Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Messiah and the Problem of Spiritual Art

Algis Valiunus on Handel:
But it is of course Messiah that remains Handel's nonpareil work. Here the secular and the sacred are joined, as Handel constructs a monument to everlasting truth on a pedestal of familiar, worldly beauty. In Handel's sound-world, biblical grandeur requires an admixture of joyous levity to portray fully the surpassing love of the God who suffered and died for human salvation. . . . Messiah is the voice of an earthly ecstasy that has no need of mysticism, but is available to all in their ordinary lives thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus. It is fitting that this oratorio has become the consummate Christmas musical staple: It exemplifies the community at glad-hearted worship, in a world that fulfills its spiritual needs.
I wrote before about the problem of spiritualism without specific religious content. Karen Armstrong is among the many modern thinkers who want to liberate religion from any specific set of beliefs, using ritual to connect us to the divine without haggling over the details of theology. And many of my nonbelieving friends find The Messiah to be a deeply spiritual experience. The thing is, The Messiah is a Christian work, full of detailed theology. And without it, what would the singers be saying?

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