Tuesday, 3 August 2010

To all music-lovers

To all lovers of the liberal art of music Dr.Martin Luther wishes grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

With all my heart I would extol the precious gift of God in the noble art of music, but I scarcely know where to begin or end. There is nothing on earth which has not its tone. Even the air invisible sings when smitten with a staff. Among the beasts and the birds, song is still more marvelous. David, himself a musician, testified with amazement and joy to the song of the birds. What then shall I say of the voice of man, to which nothing else may be compared? The heathen philosophers have strived in vain to explain how the tongue of man can express the thoughts of the heart in speech and song, through laughter and lamentation. 

Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed. Nothing on earth is more mighty to make the sad happy and the happy sad, to hearten the downcast, mellow the overweening, temper the exuberant, or mollify the vengeful. The Holy Spirit himself pays tribute to music when he records that the evil spirit of Saul was exorcised as David played upon his harp. 

The fathers desired that music should always abide in the Church. That is why there are so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been bestowed on mankind alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord. 

But when natural music is sharpened and polished  by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four, or five other voices, leaping, springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracings and hearty swinging of the partners. He who does not find this an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod and is not worthy to be considered a man.

Martin Luther, 1538, trans. in 'Here I stand', Bainton, paragraphs mine.

[Listening to: J.S.Bach, of course - Itzhak Perlman playing the unaccompanied partitas & sonatas (Here if you have Spotify). 'A German historian has said that in the course of 300 years, only one German ever really understood Luther, and that one was Johann Sebastian Bach.']


mama said...

This is amazing - I had no idea Luther had such poetry in his soul!

"...like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracings and hearty swinging of the partners..."

I can think of some Christians(esp. in Norn Iron) who wouldn't tolerate such a view of Heaven!

étrangère said...

Don't worry: they'll be so captivated by Christ, they'll never notice the joyous dancing going on to his praise. ;)