A Global Effort on Behalf of Women and Children

A Global Effort on Behalf of Women and Children June 12, 2024


Who the heck is Arne Museler, anyway?
Another Wikimedia Commons public domain view of Salzburg (by Arne Museler)

I lead off with something that, manifestly, comes directly from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™.  This is pretty big news.  Obviously, of course, there ought to be a law against such things — but alas, as long as theism and theist exist and are permitted free rein, these horrors will continue unabated:  “Relief Society Leads Global Effort to Improve Health and Well-being of Women and Children: The Church is giving US$55.8 million to help 12 million children and 2.7 million women.”

Sehr schön und schmackhaft
Stift Sankt Peter, in the Salzburger Altstadt (see the fortress on the hill behind it), is the oldest continuously functioning monastery in German-speaking Europe. (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

I know that my doing so will drive certain folks over at the Peterson Obsession Board nearly frantic with impotent disdain, especially after I’ve just written about a program to reduce hunger (a global problem that my traveling and eating out probably caused in the first place), but I want to mention, nevertheless, a couple of dinners that we had here in Salzburg.  We actually ate twice at Zwettler’s Wirtshaus, at Kaigasse 3.  It dates back to 1863, and the food is quite good.  (That’s why we went back twice.)  But what I most enjoyed was the conversation that I had there on Monday evening.

The restaurant was crowded when we arrived, so we stood waiting outside.  Then the waiter who had served us the night before (and with whom I had some amusing exchanges) came out and said that there was a fellow sitting alone at a table for four who had invited us to share his table with him.  We sat down, and he immediately said, in halting English, that he spoke almost no English, and that he apologized for that fact.  He was from Basel, Switzerland, a retired diesel mechanic who had already spent twenty-seven days cycling from Basel over to Vienna and southwards along the Hungarian border, and he was now making his way slowly back home.

We ended up having a long and freewheeling conversation — about the Swiss military and his own experiences with winter survival training and tank maintenance and hidden Swiss defensive tunnels, the Basler dialect of Swiss German, immigration, Vladimir Putin, the Swiss economy, education, and a host of other subjects.  I had a good time, and so, clearly, did he.  (He plainly enjoyed talking and he obviously wanted some company, and it was actually difficult to get away even after we had long since finished eating and the restaurant was beginning to close down.)  The only thing that made me feel guilty — and it really did — was that my wife, who knows very little German, was sitting there without being able to participate much in the conversation.  I translated (or summarized) a fair amount of what our newfound friend said, but he was a little bit like a fire hydrant, and she missed most of it.  Curiously, she claims to have enjoyed the evening herself, too.

On Tuesday evening, we ate at St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, part of the overall complex of the Stift Sankt Peter (the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter) in Salzburg’s Altstadt.  It claims to be the oldest restaurant in Europe, having been mentioned in the year AD 803 by Alcuin of York.  (Which means, of course, that it’s probably older still.)  The food was slightly pricey, but very good.  And, when we told the waiter that we wouldn’t be drinking wine or anything alcoholic, he suggested to us a dark red grape juice that had evidently arrived just that day, a product of the monks of the adjacent abbey, no less.  It was some of the best grape juice that I’ve ever had.

Salisburgo by night t4ybry74
A nighttime view of Salzburg’s Altstadt from atop the Kapuzinerberg, across the Salzach River,  Please notice, by the way, how the skyline of the city is blighted by churches.

We attended an organ recital at noon today in the Cathedral of Salzburg.  Dr. Philipp Pelsner performed, in sequence, on all five of the cathedral’s organs.  I didn’t recognize the first four pieces, but the last one, played on the main instrument of the church (on which Mozart had also played), was unmistakable:  It was the Danse Macabre, by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Which suggests that I ought to continue with my musicological reflections on the question of whether, as the late Christopher Hitchens maintained, religion really does poison everything:

The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (d. 1896) faced fierce criticism before his genius was recognized.  Yet he believed his compositions divinely inspired, and he persisted.  He paid attention, instead, to the “voice from within… an infallible instinct which he believed to be God himself, guided him on his way.”  “Every composition he wrote was in praise of God…” “Bruckner is perhaps the only great composer of his century whose entire musical output is determined by his religious faith ”[1]  “They want me to write in a different way,” he said of his critics.

