Extravagant Music

by Jun 4, 2010Culture3 comments

While I was on the Israel tour, I had some great discussions about modern choral music with Aaron Greene. It’s always a thrill to find someone who likes the same arcane stuff I do, let alone someone who already liked it during his freshman year when I had never heard of it!

He highly recommended a premier set of choral recordings, and I’ve been sampling them a little bit. It’s called the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, an unprecedented act of musical extravagance! John Eliot Gardiner and his fellow musicians attempted, according to the BCP website, “to perform all Bach’s surviving church cantatas on the appointed feast day and all within a single year.” They even tried to perform them in the place for which they were originally intended to be sung! What an undertaking!

I took a little time to watch the six YouTube videos describing the pilgrimage, and I was struck by the one of the recurring themes in the musicians’ comments: they didn’t really believe the Christianity underlying the music, but they said that singing all Bach’s cantatas was a powerfully religious experience anyway. One violinist, Matthew Truscott, said something I found especially interesting:

God puts on his best show with Bach. And I don’t think there is an alternative sort of inspiration other than Christianity that really triggers the music properly. I think that is really the ultimate key to it. It’s a shame I don’t believe it quite myself.

Here’s a man who understands Bach’s music and appreciates it at a level I may never, a non-Christian who saw Christianity as its essential ingredient. The website address for the pilgrimage even features Bach’s famous sign-off, “Soli Deo Gloria.” I see God’s common grace at work here in a mighty way. There is something high and holy about true beauty, and sometimes people who will not submit to it can see it more clearly than those who by God’s grace have submitted. God causes His rain to fall on the fields of the just and the unjust.

I’m thankful for the illumination God has given me in reading His Word, and I want more. I’m also thankful for the illumination He has given me in reading His general revelation—including especially the divine beauty He has placed in good art and music. And I want more.

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  1. Ryan Martin

    You should invest in some of Sir Gardiner’s DVDs. Or come up to Hendersonville some time and I’ll let you borrow some. And, if you’re interested in some great sounding Bach, you should definitely check out the cantatas and other sacred works under the direction of the Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki (talk about a universal language), who appears to be a believer of some kind (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoDDGFcUO8Q).

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      Thanks for the tip! I really did enjoy that video. In fact, I tended to prefer Suzuki’s sound to Gardiner’s. But I’ve had such a small sampling of both that I would like to form a more studied opinion. Soli Deo Gloria!

  2. Ryan Martin

    It’s a toss-up between the two. Gardiner is splendid, but Suzuki’s sound is very sweet.