My dad loved classical music. The first time he heard a CD of one of his favorite pieces, he cried because the quality was so much better than the scratchy records he had listened to up until then. I remember countless evenings when he would play his classical music and I would fall asleep on our living room floor, waiting (and hoping) for the possibility that he would turn off the record player and I might be able to negotiate watching an episode of the Partridge Family or Nancy Drew.
One of my difficulties was that I didn’t understand the music he listened to. It took him places that it didn't take me. Although my knowledge of music is still lacking, I am better at listening to and appreciating music than I used to be. Last week, I shared a piece called Koyaanisqatsi, that presents, through music and pictures, a world out of balance. This week, I share a symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, which, in spite of sections containing tension and discord, ultimately concludes with integration and balance.
Is there something in this 200-year-old piece can teach us today? I believe the symphony, titled by Beethoven, “Pastoral Symphony, or a Recollection of Country Life. More an expression than a painting” can teach us about having a more integrated relationship with the rest of creation. Personally, since those days in my family's living room, I have fallen more in love with the creation around me and, in this symphony's five movements, I can hear the echoes of the creation that I love (and my father loved), in additional to echoes of past listenings to this favorite of my father's.
Beethoven himself was deeply fond of the natural world. He took long walks and often wrote about his love of it in letters, "I still cannot enjoy life in the country, which is so indispensable to me." "How delighted I will be to ramble for awhile through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks." "For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo that man desires to hear."
The five movements of the symphony are: 1. Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside) 2. Szene am Bach (Scene by the brook,) 3. Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute, (Merry gathering of country folk) 4. Gewitter, SturmThunder, (Storm) and 5. Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm (Shepherd's song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm). The symphony moves from a place of entry, to specific experiences of place, to the inclusion of the human community, through disruption and possible danger, to a place of regained peace and harmony. The mood of the fifth movement is heightened by the theme of balance restored from disruption and chaos.
Some parts of this music can be traced to very specific sources in creation. For instance, the section at the end of the second movement, Szene am Bach (Scene by the brook,) famously incorporates sounds that hearken to very particular birdsongs. In Beethoven's musical notations, he even identified the particular species of birds with the instruments representing them: the flute plays the nightingale part, an oboe plays the quail, and two clarinets play the cuckoo. You can listen for a minute or two to the video below to hear these sounds.
In addition to the birdsong, the second movement also consistently incorporates the theme of flowing water, which is a sound that, for me, relaxes me and helps puts things in perspective; it is a sound I could listen to for hours on end. Are there sounds from creation that are especially grounding for you?
In the third movement, Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Merry gathering of country folk), we hear humans in relationship with each other and the rest of creation as they join the scene by the brook where the water and birds have been singing their songs. Have you been in a campground where someone's blaring music drowned out everything else? Sometimes people displace all else when they enter a scene, but there are also times when humans integrate into the creation around them. I remember hearing a bagpipe on a trip to Scotland where a bagpipe player's tune in the Highlands seemed to meld in complete congruence with the world around him. When I listen to the third movement of this symphony, this is the picture that comes to mind for me—humans as a part of creation, not expelling or domineering over it.
Paralleling last week's section of music called, The Grid, is the fourth movement of this symphony, called Gewitter, SturmThunder, (Storm) in which a storm begins, builds and crescendos into a threatening cacophony of storm. Both this piece and The Grid present danger and disruption reaching their climax. Storm is a full of chaotic sounds—loud, scattering notes that toss the listener around, unsettling the atmosphere of festivity that preceded this movement. But this week's music is set firmly within the God-made world, not exclusively the man-made world and, although the storm is disorienting, it moves toward a resolution, found in the final fifth section: "Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm: Shepherd's song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm." This is in stark contrast to the Prophecies of last week, in which a rocket explodes and falls to the ground near the finale.
The resolution of this symphony may seem unrealistic to us in our modern times with our modern imbalance, but I believe we need, as a species, to find our way to the place it envisions. It hearkens to a place of integration with the world of streams, community, birds and even passing storms. When I listen to the Pastoral Symphony now, it reminds me of the God-created world and what I love about this world. Its vision of placement is planted firmly in the company of all creation, with an awareness of our belongingness within it. This is something I believe we, as humans need to thrive, both as a species and as members of the creation community.
Reflection Questions: As you listen to the music, are there are memories or images from interactions in the natural world that arise for you? Is there music that reminds you of your place within the God-created world?
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