Of Art and War

(I wrote this piece in 1991, but it is no less relevant now than it was then.)

Over the radio just now the new prime minister of Great Britain addressed the British Parliament about the war in the Persian Gulf.  His remarks made matters musical seem extremely irrelevant.  In response to a question the prime minister noted that the military forces are instructed to be careful not to damage sacred or cultural sights.  This caution suggests that in the long run artistic concerns are not so irrelevant after all.

God has nourished the soul through the centuries via the lives of uniquely creative people.  Names such as Shakespeare and Chaucer, Bach and Mozart, Raphael and Rodin come to mind.  Rodin created “The Thinker,” for example, while Chaucer was the father of English literature.  Indeed, in his or her own way every great artist makes a singular contribution to both his era and to every age thereafter.

1991 happens to be the 200th anniversary of the death of Mozart.  (I am entering this piece into my blog on the 262nd anniversary of Mozart’s birth.) One amazing distinction that Mozart holds is that he is the greatest known example of a musical prodigy in Western music history.  He was a touring concert pianist at age 4 and a composer of symphonies at age 8.  In his relatively brief life of 34 years he created an incredible amount of fine music which, along with the music of Haydn, personifies the Classical Era in music history. 200 years after his death the ongoing recognition of Mozart’s creations would lead one to believe that his life mattered.

1985 was the 300th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, and that year was celebrated with festivities worldwide.  Lutherans have particular reasons to remember his contributions, but that music history itself has sometimes been demarcated as pre-Bach and post-Bach indicates the measure of his greatness.  To relate the composer to another important event, it is interesting to note that the reunification of Germany was a boon to Bach scholarship because Bach lived in what we knew for 45 years as East Germany.

Great art makes men immortal and ultimately relevant for every era. (Sir Thomas More being called “A Man for All Seasons” comes to mind.)  Current events temporarily draw our attention to other important issues.  But when humanity seeks to recover from the ravages of war, may it recall the creative efforts which have stamped the ages with distinction.

God grant us the ability to return in peace to pursuits of whatever persuasion when war is done.

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