Saturday, November 28, 2009

http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/2009/11/27/trinitarian-asymmetry/

http://www.leithart.com/2009/11/27/asymmetry/


Third, the response to Trinity-as-democracy should not be the implicit subordinationism that has infected some traditional Trinitarianism; we don’t need to resort to a unilateral hierarchical Trinity, paternal monarchianism or paternal causality, to avoid the problems of social Trinitarianism. An asymmetrical account of Triune life takes the pleas of social Trinitarianism seriously, and can get at all the dynamism and personal interactivity that social Trinitarianism wants, without threatening to collapse into tritheism.

Finally, this perhaps leads to another axiom: Don’t smooth the rough edges
This perhaps more than other quote articulates for me why I am not convinced the subordinationist explanation of the Trinity to establish why women should not be pastors is not even close to being a viable theological solution. American Protestants who want to ensure that women don't get ordained and invoke a subordinated set of relationships in the Trinity need to reckon that they are insisting on building gendered hierarchy from a the9logical proposition regarding persons that must be called Father and Son and Spirit whose pronouns via translation are all "he".

They are doing something that has a long and wildly checkered history in Christianity across every theological spectrum, namely articulating a dogma specifically to solve a current social or political problem. I know, of course, that these things get done but I sometimes believe this thing is done too quickly and lightly by those who would claim they are the most serious-minded about what they are doing.

happiness is not as valuable as contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.
As goods increase, so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owner
except to feast his eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man
permits him no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,
wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when he has a son
there is nothing left for him.
Naked a man comes from his mother's womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
that he can carry in his hand.
This too is a grievous evil:
As a man comes, so he departs,
and what does he gain,
since he toils for the wind?
All his days he eats in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.


***

Those who love happiness never have happiness enough. Those who seek fulfillment in friendship never have friendship enough. Those things that we most crave are the things that undo us.

The children we want sap us of life in their neediness and their simply being children. It is not their fault that what we obtain from them for both our happiness and theirs can literally suck life from us. Were we to blame them it would be unjust to them since they could not ask to require so much sacrifice from us simply to live. Christian parents who look to their children as their legacy may be heartbroken to discover their children don't even believe in Christ or embrace sexual immorality or define themselves by sexual immorality or betraying their highest political values. Children may grow up and seem to have no sense of gratitude for the sacrifices their parents made that the Christian parents expect should be understood. Yet if those children were the idols of the parent's heart how can these children grasp the significance of sacrifices made to them because their parents made them into gods? Ironically parents may find themselves having created, literally, the idols whose service crushes them.


The career we want has no life of its own and that it costs us time with our families is not its fault but our own. It is we who love the career to the point that no sacrifice is too great or small for it. The financial stability a career seems to promise makes it seem worth it, or the prestige of knowing you are a mover and shaker in your field, in the top ten or twenty or fifty in the nation for whatever it is you do. It is something you can publicly dismiss with a shake of the head and saying that it is the work itself that is the reward or that you're doing it for Jesus or to be a team player but in your heart of hearts that idol is still there.

For many Christians in the United States love of country is its own idol. Even though Christ said His kingdom was not of this world and the apostles predicted a time when Christ would come to judge the nations we can fool ourselves into thinking that because we live in a country founded by Christians who feared the Lord and wanted to create a just society that somehow Psalm 2 will never apply to OUR country. Jesus is coming to judge the nations but that doesn't mean America will be found wanting and idolatrous and worthy of destruction like any other nation?

Surely, AMERICA, which has done so much for world missions and fought so valiantly for freedom across the world will not be ripe for judgment from the Lord when He returns, will it? In our hearts we secretly imagine that whatever heaven will be like when it will descend to earth to be with humanity forever in the age to come that it will somehow be an improved version of America, an America without Democrats (or an America without Republicans), a land of liberty and love where all the dreams that fail in this life will succeed in the next. We may imagine that in a millenial reign our nation will get to judge the other nations and find them wanting, perhaps.

The things that would ostensibly bring us the most happiness are the things that bring us the most regret, anger, and shame when either they fail us or we fail them. Yet often we are unaware of those things we take refuge in, that we make idols of because we are teeming with the desire to rebuke other people for their own idols because we figure we have everything set.

We live in the same sort of times as the times of those who came before us. There are families where the legacy in finances is basically debt. The scriptures are full of tales of people who inherit the less than sparkling legacy of parents who erred in their walk with the Lord and the children inevitably err in their own ways, often precisely in the same way as their parents but with new twists. Rehoboam was eager to be even more stern than his father Solomon. Solomon carried on David's legacy of marriages that were political conveniences.

