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January 2, 2011 (German Vespers for New Year’s)
Musings on Cantata 28
Pastor Fritz Fritschel
Ecclesiastes 3:1–13; 2 Revelations 21:1—6a
Text of Cantata 28
This is an English translation of the sermon Pastor Fritschel delivered in German as part of “German Vespers for New Year’s.”
About halfway through
It is architecture—at least architechtonic.
It is all laid out—the music—
in fine lines,
With stoplights —musical rests.
The music—like a building, —like the Louvre,
the Palais Royal,
has entrances and exits.
an alto goes out.
A tenor comes in,
The music is architecture, spatial —
Baroque, Rococo, Classical, Romantic, Modern or sometimes Postmodern.
The plan is all there, printed with detailed accidentals. The music is there.
But of course not!!
What is Cantata 28 but the hearing of it—
Or was it the first performance in 1725?
Or is the cantata the ideal one in rehearsal when musicians were transported beyond the mundane present?
Or perhaps the cantata is the memory of it after the performance?
Or the cantata may be the idea of it in the composer’s head?
Everything in order: Aria, chorus, recitative twice, aria, chorale.
Like a blueprint. The virtual form of a cantata.
Over 200 of them that we have extant from the hand and mind of the Leipzig composer.
Everything in order. Order!
No, no. It cannot be alive—the musicians are alive [at least we hope] but
The music is—could it be that the music is life?
We have no assurance about this music—
For can one trust that the oboist will not add a little twirl,
or a squawk,
or the soprano an unaccounted melisma?
Listen to the chorus “Num lob, mein Seel”!
Free-wheeling, I call it.
Tenors, altos, basses all doing their own thing while the sopranos try
valiantly to maintain a melodic order. The tenors compete with the
sopranos for our attention while the basses, unperturbed, act as if the
wholefoundational structure rests on them.
Who can control this mass of creativity,
Whose demand? Who demands the order?
Where does it come from—this lust for order—this desire for beauty?
You think you know? That beauty and goodness and truth are innate?
The same as greed, sloth, and gluttony are inborn?
Is it the demand of a retiring cantor that accounts for order?
Yes and no.
That begs the question for where does the composer’s sense,
the cantor’s sense,
the musician’s sense,
the librettist’s sense of order originate?
From where does it come-goodness?
What is the source of human goodness?
Is it that elusive gene, the altruistic gene?
Inborn compassion and empathy?
Is it that hovering presence of the Code of Hammurabi,
or the tablets of Mosaic law cloaked in patriarchical apparel?
Is it the Justinian Code, Sharia law?
The Constitution of the United States?
The source of goodness?
Is it the fear of punishment?
Then the tenor sings:
How such sentiment seems to be mocked in our century!
in my estimation.
Our world, a pluralistic universe with multiple agents,
shows some semblance of order.
Our globe, consisting of a community of multiple free events,
a pluralistic universe,
a double or triple chorus of botanical and zoological choirs,
of competing economies,
allows, no— requires
a divine influence from whom order and goodness flow.
Since every event,
every cosmic song that is sung,
every singer singing,
every particle pulsating
has some degree of freedom,
a single, all-pervasive influence is necessary to account for
the world’s order—
not perfect but nevertheless real.
but an inspiration.
The divine order is not an imposition,
but a challenge.
The divine order is not a predetermined plan,
but an inner lure.
The divine order is not an external law
It is not the intelligent design so often spoken of—
The divine dream,
the beloved community,
the reign of God is not automatically present,
but a lure.
Every Vespers repeats that lure, that dream
when the words of the Magnificat are sung.
A tenor enters, again about halfway through the Kuhnau version,
singing with quiet reassurance
of divine mercy being extended to generation after generation.
This includes our own generation...being filled with good things.
It is the kindness, goodness and mercy that encourages us to continue
Copyright © 2011 Fritz Fritschel
Comments welcome at email@example.com