"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Note on the Sixth? Evangelist

There are many areas in which I am ignorant, and music is certainly one of them. So take this note for what it is: simply one of grateful expression for a book that has brought delight, almost as much for its subject as for its lovely, lyrical prose that gracefully renders a great deal of technical and historical knowledge in an accessible way without being elementary or condescending.

That book is by the historian Peter Gay (on some of whose other works I commented last month), Mozart: A Life (Penguin, 1999, 2006). It is a short and very winsome biography I read mostly on the plane to Vienna, a city that exceeds all expectations for its architecture, history, beauty, and food. The Habsburgs had indeed a capital worthy of their illustrious empire.

I picked up Gay's biography of Mozart last month because I was going to Vienna this month to a private conference organized by Pro Oriente on the Lviv "sobor" of 1946. So it seemed only fitting that I read about the man who spent the latter part of his life in the imperial capital and was buried there after having written some of the most glorious pieces of music any man has ever created. Gay makes his life come alive and skillfully interweaves it with commentary on his music that is never technically overwhelming (this latter problem having caused me to abandon, several years ago, another biography of Mozart--written by Maynard Solomon--because it was written at a technical level that only those with degrees in musicology could have fully accessed and appreciated it).

In fact, on the train, I passed the cemetery where Mozart was buried. And then I had the great good fortune to go with friends to the magnificent Karlskirche for a performance of excerpts from Mozart's Requiem which was, in that context, not only transporting but also revealing. As my friend, the priest-theologian (and my Doktorvater) Andriy Chirovsky put it, we could finally understand something of the nature of the Baroque--and the Karlskirche has to be a prototypical example of the Baroque--by listening to that music in that church. Suddenly what seemed perhaps excessive now made more sense, as though both the music and that architecture were each commensurate with the other.

And in Gay Mozart has found a biographer of commensurate skill also. Whether Mozart is the sixth evangelist (the status of "fifth" having, some time ago, been assigned by others to Bach) is for others to say, but I do rather like the line attributed to Barth which I first encountered in reading his Swiss contemporary and fellow Mozart lover, Hans Urs von Balthasar: when in the presence of God, of course the angels play Bach; but when they are simply en famille, they play Mozart! (See here for Philip McCosker's interesting theological study of Mozart, Barth, and von Balthasar.)

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