An imaginary Conversation between the Gospel writer MARK and the composer J.S. BACH
by Harvey Richardson Profiles in Catholicism
Mark: Well, Bach, I have recently come across the Internet and the World Wide Web, and what a fantastic development it all is! With Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you can communicate, at the press of a button, and share thoughts instantaneously to anyone anywhere in the world. What a difference this technology would have made to us in our day – instant communication of our life’s work, our ideas, our texts and scores, and our message across the whole known world!
Bach: Yes, Mark, how fantastisch! But it does feel as if this instantaneous ‘messaging’, especially with Twitter and Facebook, lacks a certain CREATIVITY. It can become so technical, with little room for reflection. I have always seen my work as an artistic and creative activity, even though many people have applied all kinds of analytical, mathematical and dry theological ideas to it.
Would you believe it, someone has found in my violin sonatas, which I wrote in 1720, all kinds of references to numbers and mathematics, which had never occurred to ME?
I know all about old Pythagoras, and ‘The Harmony of the Spheres’ with its attention to cosmic order and mathematical balance – but really!
However, this same commentator HAS identified references to God’s work of salvation in Christ throughout these violin pieces of mine, even suggesting that the second piece with its minor-key relates specifically to the one in the major key, similar to the minor mode of Christ’s crucifixion resolving into the major key of resurrection.
Although you can easily read things into my work which I never dreamt of, I think references to Christian salvation, death and resurrection do resonate with my own belief that my work, whether sacred or secular, is written for the ‘glory of God’, and as such it is more of a creative art-work than a mathematical set of dry analytical formulations.
Presumptuous as it may sound, I did feel, while working on my compositions, as if I was sharing in the very creative and artistic processes of God!
What do you think, Mark?
Mark: Well, Bach, I have so few pieces of writing to my name, unlike you with all your hundreds of masterpieces. And, to be honest, until now, I have not thought of my story about the life of Jesus of Nazareth as a creative work of art. But the more I think about it, I could well have been taking part in an artistic and creative process, but like you, I have been astonished by the insatiable desire of so many people wanting to focus on scientific, mechanical, analytical and historical criticism, without leaving room for aesthetic and artistic creativity.
For example, many people still think my gospel story is the shortest, ‘easiest’ and best place to start hearing about Jesus, because – as they say – mine was written first, and therefore mine is nearest to historical facts! I have even heard it said that mine is more primitive and less ‘theological’ that the other Gospels!
I see that the writer of the letter to the Colossians has described Jesus as ’the ‘Icon’ of the invisible God’, touching on an idea that the very story of Jesus of Nazareth, the ‘Christ event’ could be likened more to an art-work that an historical biography.
So, if it is possible to think of Jesus as a visual work of art, an icon being made by God, I guess the Jesus ‘story’ could be regarded as a sounding work of art, a musical experience if you will, composed by God. And maybe you have something here, Bach – perhaps after all, like you, I have been sharing in the very creative and organic processes of God!
I love these words from Novalis, spoken to the new king of Prussia in 1797, urging him to abandon the long tradition of running the state as if it was a factory, and instead treat it as a work of art:
‘The ruler creates an infinitely diverse theatre, where the stage and parterre, the actors and spectators are one, and where he is at once poet, director, and hero of the piece’
I guess we could also add suitable musical allusions to these dramatic descriptions.
Bach: Yes, that makes a lot of sense to me.
Mark: I have heard that the Christian family, the Church, gradually came to look upon the fullness of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection as God’s new supreme creative act, a New Creation – his equivalent of a ‘Magnum Opus’.
But there is something which is troubling me.
The last page of my Jesus story went missing very early on, and other people have been involved in trying to finish things off for me. This worries me because, for so long, most of my readers have assumed that this work of mine was incomplete. It has been suggested that my ‘missing’ manuscript might even have ended up as the conclusion to John’s Gospel! So, if my Gospel text is an art-work, does my ‘creativity’ need to have a clear conclusion, or is it OK for there to be an element of fragmentation and inconclusiveness about it? What do you think?
