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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
Cantata 28, Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende,
the solo tenor enters singing
“Gott ist ein Quell...ein Licht....ein Schatz...ein Herr.”
A treasury, a wealth!!
The tenor enters as if into a grand ballroom, an imposing auditorium.

 

It is architecture—at least architechtonic.

It is all laid out—the music—

in fine lines,

like streets,

lanes

and sidewalks.

With stoplights —musical rests.

 

The music—like a building, —like the Louvre,

the Palais Royal,

Schloss Charlottenburg—

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!
What do Germans know about order? What don’t they know?
As if order is inbred, natural, taken for granted.
Until—until someone hits a wrong note.
No— it could not be...but perhaps he meant it that way, a bit of dissonance.
A bit of di   sor   derrrrr.
But even that bit of dissonance can become a part of the new order—
the evolving order, as if it were alive,
an organism, improvising as it goes along.

 

No, no. It cannot be alive—the musicians are alive [at least we hope] but
not the music!

The music is—could it be that the music is life?

 

We have no assurance about this music—
no offering of it remains the same,
even when the notes are all written down.

For can one trust that the oboist will not add a little twirl,

a squeak

or a squawk,

or the soprano an unaccounted melisma?
For are not all these musicians free—free creatures?
Creative creatures.
They know the tension between being created yet creating.

 

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,
this explosion of sound,
if not this mysterious demand and desire for order?

 

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?

Really?

 

The same as greed, sloth, and gluttony are inborn?

Is it the demand of a retiring cantor that accounts for order?

For goodness?

For beauty?

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:
“Gott ist ein Quell, wo lauter Güte fleusst.”
God is a source where pure goodness flows.
Right in the middle.
It sounds Platonic—where there is a storehouse,
a treasury,
a wealth of as yet unactualized potentials.

 

How such sentiment seems to be mocked in our century!
With books by Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris
who battle against straw versions of theistic belief.
The gods such critics challenge are certainly not worthy of worship

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.

 

Consider this:

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—
but an intensive desire that permeates
the events of the cosmos to reach for beauty.

The divine dream,

the beloved community,

communitas

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
to strive for truth, beauty and goodness in our own communities.
 


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