Why Colonel Sartoris?

Allow me to explain the puzzling title. Colonel Sartoris is William Faulkner's greatest character. He exemplifies those values that his society cherishes, namely tradition, patriarchy, courtliness, and courage. Though modernity's slow march tries to strip him of these things, Sartoris continues to live as he always has, knowing that "the past is never dead. It's not even past." He seeks order in the honorable folkways and mores of his forbears. Let us not forget his example.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Messiah: A Reflection on Biblical Theology

The Messiah is likely the most enduring and popular work of Handel's career.  The Hallelujah chorus is instantly recognizable to all, and 250 years after its release, it is still a command performance at Christmastime.  Not just classical music aficionados or pretentious, over-educated poseurs enjoy it, either--people still turn out in droves for Messiah "sing-alongs," where you can belt out "Ev'ry Valley" with the heartiest, cheeriest Christmas spirit that can be mustered on a 65-degree December day in Texas.

The musical score is beautiful.  Handel borrowed from his other works for the score, but that does not diminish the creative breadth of this work.  He wrote and arranged 53 separate pieces of music to tell the story of redemptive history.  He did not write the libretto---the "words" were the work of Charles Jennens, a solidly Reformed patron of the arts who was one of Handel's most stalwart and devoted fans--but his music served as a diorama that showcased, enlivened, and energized the Scriptures that formed the base of the work.  In other words, the music complemented the lyrics.  A quick example: in "Ev'ry Valley,"  Handel's score masterfully showcases Isaiah 40:4--"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."  Handel's musicthat mirrors the text's meaning.  On "every valley," Handel's notes rise on valley, but then fall on "shall be ex-", only to quickly but measuredly rise on "a-al-ted."  If one were to look at a the score on a staff, you would see a "V," not so much for the English word "valley," but for the up-and-down geographic elevation that you see when you look at a valley.  In the same aria, Handel literally makes you hear the "crooked made straight" ("crooh-ooh-ooh-ked straiiiighhtttt"; up-down-up-down looooo-oooo-oooongggg).  Can you hear it?!  Beautiful!

So the merit of Handel's creativity is huge.  Beyond this, though, the Messiah's message moves me tremendously.  Can anyone imagine a concept album released today that tells the story of God's redemption?  I can't.  But Handel did it then, received tremendous acclaim for it, and the work endures today.

 More on this later, but I had to get this out.

No comments:

Post a Comment