Beethoven and the Lamb of God
John 1:29: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”.
One of my favorite classical composers is Ludwig van Beethoven. While Bach wrote theological notes in the margins of his manuscripts, and his well-thumbed Bible also contained comments, Beethoven’s music is honest in its skepticism. There is power and passion in it, as well as a great deal of anger.
Beethoven rarely wrote church music, but, when he did, he gave it everything. His own assessment of his work suggests that he considered his Mass in D Minor (the Missa Solemnis) to be his greatest work. Following the liturgy of a Roman Catholic mass, in five sections, the work concludes with Agnus Dei – a liturgical prayer, sometimes used in certain Protestant churches. For example, the Church of England Prayer Book has this prayer, translated thus:
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.
In this section, Beethoven keeps repeating the word miserere (“have mercy”) over and over again, as if he is saying he is unable to find mercy. After this, the music suddenly breaks into an angry fugue.
Beethoven spent much of his life in anger. He was angry with God for his various infirmities, especially his deafness, which was total by the time of the premier of Missa Solemnis. We praise God for creative geniuses like Beethoven. Unlike the man himself, we give Him all the honor and glory, for the mercy He has shown us.
Prayer: We praise You, Heavenly Father, for the wonderful gift of music, and for the great men and women who use their talents for this art form. Help us to give You the honor and the glory for all the creativity, with which You have endowed us. Amen.
Notes: Gitman, P. (2011), Missa Solemnis, Classical Notes website, < http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics3/missa.html >, accessed 4/24/2017. Image: Josef Karl Steiler, 1820 – Public Domain, due to age.
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