Tuesday, June 17, 2014

On Worldviews Part 2

I finished last week by hinting at three predominant worldview categories that I have observed within the range of Christian experience. This doesn’t mean there aren’t more. It’s just that three is a good number and also feasible for this discussion... Since, I could very quickly get myself in trouble by defining these categories point blank, I shall use the “relative” neutrality of metaphors in order to keep my language bias free. Thus, I shall turn to the world of Sacred Choral Music to help me illustrate some differences. Please keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “perfect metaphor” and since I likely don’t understand certain worldviews as well as I should like, there may be some misrepresentation.

If you are not very familiar with the ridiculously diverse world of what is generally termed “Classical” music, I shall try to keep my explanations short, uncluttered and relevant to the discussion. Generally, music history since around 1600 is divided into 4 categories: Baroque (approximately 1600-1750), Classical (approx. 1750-1840), Romantic (approx. 1825-1900), Modern/20th Century (approx. 1900-present). Each of these divisions is more of a guideline and they are roughly assigned according to the general cohesion of writing styles that were utilized at the time. Now I would like to propose that we use these first three “periods” as our three categories. Thus, our three worldviews are as follows: Baroque, Classical, and Romantic. I shall illustrate each period with a musical example that exemplifies the characteristics that I feel are important. They are all settings of a very ancient Greek Hymn whose translation is: Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy. Please do listen to the excerpts, if nothing else, they can provide some background accompaniment to your reading...

The Baroque Worldview

The Baroque movement, is all about symmetry and affects, symbolism and beauty.

This example is by J.S. Bach, who was about as Baroque as you can get... (that pun was sort of intended). He was a very devout Lutheran man who spent his life writing music for God. Though most of his music was written to be played in Church, Bach felt that there was no separation between the Secular and the Spiritual and often inscribed “to God alone be the Glory” on his finished manuscripts. This particular piece is constructed in a form called a fugue which is a piece constructed out of a single melody that is duplicated several times (with some alterations), then the strands of music are placed over top of each other and woven together to form a beautiful tapestry. This particular fugue has a short introduction before the base melody is heard, however, you can quickly begin to pick out the melody being woven together. This form is born out of very old musical traditions that go back several hundred years before Bach’s lifetime. In this piece, everything contributes to the whole equally though not every voice is heard at all times.

The Classical Worldview

Above all else, the Classical worldview loves order, clarity, and refinement

This example was written by F. J. Haydn, one of the two most famous composers from this period. He was a devout Catholic and was a life time servant of the Emperor of Austria-Hungry. This particular setting of the Kyrie is constructed in a very refined and clear form called “Sonata-Allegro Form.” There are three distinct sections in this form: the Exposition where the main themes are clearly spelled out, the Development where the themes are fleshed out and played with, and finally the Recapitulation where the themes are originally stated once more almost exactly as they were stated in the exposition (note the decidedly rhetorical names and functions). This form is about the clear victory of a specific key (usually the original key of the piece, i.e. A major, d minor, etc.) the Exposition usually ends in a different key than the one it started in setting up a kind of power struggle between the two. However, when the themes are restated in the Recapitulation they are all in the original key, thus the dominance. Another thing to notice is the clear elevation of the soprano soloist above the rest of the orchestra and choir, this provides for clarity of text and (theoretically) should aid in the ease of understanding what’s being said.

The Romantic Worldview

This worldview especially prises individuality and emotion, as well as both intrinsic and extrinsic meaning. (This is where we get the idea that “music is a universal language.” )

This piece was written by F. Mendelssohn, who is my personal favourite composer. He was a German Lutheran of Jewish descent who took his faith seriously in a time when many of his colleagues in the art community did not. This piece is constructed in a manner somewhat different from the other two. While, each of the other pieces had a specific form and “map” if you will, this piece seems to follow “wherever the music takes it.” It is held together more through common idiomatic expression and textural colour. This is the kind of music that was designed to tell a story (while you can tell a story to the other two selections) this one was written almost cinematically. It also assumes some kind of deep meaning that can only be expressed through the experience of the music, and is likely reflection of the composer’s own emotions at the time of writing (though this is not necessarily the case with this specific piece). Nevertheless, it uses a great deal more colourful chord progressions than the two other examples which can produce a heightened emotional state. Also, this piece is a stand alone, it is not part of a larger work like the other two examples I have given. I apologize for defining this worldview over and against the other two, however, it is in many ways very similar, but in other ways so completely different that it is difficult to summarize without capitalizing on the differences.

There, now that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now for the big reveal: You may already have some ideas of who fits where. While this is not a hard and fast rule (see the denominations of each of the composers for a very clear indication of this) I have observed that those of High Sacramental Traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, some High Anglicans) tend to fall mostly within a Baroque worldview. The Classical worldview would fit best with High Lutherans and Reform Traditions and the Evangelical, Pentacostal, and Charismatic groups would then fall into the Romantic worldview. I suppose I could add a fourth worldview called the Modern/20th Century worldview to include the United Church and Low Church Anglicans and Lutherans, but I don’t think there’s a way of doing that concisely and un-pejoratively... =/

Really, the purpose of this discussion is to better understand where people are coming from. I don’t think it’s as necessary to insist on everyone starting from the same place (ie. Constructing or conforming to a single Christian worldview) as it is to insist on understanding each other. As I was contemplating what to say over the past week, it occurred to me that it might be beneficial to have some input from various people that I know on the subject since I am naturally limited in my understanding of the worldviews that I do not hold. Naturally, the process of defining ones own worldview can be quite a daunting process full of questions like “what is?” (a rather broad and open ended question that really isn’t that particularly helpful if you ask me...) Thus, with the aid of Leo Apostel’s model that I discussed last week, I came up with a list of questions to aid in this process and will be endeavouring to send them to various friends, interlocutors, and professionals in this area. As I have said before, I don't think there can be any real dialogue until we are able to accept that others see things from different perspectives and are able to address the concerns of the other. I shall thus endeavour to post their responses here in the hopes that this may possibly open up dialogue and be a small step toward understanding.

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