I could, but I must not.  Out of thousands I was given this talent by God, only I.  Sometime I will have to give an account of myself.  How would the Father in Heaven judge me if I followed others and not Him?[2]

He kept a record of his prayers in his journal, and never played a church organ without praying first.  “Bruckner is perhaps the only great composer of his century,” wrote his biographer Hans Ferdinand Redlich, “whose entire musical output is determined by his religious faith.”[3]  “Religiosity was the center of his heart,” wrote Werner Wolf.  “He was seeking God in his music.  God Himself was his goal.”[4]  Working on his ninth symphony, which would prove to be his last, he told his fellow Austrian composer Gustav Mahler

I must at least get the Tenth finished, or I’ll cut a poor figure when I appear before the Good Lord, as I soon shall, and he says to me, “Well, my boy, why did I give you so much talent if not to sing to my honor and glory? But you’ve done far too little with it![5]

Johannes Brahms (d. 1897) was a life-long student of Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible whose familiarity with that book is apparent in his German Requiem and such other works as his Four Serious Songs, which dwell on themes from the book of Ecclesiastes and then, in the final song, celebrate the theme of love from 1 Corinthians 13.  In conversation with Arthur Abell, who published his account after Brahms’s death, the composer spoke of

My method of communicating with the Infinite, for all truly inspired ideas come from God.  Beethoven, who was my ideal, was well aware of this.[6]

When I feel the urge [to compose], I begin by appealing directly to my Maker and I first ask Him the three most important questions pertaining to our life here in this world—whence, wherefore, whither [woher, warum, wohin].[7]

Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies and orchestration.[8]

You see, the powers from which all truly great composers like Mozart, Schubert, Bach and Beethoven drew their inspirations is the same power that enabled Jesus to work His miracles.  Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me…[9]

Brahms would presumably not agree with Hitchens that “religion poisons everything.”  Indeed, quite the contrary:

I know several young composers who are atheists.  I have read their scores, and I assure you . . . that they are doomed to speedy oblivion, because they are utterly lacking in inspiration.  Their works are purely cerebral.  The great Nazarene knew that law also, and He proclaimed in John 15:4, “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine.”  No atheist has ever been or ever will be a great composer.[10]

The great Czech composer Antonin Dvorák (d. 1904) regarded his musical ability as “the gift of God” or “God’s voice,” claiming that, in composition, his practice was to “simply do what God tells me to do.”[11]  His manuscripts regularly opened with the phrase “With God” and concluded with the benediction “God be thanked.”  Commenting on his Mass in D Major, he exclaimed “Faith, hope and love to God Almighty and thanks for the great gift of being enabled to bring this work in the praise of the Highest and in the honour of art to a happy conclusion.”  “Do not wonder,” he continued, “that I am so religious.  An artist who is not—could not produce anything like this.  Have we not examples enough in Beethoven, Bach, Raphael and many others?”[12]  Among his many religious works are the beautiful Stabat Mater, a Latin Requiem, the Hussite Overture (in honor of the Czech religious reformer John Hus), ten Biblical Songs, and a dramatic oratorio entitled Saint Ludmila.

[to be continued]

[1] Werner Wolff,  Anton Bruckner, Rustic Genius (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1942), 145.  Redlich, Bruckner, Mahler, 37.

[2] Ibid, 104.

[3] Hans Ferdinand Redlich, Bruckner and Mahler (London: J.M. Dent Ltd., revised 1963), 37.

[4] Wolff, Anton Bruckner and Mahler, 150.

[5] Natalie Bauer-Lechner, Recollections of Gustav Mahler, trans. Dika Newlin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 47.

[6] Arthur M. Abell, Talks With Great Composers (New York: Citadel, 1994), 3.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Ibid., 5-6.

[9] Ibid., 11.

[10] Ibid., 21.

[11] Karl Hoffmeister,  Antonin Dvorak, Letters and Reminiscences (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1970), 104-5. Kavanaugh, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, 154.

[12] Kavanaugh, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, 153. German in the Library

Posted from Salzburg, Austria



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