IMPROVISATION AT THE HEART OF CREATION
Bach: Well, I don’t think your heart needs to be troubled, my friend! After all, I never completed the ‘Art of Fugue’, my final work. In the event, after my death, one of my sons worked on a set of possible conclusions - so I’m told. And my ‘Mark Passion’, drawing on your Gospel text, written in 1730, has been lost for ever!
And there are countless examples of unfinished art-works, you know. Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’, Elgar’s Third Symphony, Mahler’s ‘Tenth’, Schoenberg’s ‘Moses und Aron’, to name just a few. But I think all this highlights the fact that creativity by its very nature is ‘incomplete’ and ‘fragmentary’. After all, are not others, apart from ourselves, actively involved in expressing, ‘performing’ and re-creating our work over periods of time?
I even get the impression that the prevalence of ‘Social Media’ texting these days encourages abbreviation and fragmentation of words, especially with Twitter restricting the limit of words to 140 for each ‘tweet’. Hardly a recipe for creativity and artistry!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, in responding to your thoughts about creativity and art-work, I want to stress the importance of IMPROVISATION. In my day, I got quite a name for myself as an Improviser at the organ and harpsichord!
I’m boasting now, but there’s a fanciful story about a visit to King Frederick of Prussia in 1747, and how he sang to me a complicated theme, and on the spot I made a fugue in four parts, then in five parts, and finally in eight parts!
In my day, it went without saying that all aspiring composers were accomplished Improvisers. Even that revolutionary Beethoven was nearly as good as me, and he had the luxury of a modern pianoforte keyboard!
And listen to how Beethoven, in his 5th Symphony, improvises on a theme just 2 notes – di-di-dee-da!
Not to mention the very foundations upon which jazz performances are based! And you know, there are some people who are ‘natural’ improvisers, and hopeless at ‘sight-reading’ – and vice versa! I do wonder if Bible ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘literalists’ are generally better at sight-reading than at improvisation.
So, Mark, could you regard yourself more as an ‘improvising’ creative artist, and less of a sight-reader?
Mark: Well, there’s a thought! If anything, I could see the life of Jesus as a grand and wonderfully created motif, a sort of primal ‘di-di-dee-da’ ‘leitmotiv’, a ‘cantus firmus’ , as Bonhoeffer imagined it – and perhaps all my words about Jesus in my Greek text could, at a pinch, be regarded as an improvisation on the artistically created theme of God’s love for the world.
What do you make of these words by my Swiss friend Hans urs von Balthasar:
‘………God first creates from the twisted system of the world’s sin the five-line staff upon which Christ’s melody can be written down for men [and women] to hear and understand’?
Bach: I like that!
Mark: And so it does make sense that in the process of writing down the story of Jesus, with lots of help and vivid recollections and handed-down memories from so many others, of course, I guess I have been engaged in an improvisatory process. Yes!
But there is also a problem with that, especially if improvisation is linked to the question of the origin of Creation, the beginning of all things. Putting it bluntly, can we still say with confidence that Creation came from nothing – creatio ex nihilo – if improvisation is playing such a pivotal role? I wonder if the old-established Judeo-Christian assumption of creatio ex nihilo should really be creatio ex improvisatore!
ARE YOU COMING OUT TO PLAY?
Bach: That IS indeed quite a thought! Does it help to suggest that my creativity comes into being only when my music score is interpreted and played, and likewise only when your text is read and sounded aloud, even ‘performed’ or ‘played’? For me, the creative act is a rich communal activity – it involves not just the composing creator, but also the transcribers, the performers and the listeners – all of whom play their improvisatory parts.
Mark: Yes, go on!
Bach: Well, you see I can’t be doing with idolizing individuals, as Immanuel Kant does with his idea of ‘genius’, making one person the sole originator, or ‘author’ of an art-work. It’s down not just to you or me, or even to God the Creator for that matter (as plenty of people have done).
