Music: To Worship, Uplift, Distract, Or Subvert

A comparison of four classical composers, with observations on how their music either helps uplift the soul to God, or draws the mind down to wallow in the things below.


1 – Johann Sebastian Bach: The Harmony Of Logos


Examples of Bach:

Brandenberg Concerto No.3:

Bach’s beautiful choral arrangement of the Lutheran hymn “By The Rivers Of Babylon” (“An Wasserfl├╝ssen Babylon”):

Toccata & Fugue:

Bach’s music describes in vivid sonic detail the reality of God’s divine order and eternal truth. There is seemingly no phrase or note in his music not written to this one end; all has distinct purpose. There is no waste; and everything is addressed in a most dignified manner. In Bach’s music, the Light is spoken of with awe and reverence; and the darkness is spoken of within the context of God’s mastery over all. There is pure joy in the Lord, with nothing trite or frivolous. There is pure fear of the Lord, with no hint of despair. There is no glorying in man’s thoughts or strength; but much rather in God’s wisdom and power.

Bach is (among other things) the great exegete of the keyboard, and his extensive repertoire lays out for us, as it were, the divinely appointed boundaries of every note’s potential use in relation to another, with every measure of his many compositions effortlessly reflecting his own remark that “harmony is close to Godliness”. There is no flirtation with musical subversion or mindless dissonance; and the occasional unusual sound is employed only to serve the well-being of the hearer as far as it reflects the realities of God’s truth within the created order of the music.

“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
– Johann Sebastian Bach

How well indeed did his music fulfill that saying!
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2 – George Frideric Handel: The Sound Of Majesty


Examples of Handel:

Overture, from Messiah:

Comfort Ye My People, from Messiah:

Overture, from Alexander’s Feast of the Power of Music:

A contemporary and fellow countryman of Bach (though they never met), Handel’s music is hewn from the same substance, with an ever-present consciousness of honoring God’s glory. There is always a sense of divine majesty in his compositions, by which the sensitive hearer is at times made to feel that they tread on holy ground – and this without either pretension or any sense of overbearing forcefulness on the part of the music: it simply speaks for itself when played, as truth always does when uttered.

The instrumentation alone in his famous work “Messiah” can easily take one into the very holy of holies if the soul is prepared to heed its call; and the accompaniment of prophetic scriptures borne upon its heavenly melodies carries an anointing unparalleled in most hymnody. There is often a hush of awe which falls upon even the most secular of audiences when these pieces are performed in succession. That particular work was reported to have been written by Handel in the course of approximately 30 days (in its base form, without many of the large choral parts – still an astounding feat).
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3 – Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Self-Interest Of Man


Examples of Beethoven:

Piano Concerto No.1 – Allegro Con Brio:

Cello Sonata No.3 in A Major:

Beethoven’s music still lives within the world of reality and truth, but it often does very little to consciously acknowledge such. There is still an adherence to the orderliness and natural beauty of things; but the element of divine authority is replaced with a largely unanswered search for meaning. Vast portions of his compositions are dedicated to meander through the deep woods of a lonesomely reasoning mind; and their occasional discoveries, though useful, are not revelatory. There is natural light, but always the bright sun is hidden behind a blanket of cloud; and the divine is so distant that it need not be directly spoken of.

In Beethoven the transcendent is lost to long rabbit trails of thought, and, at times, impulsive little adventures in melody. Not that anything is ever objectionable to the hearing – there is still a clear appreciation for beauty – yet it is limited to created beauty, and seemingly not the Creator Himself. Beethoven does eventually come to an appropriately resolved end in his compositions; but we are usually left wondering what ultimate reason there was for much of the journey. There is a distinct sense of spiritual unfulfullment despite the typical excellency of his musical form.

