Many great Europeans truly believed that their pens, as they composed, were guided by a divine spirit. Great musicians were quite clear in their belief that their works were the creation of a divine force, which we place under the blanket term, God.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Arguably the greatest musician of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven typically refused to take the credit for his music. For those of a mystical frame of mind, there is much to ponder on. How do you describe something you cannot see? How did Beethoven create the most beautiful orchestrations of his music whilst unable to hear it?
Beethoven’s death, in common with several other great composers is threaded with mystery. As the Grim Reaper embraced this shabbily dressed irascible genius there broke over the Viennese night the most violent and terrifying electrical storm. The city cowered as thunder and lightning split the heavens. Beethoven, lying semi-conscious on his bed, was heard to murmur, ‘I shall hear in Heaven’. He raised his arm as though to salute the afterlife and departed. As his immortal soul departed the earth the storm immediately began to abate.
His funeral cortège brought this great European city to a halt. Schools and businesses closed; life held its breath and upwards of 30,000 people lined the streets to pay homage. Among the throngs was the great Franz Schubert who was to follow the great master to the grave just 12-months later.
Ludwig van Beethoven was just twelve years old when his virtuosity inspired his kindly mentor, Christian Gottlob Neefe, to present the talented child to the Elector of Cologne, Maximilian Franz: ‘He is, I believe, touched with genius.’
‘Quite a word to use of one so young,’ said the Elector: ‘You must not let this go to your head, young man,’ he added looking directly at Ludwig.
Ludwig spoke in a firm, clear voice: ‘Sir. I have a gift that people say comes from God. I believe that to be true.’
‘The Lord and I are on speaking terms, and our bickering most often gets penned onto a piece of parchment.’ – Beethoven.
The tremendous storm that consumed Vienna at the time of Beethoven’s spirit readying itself to leave his life-form may be dismissed as coincidence. Yet a similar freak of Nature occurred as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s hearse was being trundled to his final resting place:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: ‘The hearse, with the few mourners, then proceeded to St Mark’s churchyard, but before the burial place was reached a terrific storm of snow and rain burst overhead, and with one accord the mourners turned back and left the hearse to proceed alone. And thus the master, of whom it was prophesied that he would cause all others (composers) to be forgotten … was left to be buried by the hands of strangers in a pauper’s grave, without even a stone to mark where he was laid.’ – Francis Jameson Rowbotham.
When a little older he (Beethoven) arrived in Vienna for the first time, he looked forward to meeting yet another great musician; Wolfgang Mozart. Music, he thought, the highest art, coming directly from God. How many men have such a calling? In Bonn one alone. In Vienna one alone. And now I will meet him. At last! – The Last Master. John Suchet.
‘When Mozart was inspired to write Idomeneo or The Magic Flute, he was in touch with God.’ – James Galway, Flautist.
‘Mozart makes you believe in God, much more than going to Church, because it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and then passes after thirty-six years, leaving behind such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.’ ~ Sir Georg Solti, Classical Conductor.
‘It is already a great thing if the main ideas and general outline of a work come without any racking of brains, as the result of that supernatural and inexplicable force we call inspiration.’ ~ Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
‘Mozart is the musical Christ.’ ~ Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
‘The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.’ ~ Johann Sebastian Bach. 21 III 1685 – 28 VII 1750.
‘Supreme serenity still remains the Ideal of great Art. The shapes and transitory forms of life are but stages toward this Ideal, which Christ’s religion illuminates with His divine light.’ Franz Liszt
‘I did not compose my work as one might put on a church vestment. Rather it sprung from the truly fervent faith of my heart, such as I have felt it since my childhood.’ ~ Franz Liszt
‘Truly, the spark of Divine genius resides in this Schubert.’ Ludwig van Beethoven.
‘The composer nearest to God.’ ~ Artur Schnabel.
‘It seems as though God gave me a cheerful heart, so I’m sure He’ll forgive me if I serve Him cheerfully.’ ~ Joseph Haydn.
‘Whenever I think of God I can only conceive of Him as a being infinitely great and infinitely good. This last quality of the divine nature inspires me with such confidence and joy that I could have written even a Miserere in tempo allegro.’ Joseph Haydn.
‘God touched me with his finger and said ‘write for the theatre, mind you – only for the theatre’… and I’ve been faithful to this supreme command.’ Giacomo Puccini.
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
‘A Lady being very musical, was invited by him (Handel) to a private Rehearsal of the Messiah, and being struck with the Exceeding dignity of expression in the Choruses, and other parts of ye oratorio so inimitably set to the sacred works, after the musick was over she asked him how it was possible for him, who understood the English Language but imperfectly, to enter so fully into the sublime spirit of the Words. His answer is I think a lesson to all composers, at least of Sacred Musick;
‘Madam, I thank God I have a little religion.’
On composing Messiah, Handel is said to have remarked (1741):’I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself.’ On another occasion, Handel whilst writing the Messiah, when speaking to a servant at the hotel in which he was staying: ‘Once he had finished the hallelujah chorus he spoke to the servant, ‘the Lord spoke to me and hath said ‘twas not I who wrote this but on accord of Him.’
‘Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows.’ ~ George Frideric Handel.