Incidentally, I think that’s another problem with today’s ‘Social Media’, and Twitter in particular. A culture is growing and predominating nowadays, and not very creative at that, in which attention is focused solely on the one person sending the text, encouraging an individualistic and elevated position and viewpoint. A modern Western obsession!
To press this home a bit, I think my ‘St Matthew Passion’ becomes a work of creative art only when my crafted, hard-won scribbles in manuscript have been transcribed & printed, interpreted, played, sung, listened to, and truly ‘heard’ by others. In other words, you can’t describe the written text as a work of art just on its own.
Mark: Now, yes! I can see what you are getting at! I sometimes feel that my ‘manuscript’, my Gospel text, is elevated to such a degree it becomes an ‘other-worldly’ ‘Word of God’, and so I’m sure you are right to stress the community aspect in the creative process. My Jesus story is an organic, living, developing thing. So many people have been involved in copying, translating, inserting chapters and headings, even ‘correcting’ my manuscript, and there are still more, 20 centuries on, preparing to ‘play’ it, by proclaiming the great ‘theme’, by preaching, reading aloud, by entering into it with active listening and attentive hearing. I think, incidentally, this can be done only ‘in time’ and ‘in space’ – it should not be idolized and pushed ‘out of time’ or into some metaphysical unreachable space – six feet above contradiction, as some have said
Perhaps my ‘creative’ work should really be an invitation to ‘come out and play’, just as your music scores cry out to be played by others. I wish I had known about that old playful rhyme, before my fellow ‘gospellers’ got hold of it, when children shouted to one another:
‘…..We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we made lamentation, but you did not beat your breast’.
The great leitmotiv, that ‘cantus firmus’ of selfless love and the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ could surely be thought of as God’s way of inviting everyone ‘out to play’, to sing his song, to skip to his dance, enabling them to become improvisers, and thereby participators in the New Creation, the Magnum Opus, with him.
And more than that, there are hints in the Hebrew Scriptures which imply that Creation itself takes place with such a thing as playfulness and delight: in Proverbs 8:22ff we hear about the Lord GOD creating ‘wisdom’ as ‘the beginning of his works, before all else that he made, long ago……..’, and in an English translation, this text continues:
‘Then I was at his side each day,
His darling and delight,
Playing in his presence continually,
Playing on the earth, when he had finished it,
While my delight was in humankind.’
PLAYING ‘IN TIME’
Bach: Woah! Hold on, my friend – I think you may be running away with yourself and going a bit too fast for me! Take your time!
However, you have touched on something which really fascinates me – the very meaning of TIME and how we should best ‘keep time’, or ‘play in time’. I would be most interested in your views, even though this runs the risk of getting so complex, to be incomprehensible! Stephen Hawking’s recent ‘A Brief History of Time’ seems to have flummoxed more people than it helped! Although he has opened up the wonderful concept of ‘deep time’ – an approach towards the notion of ‘eternity’.
Mark: I hear that Cardinal Newman’s Gerontius, set to music by Edward Elgar in 1900, sings some memorable words:
‘How still it is,
I hear no more the busy beat of time,
No, nor my flutt’ring breath, nor struggling pulse,
Nor does one moment differ from the next’
Bach: Yes, how wonderful, but there are so many ways of understanding ‘time’. There is ‘clock’ time, of course, which has a clear beat not unlike my heart-beat – but then even that can be irregular! And look what trouble caused when railway networks tried to regularize their station clocks!
In 1815, well before the railways, some people found Maelzel’s Metronome with its measured ‘strict’ time, not always to be helpful! Surely, they said, time moves in a multitude of varied ways – as well as being regular, it also flies, it drags, it even stands still. Franz Liszt, that pianistic virtuoso, in 1870 wrote:
‘A metronomical performance is certainly tiresome and nonsensical: time and rhythm must be adapted to and identified with the melody, the harmony, the accent and the poetry’.