One always remembers the feeling of Beethoven’s music; but only a few of his pieces leave a definite impression – and even where they do, all of his music is strongly laced with the sighing melancholy of humanism’s emptiness. Even where he breaks through his troubles into a happy theme, it is always with a certain dullness of heart. Even if the light is brilliant without, it is as though the eyesight remains dim from within. Any soul not lulled to a certain numbness by much of his music is left wanting for a warmth and wholeness that was not granted; and who now shall sing to that soul of the brighter Day?
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4 – Richard Wagner: The Madness Of Devils


Examples of Wagner:

Prelude of “Tristan und Isolde” – which has been cited by some as an early inspiration to Nietzsche’s trajectory of thought.* It is a daunting and tiresome listen:

The Ride of the Valkyries – known to often evoke in men a heightened desire for war and pointless worldly conquest:

Much of Wagner’s music (particularly as heard above) is the expression of the subversive amoral philosophy of will-to-power. There is no reality or truth there except whatever the soul desires to conquer and call its own. As an excellent example of this Satanic mindset, the starting notes of “The Ride Of The Valkyries” sound perfectly like the arousal of jealousy; and the ensuing journey is one of a constant blowing about in the swirling winds of the growing lust for power, which is the only meaning in this nihilistic worldview.

Therefore, its end is wanting of any real wholesome resolve; and throughout, the key signature changes frequently, but not often to a wholly related key. Its sense of mounting triumph has no source outside of what it has accomplished in itself by sheer will: the transcendent is drowned out completely by self-glory. At last, it crashes to an end after a swift tumble into darkness, having left the listener’s heart in great alarm. And after its echoes die off in the ears, one is left with no new thing to contemplate, no melody by which the soul is given a path toward the Logos of God. The divine is utterly cut off; the soul (if it has trusted the music) is left open to the first thought or spirit that may seek to lead it astray.

It is also worth noting that this Wagner, the composer, was a great personal influence upon Nietzsche, the philosopher; and a hefty portion of Wagner’s music certainly does seem to subvert divine order, just as the philosophy of that madman, leaving in its wake the chaotic void into which he himself no doubt gazed.
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There hasn’t been a time since the fall of man when music was not a battleground for men’s souls.
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Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!

With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98:4-9

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*For some additional interesting information on this subject matter, listen to this interview which I came across recently. He lays out the history of the subversion of music in the late classical era quite well, and particularly touches upon the relationship between Wagner and Nietzsche.
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** I do not own any of the music or audio used in this post; it is herein used for reviewing purposes only. **

The Spirit Of The Void

Here are the words of one of Job’s three foolish friends. They are the words of a man led astray, thinking to counsel rightly; when truly he speaks according to a demonic message which he received:

“Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice:
‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in His servants He puts no trust, and His angels He charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth. Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?’
Job 4:12-21 (ESV)

This is a chillingly familiar experience to many people in our own day. We live in a time dominated by this spirit – and it particularly targets the children of God. It works to crush all hope in the possibility that “a man can be in the right before God,” or “be pure before his Maker.” It works to undermine all trust in God on the part of His servants, by accusing the all-knowing God of evil suspicion, saying, “even in His servants He puts no trust…” And it even tries to excuse its own rebellion as the fault of the Most High: “His angels He charges with error…”

There sat Job: penniless, comfortless, and sickly; and here came the void to swallow him whole by utter despair. It is a spirit which causes men an empty dread, “…and trembling, which made all my bones shake.” Its appearance could not be discerned, just like the nothingness into which it drives men. And it blames God for the very meaningless existence that it is truly the purveyor of, saying, “Between morning and evening they (men) are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?”

This is not the Spirit of the Living God: for He is not a spirit of such fear; “but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.”

But those who do not quickly shun and rebuke this spirit of despair in their own lives are left to gradually accept the slow descent into spiritual apathy and compromise; until they come to embrace it as the very wisdom of God, the gospel truth, and refuse to overcome its stranglehold upon them, returning to God nothing upon the investment He made in them. It is the strongman of vices beyond number: it is the invisible pressure which suffocates us from the breath of God, it is the filth of the world which smothers our hearts with callousness; and its only bane is HE WHO IS IN YOU.

Get it out.

The Church Of His Countenance

The Body of Christ is not comprised of curiosity seekers; it is comprised of living martyrs. If curiosity seekers come into a meeting of believers and their curiosity is not soon turned into conviction, how can we claim that the Spirit of God is working in our midst? Our sensitivity ought to be toward the Seeker and Judge of men’s souls, not merely the “felt needs” or curiosities of of men.

