Benedict & Beethoven

A few days ago, Pope Benedict was treated to a live performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by his very own (in some sense) Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. [A brief aside: for those unfamiliar, let me personally urge you to listen to this piece of music. It is absolutely amazing.] Beethoven wrote the symphony—his last—toward the end of his life, after deafness “threatened to suffocate his artistic creativity,” as the Holy Father put it. For this reason, the “extraordinary finale of optimism and joy,” which provides the finale for the work, is all the more astonishing.

The pope applauded the composer’s “new way of listening that went well beyond a simple capacity to experience in his imagination the sound of notes read or written.” “God—sometimes through periods of interior emptiness and isolation,” said the Holy Father, “wishes to make us attentive and capable of ‘feeling’ His silent presence, not only ‘over the canopy of stars’ but also in the most intimate recesses of our soul. There burns the spark of divine love that can free us to be what we truly are.”

These comments are very fitting, especially in light of the last post on the form of Catholic liturgy; the tradition of the Church has always had a special place for beautiful music within its liturgy, and continues to hold one even today. Benedict’s inspiring words about the secular work of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which was based on Schiller’s poem, An die Freude, are even more applicable to music specifically composed for the Mass. If one can write music so beautiful about natural things, all the more can it be written about the mysterious life of the Holy Trinity and the gifts of grace that flow hence into our lives.

[Father Adam Hertzfeld, on his own blog in recent days, addresses the topic of ‘sacred music’ in much more detail. Click here for the link.]