And just to make things even more complicated, it has been suggested that time, in music, can be both like a ‘circle’ and an ‘arrow’, at once recurring in a circular fashion, but also, beginning at one point and moving on to a conclusion at the end point. In the 21st century, a book has been written with the title ‘Bach’s Cycle and Mozart’s Arrow’ – how about that?
Mark: Well, well!
Bach: But the thing most appealing to me is the idea that the process of hearing a musical melody is three-fold, ‘hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once’, as someone has put it. This brings past and future all together in the present, and it feels right to me, as a composer. Someone else also said something like: ‘It’s what goes on between the notes, not so much the notes themselves, that really matters’.
So, with all that off my chest, Mark, do you think this could be helpfully applied when listening to the music of your Gospel, the ‘cantus firmus’ melody of Jesus Christ, when it is proclaimed, preached and reflected upon?
Mark: Well – how much ‘time’ do I have?
It was very clear to me, while gathering material for my story, that there were lots of past references and traditions relating to the arrival of Jesus on the scene (recorded in Hebrew prophesies, and early ‘Messianic’ traditions), and lots of future hopes and expectations linked to his life (not least his resurrection and the ‘end of all things’), along with all the memories of Jesus’ words and actions in the present tense. So it makes some sense to say that the process of ‘hearing’ the melodic story of Jesus can indeed be ‘hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once’.
This could address a common problem in today’s readers of the story of Jesus, as told by others as well as me, many of whom put the priority of the Jesus story firmly in the past, without listening and attending to its melodies which can to be heard in the present as well as in things about to happen in the future.
And I suppose it’s true to say that modern ‘social media’ texting influences people with a severely limited approach to ‘time’……..It’s all instant communication seeking to reflect only one aspect of ‘time’ (usually the past), certainly not having a three-fold dimension of past, present AND future considerations within it! I can see that people should be warned not to be conditioned by a solely ‘one-dimensional’ approach to understanding ‘texts’.
I love the opening lines from T S Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’:
‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.’
And how fascinating it is that ‘Burnt Norton’ is one of ‘Four Quartets’, and how musical Quartets require all four players to relate in time to one another, in harmony, yet with each distinctive individual voice being audible to all the others.
Bach: Yes, and Incidentally, I hear from old Georg Friedrich Handel those ‘people called Methodists’ began, soon after my time, to sing out these words by Charles Wesley:
By faith we know thee strong to save -
Save us, a present Saviour thou!
Whate'er we hope, by faith we have,
Future and past subsisting now.
And didn’t my older fellow German, Gottfried Leibniz write about the present as suffused with the past and pregnant with the future?
Mark: That’s great!
RHYTHM SHAPES THE FORM
Bach: Yes, but now let’s move on because all this leads nicely to the subject of RHYTHM, especially as many musicians put great store on it, in order to grasp the shape and form of a musical text. But again, just like ‘Time’, it’s vast and complex.
So, just one example – in years since my time, a rhythmic pattern called Sonata Form became highly influential in the musical world. Put very simply, there was the initial ‘theme’ called the Exposition, followed by its Development (exploring a variety of shapes, keys, patterns of the theme), in turn followed by the Recapitulation, a re-sounding of the theme in the light of all that has gone before. The attentive listener could easily pick up and recognize this three-fold rhythmic shape. So the Form of the music is determined by its rhythmic (sonic) shape. The opening movements of Beethoven’s 5th and Prokoviev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony are clear examples
Mark: Well, that word ‘Recapitulation’ is jumping out at me, in Greek ‘anakaphalaiosis’! The 2nd century bishop Irenaeus claimed that Adam, the first human, set out on life (his theme and exposition), but, as the human race evolved, made a right mess of it (development). Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, when he entered humanity later, set about retracing all of Adam’s steps, restoring his so-called ‘fallen state’ at each stage along the way (the Recapitulation).