Men who only want their endless questions constantly answered ought not to be the legacy of our faith, for such is not the faith of Christ. But men who know their God and are only satisfied with His likeness are what allow the authority and power of Christ into the midst; and with an army of such as these, God cannot be ignored on the earth, and men quickly run out of questions in the light of His countenance. For one who has seen the face of the Lord, even in the face of another man, has been given the final answer of all, and now has but to unravel it for the rest of eternity, if he so humbles himself.

Christ is coming for a glorious church, one beaming with His countenance. This cannot be its state so long as it exists to satisfy the demands of men who neither see nor desire to look upon Christ the LORD.

Thought – Truth & Love

“I AM… the truth…”

“…God is love…”

Truth by its very nature warrants no apology, and true love is therefore never a bedfellow of compromise; for true divine love has in it the love of truth, as it is the very love of He who is the Truth at work in our hearts.

Only the one enlightened of God’s will truly knows His Love; and only the one truly loving God’s Person will rightly know His Truth. Only the uncompromising lover of God’s Truth can be truly uncompromising in the expressing His Love; and in that expression is discovered greater depths of His Truth.

For these both are Christ, and are of the Spirit of Christ; and He is not divided.

To Whom Salvation Belongs

And He said, “Because of this, I have told you that no one is able to come to Me except it is given to him from My Father.” From this time many of His disciples went away into the things behind, and no longer walked with Him.
John 6:65-66

Many will say “Amen” or at least silently tolerate you when you tell them that nature determines fruit. But as soon as you say that the will of God determines nature, most will at best leave you for the things that are behind, and perhaps even seek to destroy you. Carnal hearts defy the sole glorification of God alone in salvation.

Thought & Scripture – God’s Sovereignty

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity. I am the Lord, who does all these things.
Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

It is easy for us to say that God is sovereign over all things; but it is another matter entirely for us to say that He is also sovereign in all things. Few are they that love God for the latter, for He leaves them nothing to boast in, not even their own will.

…for it is God who is working in you both to will and to work for the sake of His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

The one saying, “I have known Him,” and not keeping His commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that one. But whoever keeps His word, truly in this one the love of God has been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.
1 John 2:4-5

Soli Deo Gloria

God Is His Strength

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.
Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.
Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.
Job 32:1-5 (ESV)

Now here is a man that lived up to his name.

Elihu means “God is his strength.”

The God who truly requires no introduction is ever so gracious that He prepares the way before Himself: tilling the hardened earth of our hearts as best as it will allow so that His word might not go forth in vain. He needs no witness from the mouth of a man, yet in mercy he sends one. He sends the voice crying out in the wilderness, uprooting the excuse of men and exposing their great need of the One coming. These voices are held in contempt by those that are wise in their own eyes; but they are considered of God a blessing unto His people. (Elihu was a Buzite, which literally means “contempt;” and his father’s name Barachel means “God has blessed”.)

Such a blessed voice was this Elihu. For after the seeds of discord and confusion were sown by those three fools called friends of Job, this little-remembered young man delivers his word immediately before the Almighty boasts of His majesty, and is never mentioned again. The Lord never rebukes this one: indeed, He begins right where Elihu leaves off and even expounds upon much that he said. This man was a sword long sharpened for a particular day of war, to cut asunder the lies of one man’s heart; he was a choice arrow crafted for a single flight, to pierce one target reached by no other; he was a treasure-trove of precious gems, fashioned for the day of lack: he was the witness of God among the profane, that their babbling mouths might be shamed through the foolishness of preaching.

The words of Elihu are words of great offence to the religious heart. It is no wonder that he is left so forgotten. He is a sort of prophet – not one trained of men, nor versed in “higher thought;” but of the simplicity of true wisdom found only in the stillness of God’s voice…

And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said: I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you.
I said, Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom. But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say, Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion. Behold, I waited for your words, I listened for your wise sayings, while you searched out what to say. I gave you my attention, and, behold, there was none among you who refuted Job or who answered his words.
Beware lest you say, “We have found wisdom;” God may vanquish him, not a man. He (Job) has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches.
They (Job’s friends) are dismayed; they answer no more; they have not a word to say. And shall I wait, because they do not speak, because they stand there, and answer no more? I also will answer with my share; I also will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me.
Job 32:6-18

Those who know their God are ever ruined for Him: they cannot stand to bear the prattling on of carnal men, who love to pit fool against fool and declare the craftier wise. The end of all human thought without God is emptiness and confoundment.

