Sunday, March 13, 2016

2016.03.13 Music Is Sempiterne

We went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert on Friday afternoon. I would label it sempiternalicious. This obviously  is a word of my own making. Sempiterne is Latin for “everlasting”. The “-alicious”, well…..I got carried away.

I felt old and young all at once. The audience was, or shall I say looked, quite elderly—many canes, walkers, some wheelchairs, and lots of white hair. This is my age group now. But I still have dark brown hair—mostly. Sometimes age doesn’t matter at all.

The sustained bursts of energy that erupted from this faintly decrepit group was enough to lift the roof off the stately concert hall—honestly equivalent to that of hundreds of young fans cheering and stomping at a rock concert. The young don’t shout, Bravo! Brava!  They just scream and jump. The older ones, though slightly bent, raised themselves to their feet, tapped canes, and raised as much of a ruckus as teenagers. 

Such is the magic of music. It can lift the faint of heart and the palsied of limb to the heavens. And at the same time the same music can be so utterly fleshly, embodied—pumping hearts, dashing fingers, puffing cheeks and tapping toes. That’s what Divinity is like when it blows into human flesh—  immeasurable irresistible energy. Levitating! Christianity calls this incarnation. After biological death, we call it resurrection.  

Now remember, this was an all-Beethoven concert, and most of Beethoven’s music blows the roof off all by itself.

I chuckled at Jan Swafford’sprogram note: In 1809, however, about the time of the premier to the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, Beethoven’s stupendous level of production abruptly fell off. (He was a mere 39!) Though there was still extraordinary music to come, Beethoven never again composed with the kind of fury he possessed in the first decade of the century. What happened? Beethoven was increasingly ill and his bad hearing getting worse. However, given his ability to transcend physical misery, it is more likely that his decline in production came from expressive quandaries. He had begun to sense that the train of ideas that had sustained him through the previous decade was close to being played out. He had to find something new.”

“Expressive quandaries” is an interesting phrase. How do you keep on expressing your soul’s passion as you age and fade?  As I get older and experience life trying to pass me by in this age of enormous technological change, I realize that some of the “train of ideas” that has sustained me no longer attracts  younger generations. This is especially true in the church. Some of the best and most enlivened and enlivening theologians continue to churn out new ideas that still sustain me, yet they don’t draw great crowds. 

Well, if Beethoven’s  Seventh symphony, which we heard at this concert, was an example of Beethoven’s abrupt decline in production, it was hardly a slowdown in spirit. The pace was manic at times. The musicians actually grinned and wiped their brow after the sumptuous high-speed finale, and I heard one whisper, “Whew!”

Taking the prize of the day for heaven and earth bound up together was the conductor, Herbert Blomstedt, born in the United States to Swedish parents. This old man is 88! He was lithe and youthful—ageless, as he made his entrances and took his bows with slight tilt but swiftly. The orchestra was delighted with their leader, and there was no difference at all between young or old, just like in the music.

I now understand fully why one metaphor for God is Conductor of the Eternal Symphony.