So, the attentive listener to my ‘cantus firmus’ should be able to detect this rhythmic recapitulation, the re-sounding melodic shape which underlies the Jesus story whenever my Gospel is heard. But sadly, my hearers seem to be more interested in listening to historical fragments, not to the organic sonic shape and rhythm of Jesus’ life It doesn’t help that, for most Sunday worshippers, they hear only tiny extracts from the whole Gospel each week!
And as for the influence of Twitter, etc, I can see that there is no awareness whatever in the shaping or the form of the messages – no detectable rhythm there, I guess!
But will you allow me to contradict myself and very quickly focus on one small, but significant, detail before we move on from our discussion of RHYTHM?
Bach: Of course!
Mark: When I was reminded of Jesus’ well-known Parable, the ‘Sower and his seed’, indeed the first one I jotted down, I was acutely aware of those memorable words ‘Those who have ears, let them hear’. I even had Jesus begin with an arresting tone: ‘Akoute!’, ‘Listen!’
I then tried to recount the Parable in a Greek poetic style, and whenever I ‘hear’ it (as opposed to merely ‘reading’ it) I am struck by its obvious rhythmic ‘musicality’.
Bach: How hard it is for us non-Greek speakers, with such un-Grecian ears, to hear that rhythm! I have heard it said: ‘To read the Scriptures in translation is like kissing your wife through a handkerchief’. So thanks for pointing out that little ‘detail’, Mark - we must surely listen out more and more for these organic rhythmic patterns. There may be more of it about than we think! I tried very hard to ‘feel’ the musicality of the Biblical words and phrases I set to music, especially in my Passions. As you say ‘Akoute!’
And for me, as a musician, of all the human senses, HEARING takes pride of place. There can be no music until it is heard. Now how about you, Mark?
Mark: Well, J. S., I am beginning to feel the penny might be dropping! If there is no music until it is heard, it may also be true that there is no Gospel of Jesus unless it is heard. This is becoming clearer now.
Isn’t it interesting that John, my evangelistic colleague in the Gospel (Ch 10:7) has Jesus say during a climactic moment:
‘My sheep hear (Gk: akouousin) my voice (Gk: phones), and I know them, and they follow me…..’?
Bach: Yes, indeed!
Mark: I reckon John could have just as easily written:
‘My sheep hear my music, (my ‘cantus firmus’), and I know them, and they sing my ‘theme’ along with me…..’!
My friend Hans says that Hearing should take priority over Seeing. He points out that when we ‘See’ we can so easily have control over what we perceive, as if we are grasping and owning a whole range of ‘understandings’, whereas when we ‘Hear’, we become humble and attentive. The hearer belongs to ‘the other’ and thereby becomes obedient to ‘the other’.
Of course, Paul, in his long Letter to the Romans adds such a powerful line about our faith:
‘Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ’ (Rom 10:17)
So throughout this whole conversation, we have been stressing and ‘talking up’ the vital importance of careful Hearing, don’t you think?
Bach: Yes, I agree. But I also think we are touching upon a ‘poetic’ aspect to what we mean by ‘hearing’. William Blake wrote:
‘To see a world in a grain of sand,
A universe in a wild flower;
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
Eternity in a single hour’
You could say his visual ‘seeing’ is a way of hearing too.
Mark: Yes, but I must say that it made a huge difference to me when I originally set about writing my text with attentive ears, rather than just with my eyes - listening out for what could be heard in and around the words. I was trying to do that very thing when, in Rome, I was transcribing Peter’s stirring thoughts from his sermons, rather than seeking to unravel or grasp the meaning and truth of every word - instead, I was striving to be an attentive, obedient and faithful hearer of what lay behind, around and beneath, Peter’s utterances.