Elihu observed all of this with eyes quite unhindered by the scales of man’s reasoning: he beheld the folly of Job’s defence as well as the folly of his accusers, for he beheld the manifold wisdom of the sovereign Lord. From within his belly there groaned a burden of righteous angst not of his own making; and from within his very bones there kindled a holy fire destined to enflame the words of his mouth – if by obedience he would allow it.

Like the pressure of a great river held back by a dam, he longed after the very desire of God for those waters to be liberated as is their nature – for the word of God is not bound. Those who truly have the word of God within them have also its desire at work in them. These have given up the futility of their own hearts for the in-filling of God’s heart. Those who so know their Maker speak of what they have seen and heard in the secret of His counsel, seeking not the approval of man, but of their Lord.

Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away…
…My words declare the uprightness of my heart, and what my lips know they speak sincerely. The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Job 32:19, 33:3-4

These are not the words of arrogance, but of humility’s confidence. Elihu did not come wielding the word of the Lord; the word of the Lord came weilding Elihu. The word was the wine, the man was the wine-skin; and this man recognized that such was the righful order. His rebuke was not to destroy Job, but to show him the right. It was to remind his self-justifying friend of God’s kindness and forebearance so that he might repent back to the eternal blessedness of the Name he had once rested in.

Behold, I am toward God as you are; I too was pinched off from a piece of clay. Behold, no fear of me need terrify you; my pressure will not be heavy upon you.
Job 33:6-7

Job had begun well in his suffering, and was commended for the saying “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” [For the scripture thereafter says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22)] But Job did not continue in this right and humble frame of spirit. For thereafter he began to rather pity himself; and in response to the false accusations of evil suspicion from his friends, he attributed their folly to God and counted his sufferings unjust.

Elihu continues,

Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, “I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, He finds occasions against me, He counts me as His enemy, He puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.”
Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against Him, saying, “He will answer none of man’s words?”
For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then He opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that He may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; He keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.
Job 33:8-18

There is no injustice with God: He works great evil unto the good for those that are with Him. He turns loose the very hords of hell to prove the mettle of His servants; and He delivers them from the gates of destruction, that they might see how their God delivers destruction back unto the enemy’s gates. The sufferings of the present time are the growing pains of the Life begotten of God within the creature. It is of mercy that He will not relent, and it is of wisdom that we should submit ourselves to the knife of our skilled Physician. The Lord will ever draw out His own unto the brink of despair, that they may learn the trust of Him – the faith which is called heavenly vision. He will expose the self-preserving heart by any means until it at last cries aloud, “It is well! You have declared my soul Your own, here it is for safe-keeping, as I cannot preserve myself, nor endure unto the end. But with You it shall be possible.”

Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones, so that his life loathes bread, and his appetite the choicest food. His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen, and his bones that were not seen stick out.
His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring death. If there be for him an angel, a Mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him, and He is merciful to him, and says, “Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom; let his flesh become fresh with youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor;” then man prays to God, and He accepts him; He sees his face with a shout of joy, and He restores to man his righteousness.
He (the man) sings before men and says: “I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.”
Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the Light of Life.
Job 33:19-30

Much more was also declared by the mouth of Elihu before the Lord spoke to Job from the whirlwind; but this I hope has introduced the essence of it. It is wisdom greatly despised by the world, and often forgotten by God’s people. He aquired his knowledge from heaven afar, he ascribed righteousness to his Maker; his words were not false, but perfect in knowledge. He declared purity in the heart by the loving of God’s justice, and trust in the Lord by the disciplines of His mercy.

Though perhaps little more than a youth, he yet spoke from what he had both seen and heard in the Lord.

God was his strength.