Order and Beauty and Essential Presence in the Transformed Life by Kate Thomsen Gremillion

Kate Thomsen Gremillion

Johann Sebastian Bach lived from 1685 to 1750. He mastered order and that mastery has captivated generations of music lovers. When listening or performing Bach, order and beauty are easily perceived and felt, but what is not always apparent in our day is the rigor and obedience to the liturgical calendar, a calendar which orders itself in the richness and meaning of Life in Christ. Bach’s history can be accessed through many sources online and other and exhaustive studies in his work abound. For our purposes I want to invite you into the beginning of the discovery I encounter whenever I allow Bach to help me gain access to richer and deeper meaning of Scripture and God’s desire to lead me to Him through beauty.

Bach’s devotion to God through beauty produced a love of music and in his music one can immediately grasp the mingling of joy and sorrow in direct relation to the rightly ordered mind. As it is the week we celebrate the Ascension of Christ, let us listen to Himmelfahrts Oratorio (“Himmelfahrt” means Ascension, from “Himmel” heaven + “fahrt” journey). The translation and a brief guide is below

 

Biblical quotations in BOLD font, chorales in ITALICS

1 Coro 1 Chorus [S, A, T, B]
Tromba I-III, Timpani, Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, Preiset ihn in seinen Ehren, Rühmet ihn in seiner Pracht; Sucht sein Lob recht zu vergleichen, Wenn ihr mit gesamten Chören Ihm ein Lied zu Ehren macht! Praise God in his kingdoms,  extol him in his honours  acclaim him in his splendour.  Seek to express his praise rightly  when with assembled choirs  you make a song to his honour!
Listen for the words and how the music demonstrates the concepts. “Lobet Gott” (Praise God) is ushered in with heralding trumpets. The voices and instruments work and together to help usher us into a mindset that causes us to comprehend the praising of God, the extoling of his honor, proclaiming His splendor – and all of this accomplished in a community of believers and as the Scripture says “with angels and archangels”. Try to pick out each voice part as they repeat and emphasize the theme. I would recommend following along with one of the scores found here: http://imslp.org/wiki/Lobet_Gott_in_seinen_Reichen,_BWV_11_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian) if possible.

 

 

2 Recitativo T 2 Recitative [Tenor]
Continuo
Evangelist: Der Herr Jesus hub seine Hände auf und segnete seine Jünger, und es geschah, da er sie segnete, schied er von ihnen. Evangelist: The Lord Jesus raised his hands and blessed his followers,  and it happened that while he was blessing them he parted from them.
The gentleness of the recitative (spoken part that advances the plot) is an indicator of God’s gentle and abiding love for humanity. Hear the sadness also in the voicing of the Evangelist’s proclamation. Bach writes this in a minor key to communicate the disconsolate state of Christ’s followers who are bewildered at his leaving…again.

 

 

3 Recitativo B 3 Recitative [Bass]
Flauto traverso I/II, Continuo
Ach, Jesu, ist dein Abschied schon so nah? Ach, ist denn schon die Stunde da, Da wir dich von uns lassen sollen? Ach, siehe, wie die heißen Tränen Von unsern blassen Wangen rollen, Wie wir uns nach dir sehnen, Wie uns fast aller Trost gebricht. Ach, weiche doch noch nicht! Ah Jesus, is your departure already so near?  Ah, is it already the hour  when we must let you leave us?  Ah, see how the hot tears  roll down our pale cheeks,  how we gaze after you  how almost all our comfort is lost .  Ah, do not go away yet!
The sadness continues its expression in the lost sounds of the Bass who states plainly that without the presence of Christ we are naught.

