An Evening with Bach and Mozart: Thoughts on Music as the Articulation of Self-Realization

Thanks to the generosity of Peter Benoliel, a few of us Templeton students recently had the opportunity to attend a concert at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, featuring Bach’s Magnificat, and Mozart’s Coronation Mass in C major. It was performed by the ensemble Vox Amadeus and conducted by Valentin Radu. In addition to the vocal works, Radu and a small orchestra performed Bach’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. The four soloists for both the Magnificat and the Mass were incredible, and the soprano, Andrea Lauren Brown, stood out with her clear tone and her striking balance of both delicacy and strength. The Coronation Mass was our favorite piece, and was well performed by both the quartet of solosists and the choir.

Templeton Scholars take a photo at the Kimmel Center after their Benoliel Arts Event.  

The beauty of this evening was a reminder that, as Josef Pieper so aptly states in his essay “Thoughts on Music” from Only the Lover Sings, “Music…is a wordless expression of man’s intrinsic dynamism of self-realization, a process understood as man’s journey toward ethical personhood, as the manifestation of man’s will in all its aspects, as love.” Music is able to reveal man’s soul and articulate man’s deepest longings and desires. It is able to do this without words, but, in the case of vocal music, it is able to express those words in a deeply human way that the spoken word cannot. This insight is reflected in Bach’s Magnificat. In the movement “Quia Respexit,” the soprano first sings “For He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.” The melody, first presented by the oboe, and echoed by the soaring vocal line, expresses the deep, wrenching, humility that is Mary’s appropriate human response to the all-encompassing mercy and magnanimity of God. Bach’s use of intricate minor harmonies and chromaticism is able to articulate this self-realization in a way that merely speaking the text could not. 

Later on in his essay, Pieper bemoans the current “triviality” of music of the late 20th century, that seeks only to entertain the listener with a superficial, happy sound, rather than seek to express and manifest man’s will and desires. And yet, we should rejoice, “for there still exists, also and especially, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach!” Therefore, we should continue to embrace and listen to the music of Bach, and of Mozart, for he says that this will lead us to new clarity, authenticity, and vigor in our journey to self-realization, without distracting us from the realities of our lives with the pleasures that is found in superficial harmonies.

                                   Above all this will guide us to turn with resolve, constancy, courage, and hope toward the one and only 

                                   Good by whose grace our inner existential yearning finds fulfillment; the one Good praised and exalted

                                  particularly in Bach’s music with such ever present “wordless jubilation.” (51)

Therefore, it is such a gift that we are are given these frequent opportunities to hear this music live in the concert hall. Without the Benoliel Arts and Culture Fund, we would not be able to experience music that reveals our deepest existential yearnings and in doing so, points us towards the one good in which these yearnings will be fulfilled.

 

Mary Katherine Bucko, a native of Philadelphia, is a senior in the Templeton Honors College. An avid lover of sacred choral music, she is pursuing a degree in Classical Voice. Her other academic interests include philosophy, art history, and sacramental theology. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and canoeing, singing Renaissance polyphony, and spending time with her beautiful family.

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