‘I am being used as an instrument for something higher than my own warrants. I am in the hands of the Immortal Genius I serve for the span of my life and his intention that I complete only what I can achieve.’ ~ Richard Wagner 1813 – 1883.
‘An atheistic upbringing is fatal. No atheist has ever created anything of great and lasting value.’ – Richard Wagner in conversation with Engelbert Humperdinck in 1880: quoted in Arthur M. Abell, ‘Talks with Great Composers’ (1955)
CHARLES FRANÇOIS GOUNOD
‘How do you think of those lovely melodies?’ asked a female admirer of Charles Gounod: The master replied: ‘God, Madame, sends me down some of his angels and they whisper sweet melodies in my ear.’ – James Harding, Gounod (1973).
‘I know several young composers who are atheists. I have read their scores, and I assure you, Joseph, that they are doomed to speedy oblivion because they are utterly lacking in inspiration. Their works are purely cerebral. No atheist has ever been or ever will be a great composer.’ – Johannes Brahms in conversation with the violinist Joseph Joachim (1831 – 1907). Quoted in Arthur M. Abell: Talks with Great Composers. (1955).
Half an hour before he died he (Dinu Lipatti) was listening to records of Beethoven’s F minor Quartet. To his wife, he said: ‘You see, it is not enough to be a great composer. To write music like that you must be a chosen instrument of God.’
Walter Legge, the impresario was later to remark of Dinu Lipatti: ‘By the same light we may say it is not enough to be a great pianist: To play as Dinu Lipatti played you must be a chosen instrument of God. God lent the world His chosen instrument whom we called Dini Lipatti for too brief a space.’ Walter Legge.
ARTURO BENEDETTI MICHAELANGELI
The renowned Italian Classical Pianist: ‘I’m nothing but a priest of god’s music.’
‘Life was a much-uncomplicated thing to him. Instead of turmoil or neuroticism or dark brooding, we encounter a simple and sincere piety, such as only the deeply religious man is capable of.’ – A writer’s observation of the Czech composer.
That (Anton) Bruckner felt inspired by God is to state the obvious. In addition to the vocal religious works, he dedicated his 9th Symphony ‘To our Beloved God’ (although it’s said that he modestly appended ‘if He’ll accept it’).
Anton Bruckner did make it clear that he also considered his view of the Day of Judgement as part of his perspective. Another of his quotes: ‘When God calls me to Him and asks me: ‘Where is the talent which I have given you?’ Then shall I hold out the rolled-up manuscript of my Te Deum and I know He will be a compassionate judge.’
‘They want me to write differently. Certainly, I could, but I must not. God has chosen me from thousands and given me, of all people, this talent. It is to Him that I must give account. How then would I stand there before Almighty God, if I followed the others and not Him?’ – Anton Bruckner.
The debate over whether these great men of music were swayed by their religious convictions or by a deity will be hotly debated without of course anyone knowing the intriguing answer. Until then perhaps it is just best to ponder on that which isn’t as yet ours to know.
James Galway is an internationally acclaimed flautist. He says: ‘Nothing pleases me more today than when somebody says to me: ‘You know, Jimmy. You can hear God in your playing.’ It delights me to think that in some small way I am a link between God and whoever is listening.’ James Galway, Flautist.
‘What I had to do instead, I decided, was to make sure I represented the composer properly to the world. Or to go and bit deeper, the composer’s inspiration, which obviously came from God.’
Nearly two-hundred years on and the renowned Irish flautist James Galway is adamant that the edge to his virtuosity is sharpened by God’s guidance. When discussing his ambitions Galway agreed that they were limited: ‘They are merely that I should leave good memories behind me; that people should feel when they recall my name, that in some odd inexplicable way, they have at some time heard the voice of the Infinite through me.’
MIRIELLE MATHIEU throughout her life believed she worked with Our Lord. Her motto ‘My God and my Work’.
AMALIA RODRIGUEZ Iconic Portuguese Fado Singer.
‘Even if He doesn’t exist, I believe in Him.’
‘I thank God, music and the public for making this possible.’ ~ Placido Domingo comment after his 3,700 performance.
JOHN WILLIAMS (GUITARIST)
The greatest classical Spanish guitarist of all time, Andres Segovia had said of Williams: ‘A Prince of the Guitar has arrived in the musical world. God has laid a finger on his brow, and it will not be long before his name becomes a byword in England and abroad, thus contributing to the spiritual domain of his race.’
HERBERT VON KARAJAN
When asked where did his talent come from the Austrian-German musician and conductor was forthright: ‘I was given special tools, special talents. I never had any doubts that my talents came from the Creator. My duty to Him is to exploit them to the fullest. My ambition is to make music as perfectly as possible and reach as many people as possible.’
‘You don’t need faith to believe in God, because there are plenty of signs available of His existence. Mozart wrote a symphony as a child. Heredity cannot account for this. There is only one explanation: the Creator chooses people as His instruments to produce some beauty in a world that is all too ugly.’ – Herbert von Karajan.
‘We see and hear him now (von Karajan) at the height of his powers, superbly able to keep a Bruckner symphony spinning not like a top but rather like some celestial sphere – massive, glowing, and infused with cosmic power.’ ~ Denis Stevens describing the final von Karajan recording of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony in April 1989. The maestro of maestros passed peacefully on three months later.
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