 

 

4 Aria A 4 Aria [Alto]
Violini all’ unisono, Continuo
Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben, Ach, fliehe nicht so bald von mir! Dein Abschied und dein frühes Scheiden Bringt mir das allergrößte Leiden, Ach ja, so bleibe doch noch hier; Sonst werd ich ganz von Schmerz umgeben. Ah, stay yet, my dearest life,  ah, do not flee so soon from me  Your departure and your early leaving  bring me the greatest suffering.  Ah then, still stay here;  otherwise I shall be quite overwhelmed with sorrow.
I think of Mary Magdalene and her deep love for Christ because of the way He first loved her. He is the first person she has truly loved.  Ah, Lord, do not take your hand away from our lives. The richness and melancholy of the alto voice shadowed by the pleading of the violin in a wordless acquiescence give voice to the inner pleading of our souls, the noetic self that whispers ancient truths to us.

 

 

5 Recitativo T 5 Recitative [Tenor]
Continuo
Evangelist: Und ward aufgehoben zusehends und fuhr auf gen Himmel, eine Wolke nahm ihn weg vor ihren Augen, und er sitzet zur rechten Hand Gottes. Evangelist: And in their sight he was lifted up and went towards heaven,  a cloud took him away from their eyes, and he sits on the right hand of God.
Again, we have scripture as recitative stated succinctly to proclaim the truth of an event. Bach keeps this announcement in a minor key to emphasize the continued state of loss. He has left them in a state that feels like abandonment. The evangelist is saying He is gone; He left in a cloud but we do not understand it. At this juncture Bach, through his choice in key and ethos helps us to feel the sense of loss even while we hear the powerful words “he sits in the right hand of God.” The hollow cadence seems to say, “and then what?”
6 Choral 6 Chorale [S, A, T, B]
Flauto traverso I/II in octava e Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe II, Violino II coll’Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo
Nun lieget alles unter dir, Dich selbst nur ausgenommen; Die Engel müssen für und für Dir aufzuwarten kommen. Die Fürsten stehn auch auf der Bahn Und sind dir willig untertan; Luft, Wasser, Feuer, Erden Muß dir zu Dienste werden. Now all lies beneath you,  apart only from yourself;  the angels must for ever and ever  come to wait on you.  Princes also stand by the road  and are willingly subject to you;  air, water, fire and earth  must all be at your service.
A straightforward and majestic sounding choir states the reality of the situation and the music, still in minor key, underscores the sadness that comes from the continued separateness.

 

 

7a Recitativo T B – Evangelist, zwei Männer in weißen Kleidern 7a Recitative [Tenor, Bass]
Continuo
Evangelist: Und da sie ihm nachsahen gen Himmel fahren, siehe, da stunden bei ihnen zwei Männer in weißen Kleidern, welche auch sagten: Evangelist:  And as they gazed after him travelling to heaven,  see, there stood by them two men in white robes, who also said:
Beide: Ihr Männer von Galiläa, was stehet ihr und sehet gen Himmels Dieser Jesus, welcher von euch ist aufgenommen gen Himmel, wird kommen, wie ihr ihn gesehen habt gen Himmel fahren. Tenor and Bass (Two Men in White Raiment):  You men of Galilee, why do you stand here and gaze towards heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken from you to heaven  will come again, as you have seen him travel to heaven.
And now, joy begins to enter. The Evangelists sounds utterly bewildered but wonder has begun to override lack of knowledge. Then, for the first time since the opening movement, we hear joy from the two angels who are basically saying: “you have no idea what just happened, but when you figure it out, your mind will be blown. Also, Jesus is coming back in the same manner he left.”

 

 

7b Recitativo A 7b Recitativo [Alto]
Flauto traverso I/II, Continuo
Ach ja! so komme bald zurück: Tilg einst mein trauriges Gebärden, Sonst wird mir jeder Augenblick Verhaßt und Jahren ähnlich werden. Ah then ! return again soon:  wipe away once and for all my sad demeanour,  otherwise for me each moment  will be hateful and become like years.
 The inconsolable asks for consolation.

