Session #6: Time and Eternity
(Mark Peters, Trinity Christian College, chair)
The Fullness of God’s Time in Brahms’s Requiem
Randolph Johnson, Ohio Wesleyan University
The theology of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem has been a subject of controversy ever since the work’s first performance (in six-movement form) in Bremen. The musical text’s lack of an explicit “John 3:16-style” reference to Jesus has created doubt as to whether the work truly is a Christian one. Some scholars have suggested that Brahms intended the Requiem to communicate a humanistic/Deistic message of comfort (see for example, Van Camp 2002, 101). This is problematic. After all, Christ speaks in His own words throughout the Requiem’s text. Additionally, in the Bible itself, God’s gospel of redemption is/was preached throughout history, even before Christ’s birth (e.g., God’s covenant with Abraham). Rather than continuing to debate about the message that Brahms intended to convey through the Requiem (an inherently fallacious controversy, see Best 1994), it is more valuable to examine the potential for the Requiem to “[shape] a mature Christian identity” (Begbie 2000, 152) and to help us comprehend the gospel.
This paper will examine the how closely Brahms’s Requiem models what Jeremy Begbie (2000) calls “redeemed time”: an integrated “past, present and future in Christ with the dynamic interrelatedness of God’s triunity” (Begbie 2000, 152). When time is viewed through this redemptive lens, death and transience is not a negative process to be denied or masked (Begbie 2000, 60). In redeemed time, we mature in patience and perseverance as we see all of creation, even death, as a part of the “fullness” of God’s time (Eph. 1:7-10).
A number of recent studies of Brahms’s Requiem have highlighted musical features in the Requiem that are consistent with Begbie’s notion of redeemed time as it is manifested in music. In the present study, I will build off of Daniel Beller-McKenna’s (2004) analyses of time symbolism in the Requiem. For example, the succession of movements seems not to convey a linear progression from a state of mourning to comfort, but rather depicts heavenly time framing and interpenetrating earthly time (Beller-McKenna 2004, 69). I’ll examine how formal, motivic, harmonic, and rhythmic structures align with a gospel model of redeemed time. As a basis for comparison, I will also explore how well “cyclical” and “linear” models of time (Karol Berger 2007) account for temporal structures in the Requiem. Looking for theological meaning beyond just the texts offers an opportunity to experience the Christian gospel enacted out through the musical events in Brahms’s Requiem.
The Final Chord of Poulenc’s Stabat Mater as Musical Fragment and as Marker for Eternity
David Heetderks, University of Michigan
A stark choral “Amen” explodes into a bombastic major triad with added minor seventh played by the full orchestra: this harsh ending of Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater (1950–1951) for chorus and orchestra is startling. In one of the few discussions of this work that goes beyond general stylistic features, Wilfrid Mellers devotes a paragraph to its final chord, suggesting that the chord’s incongruity portrays a willed faith in the face of psychological trauma. I expand Mellers’ interpretation by placing this final chord in the broader context of Poulenc’s late style, which quotes a multiplicity of musical idioms and therefore features many successions of contradictory events. A semiotic method of analysis developed by music theorist Robert Hatten, in which violation of expectation leads to synthesis of the structures of the opposed events to create emergent meaning, guides my discussion.
As a cycle of short movements, Stabat Mater incorporates the early nineteenth-century concept of the musical fragment, which describes works that are both complete in themselves and sound as if torn from a larger whole. In the first movement, for example, archaic modal progressions clash with chromatic mediant progressions reminiscent of late romantic harmony. These conflicting harmonic systems allow the final chord progression to be heard either as complete or as a motion toward an unrealized cadence. In a similar manner, the context of the final three movements permits a bifocal interpretation of Stabat Mater’s ending, creating an emergent musical meaning of “finished and not finished.” Since the work’s text concludes with a prayer to be in paradise, the final chord completes the poem’s thought while acknowledging that the prayer is yet to be realized. Poulenc’s religious music often contains disruptive events that seem at odds with its solemn tone; my analysis shows their rich potential for musical meaning when examined in broader context.
Listening in the Moment: Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli Music and the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church
Sarah Bereza, University of Cincinnati
Around the same time he converted to the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1970s, Arvo Pärt developed his tintinnabuli style, characterized by triadic harmonies and mostly diatonic and stepwise melodies. Having composed in serialist and aleatoric styles prior to this time, Pärt attributes much of his change in compositional philosophy to the influence of Orthodox theology and readings from the early Church Fathers. While scholars such as Maria Cizmic and Carol L. Matthew Whiteman, and biographer Paul Hillier have written about the connection between Pärt’s tintinnabuli music and elements of Orthodox worship (e.g., icons, hesychasm, and liturgical singing), the listener’s experience of this music has not been fully explored.
In this paper, I compare the listening experience of Pärt’s tintinnabuli music with the worship experience of the Orthodox Church’s Divine Liturgy, focusing on the stasis found in both. I argue that the music’s static nature is one of its strengths, analogous to the repetition found in the Divine Liturgy, where the liturgical prayers and songs remain largely consistent from week to week. Because worshippers hear and sing essentially the same texts every week, they engage with the text of the present, instead of looking ahead or recalling the past. Likewise, listeners, largely freed from drama and suspense, can appreciate unreservedly the “now moment” in Pärt’s music, where the purity of a single note becomes apparent. Through an expanded, Eastern understanding of the momentary quality found in Pärt’s tintinnabuli music, audience members can find new ways of perception beyond the often restrictive, dramatized listening required for much Western art music.