Vital Religious Music

MUSIC OF THE MESSAGE: Vital Religious Music

"The great truths of the Bible have been the inspiration for many of the great master pieces of music through the years."

Professor of Organ and Theory, La Sierra College

The great truths of the Bible have been the inspiration for many of the great master pieces of music through the years. The remnant church today should have a greater appreciation of this fact than the many musicians who perform this music merely from an artistic understanding of its value. When composers have been moved by great religious themes, it surely is a loss on our part if we do not enjoy their great works.

Handel has given us a beautiful setting of the words "I know that my Redeemer liveth” from his oratorio The Messiah. Another significant aria is "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised." How full of meaning this is to us today! And what better chorus to call attention to the Saviour than the one, "Be hold the Lamb of God." The Messiah is known somewhat among us, but not to the extent that it should be.

An orthodox and timely work of great beauty is Haydn's Creation, in which the message "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" is set forth. This entire work extols God as the Creator. Who should be able to sing this with more conviction than Seventh- day Adventists?

Another composition- which deserves to be widely known and sung among us is Mendelssohn's Elijah, with its many timely religious appeals. "O come, every one that thirsteth, O come unto Him." "And in that still voice came the Lord." "Hear ye, Israel! hear what the Lord speaketh." This is not fiction to the remnant church, but a great and real climax in Israel which has many lessons for us today.

There is the expressive and moving German Requiem of Brahms with the chorus "How lovely is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts." Another chorus sings the words, "We shall not all sleep when He cometh, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet." The closing chorus sings, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth." Brahms was a lover of the Word, and some of his greatest music came from the inspiration he received from the Bible. How strange that we know and sing so little of this great music!

The world recognizes as supreme master pieces the works of Bach, such as his St. Matthew Passion, Mass in B Minor, St. John Passion, and many of his cantatas. Space does not permit calling attention to all the gems of present truth found in these works. In the St. Matthew Passion, which is the story of the crucifixion as found in the Gospel according to Matthew, there is a most impressive musical setting of the Saviour's words "Take, eat, this is my body," and the rest of the first communion service. There is no more penetrating religious music than the arias in this work.

No musician was' more sincerely and devoutly moved to sublime expression of the Bible themes than was J. S. Bach. In his cantata Sleepers, Wake, he sets forth the Second Advent message as given in the parable of the ten virgins. "Prepare yourselves, your Lord draws near." Possibly the greatest expression in music of that scene around the throne of God with the multitude of angels singing, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts," is found in the "Sanctus" chorus from the B minor mass.

It would be possible to mention many other works of acknowledged superior quality which give musical expression to Bible truths of real importance to us today. Much of this music was not written for church services, and it would be unwise to try to use some of this music for the Sabbath morning service. For sacred concerts or for special services there might be occasions for using some of this music.

Just as the Christian worker should read the important religious literature of Milton, Browning, Bunyan, and others, so he should have an understanding of the religious music which has been so influential through the years. Our musicians should know the works of Bach, Beethoven, Franck, Handel, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Brahms, Vaughan Williams, and others who have written inspiring and unsurpassed com positions on religious themes.

These and other composers have been given a genius for musical expression just as God gave talents to some for the building of the tabernacle. The world recognizes this expression of genius, but the world has largely rejected the orthodox Biblical truths expressed in the music. How fortunate should Seventh-day Adventists be who not only can believe and experience the religious truths expressed but can enjoy the superior musical genius of this music!

It is not inconsistent with Christianity, the Bible, or the teachings of Mrs. E. G. White to seek to understand and enjoy the most sublime expressions in the field of art, literature, or music. Seventh-day Adventists are not kept by their religious beliefs from enjoying and per forming such music as Brahms' German Requiem and the St. Matthew Passion of Bach. In fact, there is an understanding and an experience in religious truth which this music unfolds that can be realized in no other way.

Workers for God should seek an understanding of Him through the masterpieces of religious music. Alongside this music much of our popular religious music seems trivial and shallow, and of little real worth.

"Higher than the, highest human thought can reach is God's ideal for His children. Godliness—godlike- ness—is the goal to be reached. Before the student there is opened a path of continual progress. He has an object to achieve, a standard to attain, that includes everything good, and pure, and noble. He will advance as fast and as far as possible 'in every branch of true knowledge. But his efforts will be directed to objects as much higher than mere selfish and temporal inter ests as the heavens are higher than the earth."—Education, pp. 18, 19.

 

 


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Professor of Organ and Theory, La Sierra College

April 1950

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