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Posts Tagged ‘Felix Mendelssohn’

Did you catch last week’s post, “There’s No Such Thing as a Christian Genius?”

That title came from a blog-responder some years ago who didn’t realize evidence refuted his opinion. Intelligence is to be found among believers in Jesus—in the sciences (as we discovered last week), and in the humanities, as presented below:

ART 

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)—considered by many as the greatest Renaissance artist of northern Europe. His career began at the dawn of the Reformation under Martin Luther, whom Durer supported.

One of his prayers penned five hundred years ago is just as applicable today. Included here are excerpts:

 

O God in heaven, have mercy on us!

Preserve in us the true genuine Christian faith,

Help us recognize your voice,

Help us not to be allured by the madness of the world,

So that we may never fall away from you,

O Lord Jesus Christ (1).

 

Self-portrait of Durer

 

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840) produced more than 500 works. He is best known for his landscapes, all of which possessed a spiritual quality and meaning.

Friedrich expressed his convictions in poetry as well:

 

Through the gloomy clouds break

Blue sky, sunshine,

On the heights and in the valley

Sing the lark and the nightingale.

God, I thank you that I live

Not forever in this world

Strengthen me that my soul rise

Upward toward your firmament (2).

 

Two Men Contemplating the Moon by Friedrich, ca. 1824

 

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was one of several who led the Hudson River School, a group of painters known for their realistic landscapes.

They desired to portray the presence of God in his creation. One technique was to include small human figures surrounded by mammoth trees and vast meadows.

Cole saw “the mission of the artist as a spiritual one, to spread the Word of God through art devoted to nature” (3). To that end, Cole prayed before he painted.

 

Dream of Arcadia by Cole, ca. 1838

 

MUSIC

George Frideric Handel produced numerous works in at least seven genres. His most remarkable effort is perhaps his most famous composition, Messiah, which he accomplished in just twenty-four days.

In 1759, while receiving an ovation after his last performance, Handel cried out: “Not from me…but from Heaven…comes all” (4).

He hoped to die on Easter, hoping to “meet his good God, his sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection” (5). Handel arrived in heaven the day before, in 1759.

 

George Frideric Handel

 

Johann Sebastian Bach, another prolific composer, is considered one of the greatest Western composers of all time.

While serving as a church organist and teacher, he set an impossible goal: write a different cantata for every Sunday, for three years. Not only did Bach create the music, but made sure his singers and instrumentalists had copies, and time to rehearse with him before each Sunday’s service.

Even on his secular works, Bach often wrote “I.N.J.” for “in the name of Jesus.” Finished manuscripts were frequently initialed, “S.D.G.”—Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone, the glory) (6).

 

“Soli Deo Gloria” in Bach’s own hand, bottom right

 

Felix Mendelssohn excelled in numerous fields: philosophy, linguistics, watercolor painting, poetry, gymnastics, and of course, music. During his brief life of only thirty-eight years, Mendelssohn produced approximately 750 musical works in nearly every genre.

He gained great popularity and prestige as a musician, yet maintained a humble and devout faith in Christ.  In one of his letters, Mendelssohn wrote: “Pray to God that He may create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us” (7).

 

 

LITERATURE 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) had no equal in the literary history of any country, according to the Edinburg Review (8). Her literary works reflected keen intelligence and deep faith. As a teenager, she taught herself Hebrew so she could read the Old Testament with greater understanding.

Browning’s writings often explored Christian themes:

 

“Earth is crammed with heaven,

and every common bush is afire with God.

And only those who see take off their shoes;

the rest sit around and pluck blackberries” (9).

–from Aurora Leigh

 

And from the poem, “Comfort”:

 

“SPEAK low to me, my Saviour, low and sweet
From out the hallelujahs, sweet and low
Lest I should fear and fall, and miss Thee so
Who art not missed by any that entreat” (10).

 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) distinguished himself as an essayist, columnist, humorist, poet, and novelist. About him, one evangelical scholar wrote : “There has not been a more articulate champion of classic Christianity, virtue, and decency.”

Articulate, indeed:

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car”—original source unknown (11).

“These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”—from the Illustrated News, 8-11-1928 (12).

 

G. K. Chesterton

 

Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963), professor at Oxford and then Cambridge, is considered one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century. He authored more than thirty books; many are popular to this day.

