earth for Heav'n.

As from the pow'r of sacred lays
         The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
         To all the bless'd above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
   This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,

         The dead shall live, the living die,
         And music shall untune the sky.