Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pope Benedict XVI: Music, Beauty, and Prayer

We watched this DVD last week and will need to watch it or listen to the music again, at least--especially to hear Hilary Hahn's own credenzas in the Mozart violin concerto. The concert was broadcast live in 2007 on April 16, Pope Emeritus Benedict's 80th birthday. Other than the opening remarks and the pope's final remarks, the musical selections on the disc are:

Giovanni Gabrieli (1553 - 1612)
Canzon noni toni a 12, C 183 (rev. by T. Unger)
Stuttgart Radio Brass, Gustavo Dudamel

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
Violin Concerto No.3 in G, K.216
1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Rondo (Allegro)
Hilary Hahn, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Gustavo Dudamel

Antonín Dvorák (1841 - 1904)
Symphony No.9 in E Minor, Op.95 "From the New World"
1. Adagio - Allegro molto
2. Largo
3. Scherzo (Molto vivace)
4. Allegro con fuoco
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Gustavo Dudamel

Giovanni Gabrieli (1553 - 1612)
Sonata XIII (rev. by T. Unger)
Stuttgart Radio Brass, Gustavo Dudamel

One reason why I'd just like to listen to the music is that the video images are rather limited--either close-ups of the soloist, conductor, or sections of the orchestra or wide angles of the hall (the Paul VI audience hall) and the audience. There is no middle. Even if people were enjoying the music their expressions--even Pope Benedict's--did not necessary show it.

Pope Benedict thanked the musicians after the concert and discussed his love of music and its universal language of beauty:

Above all, I would now like to thank the musicians of this evening's event, the members of the Stuttgarter Radio-Sinfonieorchesters, the SWR, who with their skill have offered us all an authentic experience of the inspiring power of great music.

I thank Gustavo Dudamel, the conductor, and Hilary Hahn, the soloist, and all of you, Ladies and Gentlemen. Since the language of music is universal, we see people from completely different cultural and religious backgrounds who let themselves be gripped and likewise guided by it and who also interpret it.

Today, this universal aspect of music is given special emphasis, thanks to the electronic and digital instruments of communications. How many people there are in the most diverse countries who are able to take part in this musical performance at home, or experience it later!

I am convinced that music - and here I am thinking in particular of the great Mozart and this evening, of course, of the marvellous music by Gabrieli and the majestic "New World" by Dvorák - really is the universal language of beauty which can bring together all people of good will on earth and get them to lift their gaze on high and open themselves to the Absolute Good and Beauty whose ultimate source is God himself.

In looking back over my life, I thank God for placing music beside me, as it were, as a travelling companion that has offered me comfort and joy. I also thank the people who from the very first years of my childhood brought me close to this source of inspiration and serenity.

I thank those who combine music and prayer in harmonious praise of God and his works: they help us glorify the Creator and Redeemer of the world, which is the marvellous work of his hands.

This is my hope: that the greatness and beauty of music will also give you, dear friends, new and continuous inspiration in order to build a world of love, solidarity and peace.

After hearing that first sentence in the last paragraph I thought about a CD we'd just rediscovered: Music from Holy Cross Monastery in Austria by Alberich Mazak, from the SEON label that was purchased by Sony Music. Mazak was a monk at the monastery in the seventeenth century (he lived from 1609 to 1661, who studied music and philosophy before becoming a priest and monk. According to the liner notes, he wrote "masses, litanies, sacred cantatas, psalms, offertories, antiphons and even simple German pieces." Unfortunately, we don't have the works contained in his Opus Three, which "presumably contained Mazak's most progressive style and represented the climax of his work". Holy Cross Monastery maintains a website and even records some of Mazak's music on their YouTube channel (The Monastic Channel). 

Pope Benedict visited Holy Cross Monastery in September of 2007 and commented on prayer and chant in the monastic life:

Dear brother priests and deacons, dear brothers and sisters in the consecrated life! I realize that discipline is needed, and sometimes great effort as well, in order to recite the Breviary faithfully; but through this officium we also receive many riches: how many times, in doing so, have we seen our weariness and despondency melt away! When God is faithfully praised and worshiped, his blessings are unfailing. In Austria, people rightly say: “Everything depends on God’s blessing!”.

Your primary service to this world must therefore be your prayer and the celebration of the divine Office. The interior disposition of each priest, and of each consecrated person, must be that of “putting nothing before the divine Office”. The beauty of this inner attitude will find expression in the beauty of the liturgy, so that wherever we join in singing, praising, exalting and worshipping God, a little bit of heaven will become present on earth. Truly it would not be presumptuous to say that, in a liturgy completely centred on God, we can see, in its rituals and chant, an image of eternity. Otherwise, how could our forefathers, hundreds of years ago, have built a sacred edifice as solemn as this? Here the architecture itself draws all our senses upwards, towards “what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined: what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the determining factor must always be our looking to God. We stand before God – he speaks to us and we speak to him. Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is already lost. Either it is Opus Dei, with God as its specific subject, or it is not. In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God who has called men and women to be his friends!

The soul of prayer, ultimately, is the Holy Spirit. Whenever we pray, it is he who “helps us in our weakness, interceding for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Trusting in these words of the Apostle Paul, I assure you, dear brothers and sisters, that prayer will produce in you the same effect which once led to the custom of calling priests and consecrated persons simply “spirituals” (Geistliche). Bishop Sailer of Regensburg once said that priests should be first and foremost spiritual persons. I would like to see a revival of the word “Geistliche”. More importantly, though, the content of that word should become a part of our lives: namely, that in following the Lord, we become, by the power of the Spirit, “spiritual” men and women.

Timely words for this year dedicated by Pope Francis to the Consecrated Life!

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