Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today’s Daily Prompt: “Describe what it feels like to hear a beautiful piece of music or see a stunning piece of art.”
I’m not a great one for classical music, I don’t listen to a lot of it or know a lot about it but there was one day when I spent time listening to some of the most beautiful classical music with a friend who was an expert.
I went over to visit Jason to choose some music for my father’s funeral.
He introduced me to Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Bach’s ‘Mass In B Minor’. These are two of the most beautiful pieces of music, both written as masses late in the career of both composers, both written after they had lost their faith and both written after they had lost some of their faculties, Beethoven was deaf and Bach by the time he finished his Mass was blind.
Both of these pieces start with huge, swelling masses of music. As I hear the Mass start with those massed voices I can feel my body slow to the rhythm of the music and a calm comes over me when the voices fade and the woodwinds take over. Bach seems to be quite deliberately manipulating me into a calm and contemplative mood before the choir comes back with the hymnal section.
This piece of music was designed for a church service. It is meant, designed, to manipulate your feelings and put you into a receptive and reverential mood. It works brilliantly. As I listen through the hour and half, approximately, that the Mass takes I find it calming yet at the same time there are a couple of sections where I find it difficult not to cry.
For a truly moving experience get a really good recording of the Mass (the one of the Münchener Bach-Orchester conducted by Richter seems to be considered the best), put it on your iPod and take it to the best cathedral in your town.
The Beethoven Missa does the same thing to me. It is a wonderfully calming and moving piece of music that deliberately sets out to manipulate your mood and emotions. If you open yourself up to it that is exactly what it will do.
Seeing great paintings can be the same. When I think of the artistic wonders of Rome and Florence I did appreciate and enjoy the works in the Uffizi and Vatican galleries but the pieces that truly moved me were the ones in churches and chapels.
There is a secret to truly allowing the art to work its magic on you. The first thing to remember is not to rush. When you first enter a church take a moment to calm yourself. Take a seat on a pew and allow the place to affect you, allow your eyes to adjust and your mind to open.
When I do these things looking at a fine painting in a church is a marvellous experience. I’ve stood in both small chapels and grand cathedrals awed by the beauty of the work. I’m filled with wonder at the skill of the artist.
Though I am an atheist I can understand how, particularly hundreds of years ago, this art and music moved people closer to their god and made it easier to believe. It certainly fills me with a sense of wonder and awe, in me it is towards the power and beauty of the human condition that it can throw up such joys as these.