Lewis came to Christian faith out of atheism, through the reading of such authors as George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and others. Also influential, other intellectuals of faith associated with Oxford, including J. R. R. Tolkien.

C. S. Lewis came to understand:

“Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in”from Mere Christianity (13).

 

C. S. Lewis, ca. 1940

______________________________

 

As noted last week, it is a fact many acclaimed geniuses have chosen not to become Christians.

But it cannot be said there is no such thing as a Christian genius.

Again, who would you add to the list?  Please share in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

  1. historyofpainters.com/durer/
  2. As quoted and translated by Linda Siegel in Caspar David Friedrich and the Age of German Romanticism, 1978, p. 48.
  3. https://www.equip.org/article/what-has-art-to-do-with-evangelism/
  4. christianheritageedinburgh.uk
  5. https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/musiciansartistsandwriters/george-frideric-handel.html
  6. christianheritageedinburgh.uk
  7. thirdmill.org/paul/impact_mendelssohn.asp
  8. poetryfoundation.org/poets/elizabeth-barrett-browning
  9. https://www.bartleby.com/236/86.html
  10. https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/comfort/
  11. http://famousquotefrom.com/g-k-chesterton/
  12. https://www.chesterton.org/quotations-of-g-k-chesterton/
  13. http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/cslewisonauthenticdiscipleshippage4

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.flickr.com.

 

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After you’ve known God awhile you begin to notice:

His ways are not our ways–they’re better.

And he loves to weave together disparate, even far-removed elements (sometimes over decades of time) to achieve his plans…

Brothers, John and Charles Wesley are well-known names in church history.  God used them as highly effective evangelists in England and America during the 1700s.

 

(c) John Wesleys House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) John Wesley’s House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

Early in their ministry, they became convinced of the power of music to teach scriptural truth and create meaningful worship. Charles in particular began to write hymns. (In fact, he composed over 6,000 in his lifetime.  We still sing a number of them today.*)

One of those familiar hymns is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Some say the carol was inspired as Charles walked to church on Christmas Day, 1739.

 

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As the church bells rang out he wrote:

“Hark! How all the welkin** ring.

Glory to the King of kings!”

For years to come, those attending the Wesleys’ open-air meetings sang the carol to the tune of another Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”

In 1743, another famous preacher, George Whitefield, decided to include the carol in a hymnbook he compiled, but changed the first lines to what we know today:

“Hark! The herald angels sing,

‘Glory to the newborn King.”

Charles Wesley did not appreciate the altered words, because scripture includes nothing about angels singing at the birth of Christ. Luke 2:13 clearly states “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”

 

220px-William_Hayman_Cummings

Skip ahead more than one hundred years to 1856. Church organist, William H. Cummings (above), discovered a new and perfect tune for the carol, hiding within a cantata by his favorite composer, Felix Mendelssohn. (He had once enjoyed singing in a chorale directed by the famous Mendelssohn.)

The score, Festegesang (1840), had been composed for the 400th anniversary celebration of Gutenberg’s printing press. In the second section, Cummings heard “a beautiful melody looking for words.” He took Charles Wesley’s verses, George Whitfield’s revisions, and Mendelssohn’s tune to create a hymn suitable for congregational singing.

The result: the familiar carol we sing to this day.

If it had been up to Wesley, those lyrics would never have been changed.  He once commented that he and John were honored to have their hymns published, but he did wish the editors would “not attempt to mend them.”

If it had been up to Mendelssohn, his melody never would have become a Christmas carol.  Granted, he had recognized its  potential for a popular song, but as a Christian, Mendelssohn never considered the melody suitable for sacred words.

God had different plans, however, than Wesley or Mendelssohn. And he used two more gentlemen to accomplish his purpose.

Isn’t that just like our God?

Master Weaver indeed.

________________________________

*Some popular hymns of Charles Wesley: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”; “Blessed Be the Name”; “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”; “And Can It Be?”; and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”.

** Welkin is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “the vault of heaven where the angels dwell.” 

Sources: Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins (2001); Stories of the Great Christmas Carols by Kenon D. Renfrow and June C. Montgomery (2003); www.aproundtable.com; www.markroberts.com .

 Art and Photo Credits:  www.bbc.co.uk; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org.

 

 

 

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