Koholeth withheld from himself nothing that he desired and in the end it was miserable to him, a vapor, a grasping for the wind. None of the things that he built and established for himself as his legacy survived him. Solomon collected proverbs and composed them but as we can see "collect" can indicate that he collected that which was not even really his. Not everyone agrees that Solomon actually wrote the song that bears his name but that it was archived in his library. Some interpretations of the Song of Songs have Solomon as the villain rather than the hero of the narrative, such as it is. The attribution of Ecclesiastes to Solomon is traditional and not even all conservative scholars agree that he wrote it. All that is to say that we cannot go to modern day Israel and point to any of the things and say with certainty that any of those riches and buildings Solomon built survived the assault of Babylon, the assault of Greece, the assault of Rome. That there was a second temple more or less attests that.

We are encouraged to build legacies in many ways. It's not wrong to want to have something to pass down from one generation to the next. Nevertheless a legacy can be the thing for which parents are willing to sacrifice who their children actually are so as to attain within their own lifetimes what they feel they deserve. A legacy can be the reason a person fires his friends to preserve his own vision for what should come about. A legacy can be the reason people don't come forth with the truth about the frailties and poor decisions of people they admire or about their own lives. Thanks to American civic religion and different forms of the prosperity gospel it presents us we can see a legacy as proof of prosperity and the prosperity of that legacy as a proof of our godliness. Who knows but that in many cases it may be?

But then again whoever loves legacy never has legacy enough and no sacrifices of friends or family or other things are considered too great or small for the sake of it. Especially since I have had to get back to job hunting in the last few months I have come to realize that there are many ways in which we sanctify our ambition or are told, point blank, we have to sell ourselves because no one else will. This is tough for me because for me the quality of work should speak for itself and that is delusional since no one knows what work I do unless I draw attention to it but then am I not bragging about my accomplishments. It ends up being a sort of false humility, doesn't it? An overspiritualized perspective from an overspiritualized man. Whoever loves being spiritual can't be spiritual enough, I guess, but I am not really very good at being spiritual in the end.

transitions

My brother-in-law is finally back from his tour in Afghanistan. Stop loss stops being in effect for him in March and though he's been asked to re-enlist he is happy to not do so. He has four children with my sister (all quite cute) and wants to get back to being a husband and father again. He, my brother and I have a long-dormant custom of watching really, really bad movies like Doom or The Dead Hate the Living (Full Moon Harvest productions ensures you will get terrible movies in which a thunderstorm yields no running water on the windows in the background and a guy decides to go "take a shower" when there's no running liquids in the whole film except the beer spilling out of his bottle).

That is to say it's good to have my brother-in-law back home. :)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dear Hilary Hahn

Please, please record all the Charles Ives violin sonatas! You did an amazing job with them in Seattle this year and if you record them at least one person will rush to pre-order that CD. I thought you were awesome before this year's recital but after your Ysaye, Brahms, Bartok, Ives program you are the most wonderful violinist on the planet.

[not that I assume Hahn or her agents will ever necessarily read this, I just had to get that off my chest and blogging seems like the place to do that]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a non-random observation about job-hunting

There are non-profits that, I kid you not, still require you to mail in your resume and cover letter by traditional snail mail. I hear things here and there about how "different" job hunting is these days and how "different' resume composition is but it seems at the end of the day everything is about content and not style. Either your resume gets more than three seconds of attention or it doesn't. If it gets three to fifteen seconds of attention that doesn't mean you'll even get called up for an interview. That doesn't mean you shouldn't make the effort, it just means that in hunting for any job there is always a sense in which the odds look like they are stacked against you.

There's a saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. I remember when I was a journalism student my professor taught us how to use the Missouri head count method to assess the size of a headline. Trust me I don't remember how to use that system anymore but she said the reason she taught the old ways was because, believe it or not, despite the age of computers and information technology there would inevitably be groups that had to do things the really old-fashioned way. Perhaps she could have put it in Presbyterian terms by saying that it is good to hold on to one without letting go of the other! As an aside I once asked her what it was like being a Calvinist at a predominantly Wesleyan university and she said mostly it wasn't too bad but that she did notice biases against the theological tradition once in a while. Well, all that is to say that learning things the old way can have unexpected benefits.

For instance, looking back on all the classes I had to take in high school and all the elective classes I took the single set of classes I am most grateful to have taken was a year of typing. I am grateful I studied painting, drawing, and sculpture. I am grateful I took a public speaking class and met one of my most valuable mentors through that. I am also grateful I sang in choir in high school but for the sake of my career, such as it has been, I am glad that I took a typing class for a year. It seemed tedious and lame at times at the time but the benefits of having a keystroke speed of about 120 per minute and a typing speed of 80 words per minute is not something I regard lightly. It may be one of the things most easily translated into finding work, I hope.

And I am grateful for my public education. I have to remind myself how slowly most people type. As Dwayne over at The Sound of Forehands Clapping knows all too well about me my typing speed can deluge you with paragraphs by the time you ge two or three sentences in edgewise in IM chat. In an age where anyone may have ever heard of who Paris Hilton is that's the sort of "TMI" that seems better than what may ever be known about her.

link: Naked Pastor's "A treadmill is a treadmill"

http://www.nakedpastor.com/archives/4152

My favorite touch are the rats in mid-air within the wheel.

