Volume. XX, No. 20
Sunday, 13 November 2005

From the pastors heart: Classical Christian music and its composers

Before we go to another respectful classical music composer, we need to talk about Bach a bit more. Bach expressed his faith in his music, “Come Sweet Death.” Einstein said, “It can fairly be said that no composer thought more about death or stood in greater awe of it than Bach. Bach welcomed death, although he feared it; and between his fear and his longing stood only in indomitable and rock-like faith.” Bach’s music is rich and diverse. However, what we need to know is that he speaks of his Christian faith in his music. His music has contents and messages. There was a young man who used to visit Hope church before. He was not a believer, but had visited a few churches including some famous charismatic churches. One comment he made about some of their services was about their music. He, in a word, despised their music and disdained the messages withal. J. Grashem Machen’s words may be helpful: “the vast majority of those who reject the gospel do so simply because they know nothing about it. But whence comes this indifference? It is due to the intellectual atmosphere in which men are living. The modern world is dominated by ideas which ignore the gospel. But it is out of all connection with it. It not only prevents the acceptance of Christianity. It prevents Christianity from getting a hearing” (Christianity and Culture, Huemoz, Switzerland, L’Abri Fellowship, 1969, 8).

When we talk about Classical Christian music, we cannot miss out one particular name, i.e., George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). He was born from a father who wished to make Handel a lawyer and a mother who was a daughter of a Lutheran pastor. When he was only eleven years old, his organ play was good enough to substitute for his teacher when needed. His former teacher, Freidrich Wilhelm Zachow, died in 1712, and Handel did not forget his teacher’s widow by sending her frequent gifts. It shows the tenderness of his heart. Handel was always interested in melody and beautiful sound (euphony). He has been said as the inventor of the organ concerto with orchestral accompaniment. All of us must have heard his music, Messiah. There are many stories related to writing of this masterpiece. He had put down his music on paper in 24 days without leaving his house even once. His servant often found that the food he had brought to him was untouched. His servant found him with tears in his eyes when Handel was working on the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Handel exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!” He was thoroughly familiar with the Bible. Thus, when he composed Israel in Egypt, most words came from the book of Exodus. He described the plagues sent by God in music. When his Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742, he won huge popular success. A nobleman came to compliment him by saying that it was a great entertainment. He immediately replied to him by saying, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.” Surely we become better if we truly listen to the message he had put into this work. The proceeds from this performance went to three charitable undertakings. Afterwards, it was almost entirely reserved for the benefit of charity, whenever the Messiah was performed. He died on April 14, 1759. Not many composers today have the sense of beauty in their music. It will be a rich blessing to listen to some Baroque music.

Franz Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 and raised in Rohrau, Lower Austria. He left home at the age of six for musical training. Despite many hardships and difficulties in life, he persisted in his musical work. His wife did not understand his music, and in fact she was not interested in his music at all. Thus, it has been said that she often used his manuscripts for pastry linings or curl paper. He has often been called as the Father of the symphony and the string quartet. The lovers of Haydn’s music say that they feel compelled to do some work after they hear his music. His 12 London symphonies are the crown of his achievement. His Surprise Symphony is rather entertaining. “The title comes from the andante movement where there is a surprise chord to wake up the audience. Haydn said that it would make all the women scream” (Smith and Carlson, 71). Having heard Handel’s Messiah, he composed an oratorio, The Creation. Haydn told his biographer that while he was composing The Creation, he fell on his knees and asked God for strength. He also wrote another well known oratorio, The Seasons. When he was asked which oratorio was his favorite, he said that it was The Creation because angels talked about God in The Creation. “In 1808 Haydn was brought on a stretcher to hear a performance of The Creation in Vienna where he spent his last years. At the glorious moment when the chorus sings ‘And There Was Light,’ the audience burst into applause. Haydn was heard to say with trembling hands uplifted, ‘Not from me. It all comes from above’” (Smith and Carlson, 72). The Austrian national hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” was written by Haydn and the words are by John Newton. It is my wish and prayer that some godly, Bible centred, Christian musicians will arise and cultivate us with good quality music and we’ll improve every aspect of our music ministry. If we compare Bach, Mandel, and Haydn’s music with many of contemporary music, we’ll know huge differences between them without any difficulty.

In contrast to these musicians, we may find dramatic differences in Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). His motto was “Freedom above all” because he was convinced of the dignity of man. Someone described his music that it has a frenzied and demonic energy, for it is full of violent contrast. Roman Rolland once said of him, “There is something in him of Nietzsche’s superman, long before Nietzsche.” If you know who Nietzsche is, then you’ll know his view of God. He was not a friend of God. He considered himself as a special person, different from ordinary people. He was full of scorn for nearly everyone. He was rude and arrogant. Though he remained as a bachelor, he never suffered with a shortage of women. Someone said, “he was always in love.” Though he was great organizer of music, but he was the most disorganized person. While he lived in Vienna for 35 years, he moved at least 70 times! He was an early riser, and loved to work in the mornings. He once said, “I love a tree more than a man.” He was a pantheist and love nature more than the creator. David Ewen said of him, “Beethoven was not the man to bow to anyone-even God!” He was even tempted to commit suicide. Grout said, “Beethoven was the most powerful disruptive force in the history of music. His works opened the gateway to a new world.” All these comments, facts, and stories indicate that philosophy has something to do with music. When a musician does not share a common spirituality with us, it is hard for us to find a good harmony with his music. The following statement must be well written: “The fact that Beethoven held a world view that excluded spiritual wholeness caused his music to move in a direction of disintegration toward the end of his life.”

Let us guard ourselves not to be swept away by the music of the world and culture ourselves with good, spiritual, Biblical, and quality Christian music.

Pastor Ki

More Lively Hope



Shorter Catechism Question No 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery? God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

Please pray for health & God’s healing: Rev George & Sis Nan van Buuren, Rev Peter Clements, Rev Edward Paauwe, Rev Timothy Tow, Dr S H Tow, Dn Yaw Chiew Tan; Bros Winston Selavanayagam, James Tan, Thomas Tan, John Tann, Kevin Tye (chemo); Sisters Kimmy Chong, Sooi Chin Gong, Myung Ki, Gillian Ong’s grandfather, Aranka Rejtoe, Susan Veradi, Giok Yeo’s sister-in-law, Bee Giok Khut & her mother, Auntie Oei, Auntie Sheila George and others afflicted with illness. "...My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9a).

Please pray for – a) Cambodia Missions: Rev & Mrs Stephen Choi & Ministry (Phnom Penh & Kandal Province); Bro Vana Rith serving in Pailin: b) Laos Missions - Bro Surish Dharmalingam - for health & God’s provision; c) Journey mercies - Rev & Mrs Peter Chua (Adl), Bro You Wen Yeap (S’pore), Sis Marion Chan (KL), Sis Janet Sankey & her sons, Vaibhav & Parshad (Gujerat, India), Bro Lincoln Law, Sisters Joyce Gong & Purdee Yeo (Europe); d) Resident Pastor for Ebenezer BPC; e) PR Visa applications: the George family; f) Exams - Year 12 and University students; g) Strength & encouragement - Sis Lydia Tan & family; h) Believers under persecution in Communist & Islamic countries; i) Sketch N’ Tell ministry of Bro Hai Seng Lim; j) Upcoming activities: Christmas Concert & Australian B-P Youth Camp– speaker & organisers.

Praise and Thank God for – a) YAF/Teens’, Wed Prayer Meeting & Bible Study & AFG meetings; Ladies Fellowship & Neighbourhood Choir Practices; b) Journey mercies - Bro Yik Ho Lam (S’pore), John Wong (Brisbane), Serene Wong & her parents (Adl), Bro Lincoln Law, Sisters Joyce Gong & Purdee Yeo (UK), and others who have travelled; c) New worshippers - in our midst.

Congratulations & God’s blessing on the 11th Anniversary of The Strathalbyn Bible Christian Church today. Thanksgiving Service at 2:00 pm. Those intending to go to Strathalbyn this afternoon, please see Dn Tony Law for details.

Looking Ahead: Christmas Concert at Concordia College Chapel on 3 December, 7:30 pm.

Looking Ahead: Australian B-P Youth Camp. Topic: “Growing in Love”. Guest Speaker: Rev Quek Suan Yew. Dates: 6 - 10 December. Camp forms on literature table.



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