"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beethoven's Mass in C and Text Painting

When I started this blog about a year ago, I intended to talk about a variety of topics. Faith-related topics and political posts are what have primarily emerged. One area that I have not given much time to is music.
Analyzing music from a structural and theoretical standpoint is great fun. But even more so, I enjoy analyzing the text painting (illustration of the words by the music) a composer does. This is particularly true of the Church's music. One of my favorite examples is the Credo from the Mass in C. Some of these examples my be somewhat incidental, but a number of them are unmistakable. Without further ado...here they are!

The first notable example comes at the line "Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum Verum de deo Vero" "God of God, Light of light, True God of True God. The music during these words is not necessarily painting the text, but the music prior to it is a great signal that Beethoven understood the claims of this part of the Creed. First, there are at this moment three beats per measure. The three measures preceeding the word "Deum" each have a dotted half note (3 beats) in them. So you have three measures, three chords, and each of them equalling three beats. What could that number of "threes" mean? No doubt as the choir begins to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God, the doctrine of the Trinity is being affirmed.
But it isn't simply the meter and rhythm that is important. Each of the three chords are E Flat major ones. E flat is the key of royalty for Beethoven. His third symphony, the Eroica, was written in memory of the great Napolean Bonaparte. His fifth concerto, the Emporer, is written in E flat. This is Beethoven's admission of whom Jesus, king of the world and co-eternal with his Father.

The second noticeable example of text painting is "Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis"..."Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven".

The words prior to "descendit" are sung by the entire choir twice. Both times the direction of the melody is similar. However, the first time it is in a major key. The second time is is very definitely in the parallel minor. While it is incorrect to assert that Major keys are happy keys and Minor ones are sad, it is true that there is a much darker quality to the minor. Why? The text says it all. It is in one sense a joyful thing that Christ visited the earth, but we know the story. He came first to die and bear the evil of the world in his body and soul.
The "descendit de caelis" is marked both times it occurs by descending intervals-the music beginning higher and dropping markedly lower.

A third example are the words "passus est." "He Suffered." One of the ways music shows suffering is through the use of half-steps in one voice. The bass line features nothing but that on this line.

"Et resurrexit and et ascendit"-the resurrection and ascension are both marked by upward motions in the direction of the music.

Lastly, the line "judicare vivos et mortuuos" "to judge the living and the dead" is marked by strong syncopation (notes off the beat) in both choir and orchestra. It sounds harsh and uncomfortable. Divine judgment would be just that.

I'm sure there are multiple others I've overlooked or am simply not bright enough to see. But this is an awesome piece of music overall and the Credo is particularly incredible. I strongly urge anyone who hasn't heard it to go on youtube and check it out!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some Thoughts on Healthcare

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the legislation for reforming healthcare in our nation. I of course oppose any new federal funding for abortion (something I truly believe will get slipped into the final bill if the democrats are sure it will pass), I oppose anything that would lead to death before natural death, and I would prefer that those who are in the country illegally were not using the system.

But in a way, while important issuses all three, they have been used as a shield of sorts to stop conservative thinkers from debating the merits of universal healthcare.

A major problem in our current debate is the failure to recognize that people are often talking right past each other. In other words, some are talking about universal healthcare and some are talking about universal heathcare insurance. The former is a moral imperative for any Christian. (Read the Good Samaritan) The latter is simply a means to that moral imperative. And I would argue it is far from the best means.

1.) The public option will create fewer options in the long-term. Some may argue that taking money out of healthcare and putting the health and pharmaceutical CEO's out of business is the best thing for our system. But I would disagree. I currently pay about $200/month on health insurance. Let's say the public option would give me insurance for substantially less. (It would have to or there would be no good reason for passing it.) While the Obama administration has said this will increase competition, the truth is, the govt. run system will run all the for-profits right out of business. This will leave us in a generation or two at the mercy of the federal governemnt. While Sarah Palin may not be the most articulate and well-read conservative speaker, she at least understands what all of us at the mercy of the government means. It means that when the money runs out (just as it is with medicare and SS) rationing will have to take place (or a rise in the cost of health insurance, which would defeat the original purpose of the plan). Then Grandma and Grandpa do become disposable as weights on the healthcare system.
2.) While governments around the world do medical research, they are greatly aided by private research which is paid for by the for-profit healthcare providers who will be driven out of business by the public option. Just this week news has broken about a possible vaccine for HIV/AIDS that will be up to 31% effective. Not that that is fantastic, but it's a good start and provides hope for the future that there is a vaccine and possibly even a cure. While the testing was done by the governemnt of Thailand and the U.S. Army, the vaccine itself was developed by two private reaseach companies. The loss of for-profit healthcare may not stop medical innovation, but it will slow and hinder it.

In the end, I believe there are two fundamental problems to our healthcare system. The greed of individuals and the greed of corporations. It is easy to blame the faceless guy who is raking in a billion dollars and cutting off people with certain conditions because they are too expensive for him and he is not taking the wage cut.
But I think it is also time for us to take a good hard look at ourselves. Are we really in need of discounted health insurance? Are we really ready to allow our congress to force other people to give money so that we can spend our money on things we want?
From someone who made a habit for sometime, one I have tried to break in recent years, of trying to get other people to pay for certain things so that I could use my own money on other things I wanted, I believe the heart of the problem is that we are greedy and want more than we can afford. Therefore, we ask the govt. to mandate that those who have more pay for our necessities, like health insurance, so we can spend money we earn on more enjoyable things.

Until we are cured of this greed, and only by God's grace is that possible, we will not be satisfied. And let's face it, after the health insurance companies, it will be the car insurance companies. We will ask those who have earned more than us to make the car insurance payments for those who want to spend on something else.
This society needs a healthy dose of personal responsibility. Until that time, let us pray that grace will work on our hearts so that we might be free from greed. Let us pray that those who make large amounts of money in the health industry will be freed from greed so that they may help those truly can't afford healthcare. Only then will our system really be fixed.