Thursday, January 14, 2010

Becoming Acquainted with Karl Barth III: Love of Music (i.e. Mozart)

While reviewing my CD collection to ascertain the "albums I've lived by" I was struck again at how influential music has been not only in my day to day life but in the development of my "outlook". I suppose there is a chicken and egg argument to be made here. Maybe music is simply indicative of one's life, but I think there is a back and forth: Your life shapes your music choices and your listening can profoundly shape your life.

So, music is the theme of this the third installment of my "Becoming Acquainted with Barth" series. The following quotes from Eberhard Busch's Karl Barth: His Life from Letters will give you a sense of the influence of music on Barth's own life and theology.

Barth wrote: “But the golden sounds and melodies of Mozart’s music have always spoken to me – not as gospel, but as parables of the kingdom revealed in the gospel of God’s free grace, and they continue to do so with the utmost freshness. Without it I could not think of what moves me personally in theology, in politics. There are probably few theologians’ studies in which the pictures of Mozart and of Calvin can be seen side by side at the same level” (410).

"Equally remarkable was Barth’s confession in one of the commemorative articles, that ‘if I ever get to heaven, I shall first ask after Mozart, and only then after Augustine and Thomas, Luther and Calvin and Schleiermacher’” (409).

While we're on the subject of music, I couldn't resist throwing in the following two quotes, which I think hint at what Barth might say about evangelical "worship" habits today. The first humorous (and telling) anecdote is fairly obvious, addressing the delight worshippers sometimes seem to have at the sound of their own voices. The second is from pretty early in Barth's career, but it represents his opposition to presumptuous triumphalism (despite emphasis on the victory of Christ), and so I'm inferring here that it reflects a desire (if not his then mine) to see lament and confession as integral parts of Christian worship.

“But if only the Anglo-Saxons would not make their phylacteries so broad and so long! I went to an Evening Prayer at which the Lord’s Prayer was said twice and the Gloria five or six times. I said to them afterwards, 'If I were the good God, I would reply to you in a voice of thunder, ‘All right, that will do, I’ve heard you!’ . . . The best diversion was provided by a small cat which once intruded into the service. It miaowed around here and there, finally sprang on the back of one of the most zealous worshippers and from there waved its tail to and fro like a banner” (399).

“During the break in the summer semester of 1922 Barth had the opportunity of articulating his theology and taking it out of the lecture hall to groups of pastors and theologians by giving three long lectures. . . . Barth concluded: ‘There is more hope when we sigh
Veni Creator spiritus!, than when we exult as though the spirit were already ours. You have been introduced to 'my theology' once you have heard this sigh”(139).

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