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Musical Performance Review

The Power of Mind

by William F. Wertz, Jr.
President, Schiller Institute, USA
March 2011


Cathedral Choral Society
J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director
Edward Newman, Piano
Lori Phillips, Soprano
Mary Phillips, Mezzo-soprano
Thomas Cooley, Tenor
Douglas Williams, Bass
Cathedral Choral Society Orchestra
March 13, 2011
National Cathedral
, Washington, D.C.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Friedrich Schiller

On March 13, a magnificent concert was performed by the Washington, D.C. Cathedral Choral Society conducted by J. Reilly Lewis, Music Director, featuring Ludwig van Beethoven's Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, op. 80 known as the Choral Fantasy, and Missa Solemnis in D. op. 123. The Choral Fantasy is well known to supporters of the Schiller Institute, since many who helped found the Schiller Institute in 1985 still remember its performance at a conference in 1980 in Detroit, Michigan, and then again at the Founding Conference of the Schiller Institute in Richmond, Va., in 1985.  This author translated the text of the Choral Fantasy[1] into English for the program of that latter performance.

The Choral Fantasy is beautiful in its own right, but it is also significant as the dry-run, so to speak, for Beethoven's later setting of Friedrich Schiller's Ode to Joy in the Ninth Symphony. In fact Beethoven himself wrote that he set the text of the Ode to Joy as he had done sixteen years earlier with the Choral Fantasy, “but, on a far grander scale.” The text of the Choral Fantasy is clearly inspired by Schiller. What it emphasizes as does Schiller's poem “The Power of Song” is the power of beauty to transform even the destructive power of nature. Because the universe itself is characteized by the creative, anti-entropic principle, the artistic creations of man, in harmony with that universal principle represent the true force of nature, thus “nacht and Stuerme werden Licht” (night and storms turn into light). This is accomplished by man himself becoming a beautiful soul (schoene Seele), a fundamental concept developed by Schiller in his aethetical writings. And this state of being a beautiful soul reflects as developed in the text of the Choral Fantasy the marriage of love and strength which is accomplished by beautiful art. As Schiller writes in the Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man, it is through beauty that one proceeds to freedom.

The performance of the Choral Fantasy by the Cathedral Choral Society was magnificent in that it effectively communicated the joy of experiencing the power of beauty and song to transform nature in its rawest and most destructive form, to become a more powerful force of nature than entropy. At a time when the human species is threatened both by the current earthquake and tsumani process effecting the entire Pacific Rim of Fire as well as the man-made disaster of the financial collapse brought about by British monetarism, this is a powerful reminder that it is through the beauty of classical art that man can truly liberate himself and conquer the universe. For as powerful as is the sun, for instance, whose activity can unleash great destructive force on the earth, the power of the human mind has even greater power, when it abandons mere sense perception and logical deduction and rises to the level of creativity in viva imago dei (in the living image of God).

The performance of the pianist Edward Newman was especially noteworthy, because it captured the strength of love to transform evil, the central concept of the piece—“Wenn sich Lieb' und Kraft vermaehlen, lohnt den Menschen Goettergunst.” (When love and strength are married, God's grace is bestowed on man.)

The Missa Solemnis, as a mass, is a work which reflects man's attempt to come into harmony with the Creator and as Christ said, to do the will of the One who sent him to redeem mankind. Beethoven worked on the Missa Solemnis for 5 years near the end of his life. In a certain sense the Missa Solemnis has to be seen as a further expression of Beethoven's earlier choral works, the oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, as well as his only opera Fidelio.

If it could be said that any work of music is galactic, that would certainly be the case with the Missa Solemnis, because the immensity and complexity of the work truly reflects man's relationship with his Creator and the universe, of which man himself is a microsm.

Music Director J. Lewis Reilly is to be commended, because he personally sensed the magnitude of the crisis facing humanity today and his responsibility to the genius of Beethoven to perform this work from the heart. As Beethoven himself wrote on the title page: “von Herzen—moege es wieder zu Herzen gehen”--From the heart—may it return to the heart.

On at least three occasions, Reilly stopped the performance and recommenced, because the performance did not initially rise to the level required. By being willing to publicly acknowledge the inadequacies of the performance at these moments, Reilly actually challenged the musicians to realize in whose presence they were performing.

The most pronounced case of this was at the beginning of the Benedictus, Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord. Reilly stopped the performance and told the audience and the musicians effectively that the music had to be performed from the heart. Although he did not specifically say so, the meaning of his action and words was that in performing this work, you must yourself be prepared to come in the name of the Lord, if you want to be blessed. By demanding that of the musicians, being willing to abandon mere appearance of a “professional” concert, the performance of the Benedictus that followed was truly beautiful.

Again, at the beginning of the final Agnus Dei, Reilly intervened to stop the performance and to insist on perfection. And again the result was spectacular especially in the dona nobis pacem. Beethoven had written on the manuscript where the dona nobis pacem first appears: “Bitte um inneren und aeusseren Frieden”--Please let there be inner and outer peace.

The world today is threatened with both natural disasters and man-made disasters. The world is being swept by a political mass strike extending from Egypt to Wisconsin and beyond in the face of an ongoing financial collapse, which is man-made in the sense that it was not inevitable. Those who want to preserve the current bankrupt international monetary system are willing to attempt to do so by imposing genocidal austerity on the human species throughout the world. The British Empire specifically wants to destroy man's commitment to scientific progress through fostering anti-technology hysteria and primitive green technologies which are incapable of sustaining a growing world population and which can therefore only be described as genocidal in intent.

In Beethoven's dona nobis pacem peace is not yet granted. It still has to be attained in the face of great adversity, both internal and external. But that peace will not be achieved unless human beings are willing to challenge themselves more deeply than being satisfied with going through the motion, going along to get along.

Beethoven himself identified with the Joan of Arc portrayed in Schiller's drama, The Virgin of Orleans. Once when asked why he always carried a notebook with him Beethoven replied, as did Joan of Arc in Schiller's play, “Without my banner dare I not to come.”     

At the end of the concert J. Lewis Reilly held up Beethoven's score in both hands, as if to say that in conducting this concert he had come in the name of the Lord.

[1]Choral Fantasy

Coaxing sweet and lovely sounding
Is our life's fair harmony
And from sense of beauty bursting
Flowers bloom eternally.
Peace and joy are gliding friendly
Like the waves' sweet interplay;
What is surging rough and angry
Forms itself in jubilé.
When the charming tones are reigning
And the blessed words alight,
Must the glorious be appearing,
Night and storm be turned to light.
Outer clam and inner blisses
Govern for the fortunate
Yet the arts' spring sunshine causes
Light from both to emanate.
Great things, which the heart do quicken,
Bloom anew more beautiful.
Once a spirit has arisen
Sounds the spirits' chorus full.
Take then hence, ye souls of beauty,
Gladly gifts of beauteous art,
For if love and strength do marry,
Godly grace rewards man's heart.

Translated by William F. Wertz, Jr.


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