I’m a little envious of my fellow ‘gospeller’ Matthew who used the word ‘symphoneo’ to describe ‘agreement’ made between two faithful people after a serious dispute (Matthew 18:19). It picks up my thoughts precisely about hearing and sounding as one, as being in tune.
So, Bach, I do hope it will make sense for others to think about becoming more attentive and obedient hearers of the ‘cantus firmus’ of Jesus in its organic form, so that they can be aware that the abundance of critical tools at their disposal these days, (biblical and literary criticism in particular) and their obsession with historical and literal truths, are not the most important things when approaching a given text. It’s more important to sharpen our ears, our inner instruments, and become attentive listeners and hearers.
A little Hassidic story sums this up well for me:
‘Two men came into the palace of a king. One of them concentrated on each room, admired with a connoisseur’s eye the precious materials and the jewels and could not have enough of examining. The other whisked through the rooms, continually saying to himself: “I hear this is the house of the king, this is the king’s garment and I’m sure I can hear his voice – only a few more steps and I shall behold my lord the king.”’
PLAYING ‘IN TUNE
Bach: Your reference to ‘sharpening our ears’ makes me realize that in the playing and performance of music, there are so many things about which we need to be sensitive - I’d love to know what you think about HOW we should hear and HOW we should listen. This is particularly important to me, blessed (or cursed?) as I am with the gift of ‘perfect pitch’. When listening to music, there are so many important aspects, for example:
a) As people play my music, are they, in themselves, perfectly ‘in tune’ with me, properly ‘attuned’ to it? Are they in the right mood (we Germans have a word for this: Stimmung), in order to hear and perceive everything which may be in it?
b) Are they expecting to pick up subtleties of expression, moving organic forms and shapes; to be sensitive and aware of pauses, silences, to recognize the weight and length placed on stresses, anticipations – all those things not spelled out in the score, because they cannot be put into words or symbols?
I’m asking these things because the musical listening experiences of most people today seems to be in the area of ‘easy listening’, ‘smooth classics at seven’, as Classic FM has it. With the help of modern IT, social media, so much music is played in the background while people are doing other things: it can be like sonic wall paper; it can meet our need for soothing our troubled breast; and it can excite our emotions, especially our sexual passions. A well-known philosopher has described music as nothing other than ‘auditory cheesecake’
So my question, Mark, is this:
When people ‘play’ and join in with your ‘music of the Gospel’, do they hear its real, sometimes inaudible, voice?
A modern New Zealand hymn-writer sings:
All the voices of the ages
In transcendent chorus meet,
Worship lifting up the senses,
Hands that praise, and dancing feet;
Over discord and division
Music speaks your joy and peace,
Harmony of earth and heaven,
Song of God that cannot cease!
[Shirley Erena Murray (born 1931), from no. 74 in ‘Singing the Faith’]
Do we pin back our ears to strain for the overtones, or even the undertones? Do we also need to be attuned to all those subtleties and ‘indefinable qualities’ which concern me so?
Mark: Yes, I’m sure we should!
Too often these days, with only brief fragments read out in Church worship, opportunities for hearing the whole range of subtleties of sound and tone in the Gospel text are missed. I’m sure there would be a whole new world of interest if ‘players’ of the text were more attuned, more open and expectant, more ‘in tune’ with themselves and their environment.
For an example, I think my account of the death-scene, The Passion, of Jesus is bursting with inflections, pauses, rhetorical devises, stresses and dramatic expectations – varying tones, overtones and pitches, voices, and shades of expression, especially undisclosed punctuations - but sadly, so few people are aware of them, let alone are they listening out for them!
Also, today’s ‘hearers of the Word’ have become so accustomed to having all punctuation marks, sentence shapes and structures, and other dynamics provided for them, - even chapter numbers and verses - it seems they no longer need to do any imaginative or creative hearing/listening for themselves. Have they forgotten that my original text was a succession of unbroken lower-case letters, with no paragraphs or punctuation marks – let alone chapter and verse divisions?
