The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mozart and the Catholic Faith

I was reading a Catholic newspaper the yesterday, and I read there was an article in This Rock Magazine by a person claiming that he or she was converted by the music of Mozart. Now, I am not a convert, but you can say that I have been a "re-vert" a couple of times in my life now. So I know the whole business about being knocked off your horse, the tears, and the Augustinian angst. (I know that His mercy endures forever!)

Conversion, however, is a tricky thing to talk about. Of course, the primary ingredient is Grace, the power of the Spirit of God. This, notwithstanding, can take so many forms and manefestations. A smile by some person, a sunset, the death of someone we love.... Grace cannot be bottled, and I don't think that it is like an electric current we don't see. Many times, God works in very tangible ways.

Let us go back about six and a half years ago now. A died-in-the-wool atheistic Marxist from Berkeley enters a Catholic Church where the old Roman rite of the Mass in Latin is taking place. The music is not the mystical Gregorian chants as reconstructed by Solesmes, it is rather the overly cheerful sounds of Mozart's Sparrow Mass (KK 220, Missa Brevis in C). In those notes, however, the voice of God was talking to him. It was saying, "Life is not as nasty as you think."

Out of all of the sources that most made me finally submit to Christ's gentle embrace, this work is the most memorable of them. I think what is profundly Catholic about Mozart is not necessarily the sturm und drang of his Requiem, but the lightness and cheerfulness that characterizes so many of his sacred and secular works. There is no heart-breaking melancholy that hangs over the works of Bach, no pretentiousness that infects much of the work of romanticist composers. In the end, in spite of the constant accusations of the world, the Catholic Faith affirms and lifts up, it does not negate and brood. Mozart's music has always had this affect on me. I suppose on the 250th anniversary of his birth, the world as it is now truly needs to recover this spirit.