God’s Music

In response to the Johann Sebastien post, Trish wrote that someone once said, when God plays music for his angels he plays Bach; but when he plays music for himself, it’s Brahms. Thank you Trish. Somehow your quotation reminded me of poxy St. Augustine, although on reflection, the only connection is that St. Augustine believed in God. Anyway, my beef with St Augustine is two-fold. Not only does he bear sole responsibility for the invention of original sin, but he was also very confused about the point of music and actually believed it to be dangerous to a fragile Catholic soul!

“I waver,” he wrote, “between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those time I would prefer not to hear the singer.”

What to do with such a saint? Thomas Beecham, who could never even remotely be described as ‘saintly’, had a far healthier view. “The function of music,” said Sir Thomas, whose life was jam-packed with music making, “Is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” Bravo, Tom! Boo, hiss, St. A.!

But surely even this venerable saint would not object to being moved by both words and music. For example in the miraculous Agnus Dei by Benjamin Britten from his devastingly beautiful War Requiem. The singer is Ben’s life-long friend, Peter Pears. The English words by Wilfred Owen. And I’m sure God plays this one for himself.

2 thoughts on “God’s Music

  1. Reading Thinlay Norbu Rinpoche’s Magic Dance, I came across this just now: “Agreement or disagreement between parents and children, men and women, students and teachers, or governments and their people always arises because they are trying to change negative habits into positive habits according to their own point of view.”

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