Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Benedict on Beethoven

I had somehow missed these insightful comments on Beethoven's 9th from the Pope:

The Ninth Symphony, this impressive masterpiece which - as you said, dear Cardinal - belongs to the universal patrimony of humanity, stirs me ever anew to wonder. After years of inner isolation and a withdrawn life in which Beethoven had to combat the internal and external difficulties that caused him depression and profound bitterness and threatened to stifle his artistic creativity, the composer, by then totally deaf, amazed the public in 1824 with a composition that broke with the traditional form of the symphony and with the cooperation of orchestra, choir and soloists, rose to an extraordinary finale of optimism and joy. What had happened?

The music itself allows attentive listeners to guess something of what was at the root of this unexpected explosion of joy. The overwhelming sentiment of jubilation transformed into music here is far from trivial or superficial: it is a sentiment won with effort, overcoming the inner emptiness of someone whom deafness had forced into isolation - the empty fifths at the beginning of the first movement and the constant bursting in of a gloomy atmosphere are an expression of it.

Silent loneliness, however, had taught Beethoven a new way of listening which went far beyond the mere ability to hear in his imagination the sound of the notes that he read or wrote. In this context, a mysterious saying of the Prophet Isaiah springs to my mind in which, speaking of a victory of truth and righteousness, he said: "In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see" (cf. 29: 18-24). Mention is thus made of a perceptiveness that those who obtain the grace of external and internal liberation receive from God as a gift.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: