Volume. XX, No. 19
Sunday, 06 November 2005

From the Pastors Heart: Classical Christian Music and its Composers

Recently I came across a book, A Gift of Music, written by Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson, published by Cornerstone Books, Westchester, Illinois, USA in 1978. It has stories about twenty classical music composers who have greatly influenced church music over that last four centuries. I read the book with great interest, and there are so many things that I’d like to share with you from this book. I may not be able to talk about individual composers in details, but you and I will be blessed by knowing of their lives, desires, and quality music. The introduction of the book begins with a quote from Joseph Addison, “A man that has a taste of music, painting, or architecture, is like one that has another sense, when compared with such as have not relish of those arts.” Music has permeated into every aspect of our life. Especially, Christian faith is often musical. For example, one of the books in the Bible that has been cherished by so many people is the book of Psalms. Psalms are musical, and many believers even today love to sing psalms, and there are some churches singing only psalms in worship services. Psalm 98 is one of the examples. Verse 1 says, “O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.” Verses 4-6 are leading the psalm into its climax, 4 “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.” The psalmist was not satisfied with singing by himself. He is inviting all God’s creatures to join him in singing for the Lord. Verses 7 and 8 say, 7 “Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 8 Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together.” If we know that Isaac Watts was inspired by this psalm and wrote a hymn, “Joy to the World! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King,” we shall be even more blessed. When Jesus appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem after His resurrection, He told them that the Scriptures taught of His resurrection. He, in particular, mentioned of the three parts of the Scriptures: the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms (Luke 24:44). It is worth noting that psalms are categorized as a main section of Scriptures. It is an indication that praising God is an important part of our worship.

Martin Luther wrote a hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” based on Psalm 46. The first two verses of the psalm say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” It has been said that whenever he was discouraged, he read Psalm 46. All these examples show us that the very backbone of sacred music has been the psalms. Sacred hymns are confessions and prayers of the sacred hymn writers. Paul and Silas sang praises to God. Before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and His disciples sang hymns (Matthew 26:30). We ought to thank the Lord for the book of Psalm, of which Luther called, “A Bible in Miniature.” Sacred hymn writers and many of classical music composers made their music based on the Word of God, especially, the book of Psalms. Examples are plenteous. Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) was the greatest German composer in the middle of 17th century. He was also one of the most well known composers during the Baroque period. He wrote his music to help the audience to get the message of the words. His goal in composition of his music was to bring the meaning of the words into the hearts of his hearers. He composed several works based on the Magnificat. He also composed, “The Seven Last Words,” which is the oratorio type. Schutz used the words of the four Gospels. Thus, Moser asked, “Is there in the whole literature of music a more dramatic outcry than Schutz’s treatment of the words ‘My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?’ ” The quality of this music comes from his personal devotion before the Person of Christ. In fact, one of his critics said that he was the most spiritual musician that the world had ever known. In 1644, he wrote the Christmas Oratorio, a brief biblical history. Listen to the ending part of his work:

“We give thanks to God, our Lord Christ, who by His birth hath enlightened us and by His blood hath redeemed us from the power of the devil. Let us all, with His angels, give praise to Him with a loud voice, singing, Praise be to God in the highest.”

“When Schutz married in 1619 he combined invitations to his wedding with publication of his Psalms of David. The chapter of the Naumburg Cathedral on May 27 has in its minutes: ‘Heinrich Schutz, Electoral Saxon Kapellmeister in Dresen, sends the gentlemen a copy of his published Psalms of David and invites them to his wedding on June 1. The gentlemen vote that five Rhenish gold guilden be sent him as a honorarium, which they have taken from the large iron chest’ ” (pp. 29-30). He died in 1672, and an inscription was made on a brass tablet, “The Christian Singer of Psalms - A Joy for foreigners, for Germans a light.” For such person, it is appropriate to read Psalm 119:54, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” What a wonderful example we have for our musicians!

One of the great legacies Christian music composers have received from Reformation is that music is not to create a mood, but to convey a message. Thus, they reflected confessions of their faith, not just personal feelings as modern musicians/CCM do. In his work, Little Book for the Organ, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote on the title page, “To the glory of God alone in the highest and to further the learning of everyone.” Bach did not write cheap or trivial works because he believed that the primary reason for music was to glorify God and to recreate the mind. Many people do agree that Bach is the greatest of all composers. Helmut Walcha, a blind German organist, said, “Ultimately Bach opens a vista to the universe. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all.” He wrote nearly 300 cantatas, and Stravinsky said that Bach’s cantatas should be the heart of every musician’s study. “The cantatas join the Bible, music, and history into a unified whole.” We must notice that Bach stressed the words and the message in his cantatas. Listen to this comment on his music: “Bach, in a sense, placed himself ‘in the pulpit’ to expound the Gospel, and his cantatas reflect the depths of Christianity. Bach wrote his music as an act of worship in the true mystical sense, and his faith and music are unified” (p. 48). “Along with the crystalline logic underlying all of Bach’s works are the rhythms and controlled, but seeming spontaneous, harmonic modulations.” Two sections of his cantata No. 21, I was in Much Tribulation, talk about “the sorrow and distress of the sinful soul” in the first section and “the spirit of rejoicing in the salvation brought by Jesus Christ.” He added a hymn to it, “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee.” And he ends the work with a chorus saying, “Worthy Is the Lamb That Was Slain.” It has been known that Bach often wrote a few words on his manuscripts such as “With the help of Jesus,” or “To God alone be the glory.” He was totally blind when he died at the age of 65. He dictated his last composition from his bed. It was the chorale, “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.” I wish and pray that the Hopefuls always cherish and play such quality sacred music, instead of empty virtuosity, for the glory of God.

Lovingly, Pastor Ki

More Lively Hope



Shorter Catechism Question No. 19: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.

Please pray for God’s healing: Rev George & Sis Nan van Buuren, Rev Peter Clements, Dn Yaw Chiew Tan; Bros James Tan (FMC), Thomas Tan, John Tann, Kevin Tye (chemo); Sisters Kimmy Chong, Myung Ki, Gillian Ong’s grandfather, Aranka Rejtoe, Susan Veradi, Sis Giok Yeo’s sister-in-law, Sis Bee Giok Khut & her mother, Auntie Oei, Auntie Sheila 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 David Koo & Ministry (Sihanoukville); Bro Vana Rith serving in Pailin: b) Laos Missions - Bro Surish Dharmalingam; c) Journey mercies - Bros Yick Ho Lam (S’pore) & John Wong (Brisbane), Sis Serene Wong & family (Tas/Adl), Sis Janet Sankey & her sons, Vaibhav & Parshad (Gujerat, India); 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) God’s Guidance for our Federal & State legislators; i) Bomb blast victims in New Delhi, India; j) Believers under persecution in Communist & Islamic countries.

Praise and Thank God for – a) YAF/Teens’, Joy & Maranatha meetings; Ladies Fellowship & Neighbourhood Choir Practices; b) Journey mercies - Bro Winston & Sis Christabelle Selvanayagam, Sisters Lydia Tan, Su Sim Toh & Serene Wong (Adl), Bro Lincoln Law, Sisters Joyce Gong & Purdee Yeo (UK), and others who have travelled.

Congratulations and God’s blessings to Bro Elton & Sis Michiko Law on the birth of their son, Jasper.

Congratulations to Bro Craig Samels & Sis Clara Koon on their baptisms & Bro Eu-Jzin Tan on his membership transfer.

Looking Ahead: The Strathalbyn Bible Christian Church’s 11th Anniversary Thanksgiving next Lord’s Day.

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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