 

 

7c Recitativo T 7c Recitative [Tenor] ( Evangelist)
Continuo
Evangelist: Sie aber beteten ihn an, wandten um gen Jerusalem von dem Berge, der da heißet der Ölberg, welcher ist nahe bei Jerusalem und liegt einen Sabbater-Weg davon, und sie kehreten wieder gen Jerusalem mit großer Freude. Evangelist: But they worshipped him, then went back to Jerusalem from the mount  which is called the Mount of Olives and which is near Jerusalem and is situated a Sabbath’s journey away  and they returned back to Jerusalem with great joy.
In a minor key they worship and then take leave to go back to Jerusalem. But something happens on long walk home. After the Sabbath, they are filled with joy.

 

 

8 Aria S 8 Aria [Soprano]
Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe, Violini all’ unisono
Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke Kann ich doch beständig sehn. Deine Liebe bleibt zurücke, Dass ich mich hier in der Zeit An der künftgen Herrlichkeit Schon voraus im Geist erquicke, Wenn wir einst dort vor dir stehn. Jesus, your gracious look  I can still see continually.  Your love remains behind,  so that here in this present time  I may already beforehand refresh myself in spirit  with the glory that is to come  when we one day shall stand before you there.
Acceptance has come and a level of understanding has tempered the response of the soprano who in my mind represents the soul renewed. She celebrates the wisdom of keeping our eyes on Jesus (“Kann ich doch beständig or “I can yet see continually”) and the vow to remain patient after the refreshment of the Sabbath. I adore how the voice is made to climb up in to heaven in anticipation.

 

 

9 Choral 9 Chorale [S, A, T, B]
Tromba I-III, Timpani, Flauto traverso I/II, Oboe I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Wenn soll es doch geschehen, Wenn kömmt die liebe Zeit, Dass ich ihn werde sehen, In seiner Herrlichkeit? Du Tag, wenn wirst du sein, Dass wir den Heiland grüßen, Dass wir den Heiland küssen? Komm, stelle dich doch ein! When will it happen,  when comes the dear time  that I shall see him  in his glory?  You day, when will you come  that we may greet the Saviour,  that we may kiss the Saviour?  Come, be present soon!
And now the stalwart and determined praise of the church militant joins with the church triumphant in an acknowledgement of Truth. We glory in the knowledge and we wait. Man your stations, followers of Christ: we will one day see Him face to face and all will be well.

 

Beauty produces Love which ends in Joy. Beauty produced love and love gave me a desire to endure. “I mastered my ignorance and found joy” … I found beauty that was there.

–          Dr. John Mark Reynolds

Through the order and disciplined approach to music through the liturgical calendar we train minds to be rooted. Bach demonstrates for us the value of continuity on soul. Dietrich von Hildebrand elegantly and eruditely expounds the importance of liturgical life in Liturgy and Personality. He states how difficult it is to live in a “separate moments without any link to them… [and that] we would be only a bundle of disconnected experience.” This continuity is what is required to gain to be transformed. It is so essential that God has wraps it in beauty. From baptism forward, we must rightly order our thoughts through the reorienting of them. Otherwise, we are susceptible to the prevailing winds. Bach helps us through our days through discipline that begets beauty and ultimately joy.

 

“So make known your right hand to us, that we may number our days and our heart may be bound with wisdom”

–          Psalm 90

 

“Surrounding people with beauty matters. If we believe that beauty is objective, then suddenly, we are free.”

–          Dr. John Mark Reynolds

 

 


Kate Thomsen Gremillion resides in Newport Beach, CA. After pursuing a music degree at Trinity University and Indiana University she currently studies at HBU in the Master of Arts in Apologetics program. She is a full time homeschooling mother of four, two of whom have graduated to college (Cornell and LMU). She is also a professional singer performing regularly with the Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale. Kate gives regular recitals in Art Song and Opera and conducts the St Matthew’s Choristers at St Matthews Anglican Church in Newport Beach where they study Latin, Liturgy and Music. Her newest projects are the establishing of The Children’s Conservatory at St Matthew’s Montessori school and… as a contributing writer to Literary Life!

 

 

 

 

 

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