As an aside, I personally feel that the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures, with all its elaborate cantillation markings indicating ‘preferred’ vowel sounds, has made us into such lazy hearers, interpreters and ‘performers’!
A famous present-day actor, another Mark (Rylance) has said: ‘I think we speak like a speedboat careering across a deep loch. So many different forces are at work to create the way we speak.’
Bach: How true I’m sure you will expect me to comment on more problems with the ever present Social Media and text messaging! Instant messaging has no room whatever for subtleties, and hidden meanings – everything is ‘as it is’, take it or leave it!
CULTURE & STYLE
Bach: In moving here among people of so many different cultures, ethnicity and backgrounds, and before we leave this discussion about being ‘in tune’, I think we have just enough ‘time’ to face up to the profound issues surrounding our own cultures and nationalities. In my case I am deeply conscious that my ‘German’ origin deeply affects both the way I have written my music and how it is received, played, interpreted and heard by others.
There’s little doubt that Germany has had enormous influence in the Western musical world over many centuries, in spite of someone describing our music as ‘empty, strident and incontinent’! The triumvirate of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms has held sway for countless music students.
Mark: And, butting in, don’t forget that Bible students in the West have had their own German triumvirate too – Barth, Bultmann and Bonhoeffer!
Bach: Yes, but I simply want to say how important it is for us to recognize the characteristics and ‘accents’ of our individual local nationalities when we perform, interpret and play music. For example, Percy Grainger, that eccentric Australian plays my fugues very differently from that serious German-speaker, Artur Schnabel. What do you think, my friend?
Mark: I think that language, nationality and culture are highly significant, especially when it comes to ‘performing’ the scriptures. Look at the countless number of translations of my Gospel available now! In the English-speaking world, how on earth do people choose the right version from such a multitude of current translations? [KJV, NEB, NRSV, NIV, GNB, etc, etc]. And of course, I had a constant challenge writing down in rather coarse ‘koine’ Greek, all those thoughts and concepts most of which had been originally expressed in Aramaic!
Something that helps me is a comment made by my fellow Gospeller Matthew, [Ch 1:21] -: ‘Jesus translates God. Jesus is the one interpreter who accomplishes the miracle of translating the Being of God into a language accessible to creatures’.
I think I would want to say: Jesus sings God’s melody. Jesus is the one interpreter who accomplishes the miracle of singing God’s song in harmonies and tones which resonate for others’.
Not only should we be aware of the characteristics of our own native tongue, we should also be aware that there is available an accent and a language, a culture of a ‘kingdom’, a ‘realm’ if you will, which I have tried to reflect in the ‘cantus firmus’ of Jesus.
Paul in his Letter to Galatia says: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’. That’s a kind of signature tune for Jesus’ life, I think. It resonates with those inexpressible subtleties, anticipations, despairs, discords and harmonies we considered earlier. THIS is the culture, the language, the dialect, the ‘accent’ which rules over all languages!
When we listen to the ‘cantus firmus’ of Jesus, we need to hear the overtones and silences, the pauses and spirit-filled inflexions, that ‘signature tune’ of the whole of Jesus’ organic life, his dying and his rising.
This was what I was seeking to convey in my Gospel, when I had Jesus trying to convince his disciples about his ‘essence’, his reason for being, insisting three times: ‘The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’. [Ch 8:31; Ch 9:31; Ch 10:33,34]. I wanted it to be like a musical climactic outburst, preceded by many tensions, building up with anticipatory leading notes.
Bach: Wow. That just about sums up everything we’ve been discussing!
POLYPHONY OF LIFE
Bach: But there remains just one enormous question, a sort of Coda to keep us thinking!
If we take Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s approach to the ‘polyphony’ of life, and listen to the multitude of sounding themes and the rich variety of musical experiences across the globe, dare we ask if the unique and distinctive Melody and ‘cantus firmus’ of Jesus Christ has to be the only music to listen out for, hear and ‘perform’