Sometimes I am tempted to think that the difference between a graceless church and a graceful church is that though either church will devour you the graceful church at least ensures you are well-cooked before they eat you, whereas the graceless church is content to eat your flesh when it is raw. Perhaps there is a preference for an unmediated "real presence" so that when you are eaten you're being "real" and not "fake".

And, again, from Scotteriology about Christian didactic songs

http://scotteriology.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/worst-christian-song-ever/

Now the "awkward side hug" rap video I saw was pretty funny. I'm going to suppose that whatever the "Christian Side Hug" thing is it could be a satire. I do, frankly, actually have some better things to do than listen to Christian rap music of any kind. I'm not against rap or hip hop or R&B as such. My brother played me some Cee-Lo Green I really enjoyed.

But the notion that Christians need to build a hedge around avoiding things sinful even though the prohibited things are not sinful in themselves seems emblematic of what I have heard taught over the years. Okay, there was an Assemblies of God youth pastor who said that certain things aren't really forbidden in the Bible at all but they're also not smart if you're going to avoid fornicating. He was simply pointing out that you should avoid constantly doing things that you know put you at risk for temptation.

Other Christians, however, appeal to "avoid even the appearance of evil" and that is where, spoof or not, things like the "Christian side hug" come into play. A pastor once said that if you're asking the question "How much can I get away with?" your heart is in the wrong place. That is not usually what happens in lengthier stays in Christian life. It is just as common, sometimes more, to discuss at length what things are best avoided so as to avoid the actually forbidden things. People who look down on gambling think nothing of investing in the stock market. People who look down on smokers may eat too much. People who eat too much may look down on drinkers. Drinkers may look down on people who don't dance or drink. We obsess about the codes that are used to define us either through cooperation or rebellion yet those codes remain defining. And it is late and I don't feel like rambling further on this post.

from Scotteriology: Worst Creation Story Ever

http://scotteriology.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/worst-creation-story-ever/

I suppose atheists and free-thinkers would say the auto-erotic impulse in the narrative is a perfect illustration of the foolishness of religious belief.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The best kind of preaching isn't telling people to dance but playing the music

http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2009/11/what-gospel-centered-preaching-does.html

I think we meet this challenge, though, not by telling them to dance, but by playing the music. That's what gospel-centered preaching is.


Earlier this year I attended a wedding (Ry and Mi, for those who obsessively follow what blogs I know about and read, which I expect no one to do). I have been acquainted with Ry and Mi for a few years now and was honored to attend their wedding. I have been to solemn weddings and moving weddings. I have been to serious weddings and I have been to low-key weddings. This was a wedding unlike other weddings I have been to, such few weddings as I think I have been to.

This was a beautiful wedding and by this I hasten to add that it was not beautiful in the spiritualized or metaphorical sense (though it was that but I'll get to that later). I mean it was literally the most beautiful wedding I have ever been to in my life. The groom was beautiful, the bride was remarkably beautiful, the groomsmen were beautiful, the bridesmaids are all beautiful ... actually I dare say exceptionally beautiful and not just in the sense of being gorgeous but being beautiful people in terms of character. If I were to cast about for an earthly wedding that could be even the dimmest approximation of the joy and peace of the wedding supper of the Lamb this would be it.

The wedding itself was beautiful but it was the party that stuck with me. Nearly everyone was dancing. Even the brides probably fourteen year old dog got up and ambled across the portable dance floor. I have written in the past about how I don't really dance and I don't really dance but I made an exception, an important exception. I had been praying for the bride and groom for at least two years and was present at their wedding day. The joy and beauty of the day was so pervasive and, honestly, overwhelming that I realized that if I wasn't going to dance at this event I was never going to dance at all. No one told me to be happy, I was happy. No one told me to dance, the music and the joy of the event inspired me to dance. The good news is an invitation, not a command.

When the bride said that she was surprised and full of joy by the love of her husband she said that she was ultimately surprised and full of joy by the love of God. I have been to weddings that were sermons about the love of God and I don't mind those but this wedding was different. This wedding was itself a story of self-giving love just to get the two lovers to the point of being engaged. I know that generally that's always how people get married in this culture but this was different. The couple did not tell people to dance, they danced. They didn't just play the music that day, they were the music.

YOU CAN LOOK LIKE WOLVERINE IN JUST FIVE EASY STEPS

Go buy the health product being advertised in the side bar of whatever advertising subsidized email account you have.

Take the stuff religiously

Work out

Go find yourself some chest hair or whatever hairpieces non-swarthy white people who aren't Greeks or Italians need to go get

Grit your teeth, maybe smiling a bit, and mug for your photo op while the chicks fall over themselves to get you.


Or something like that.

I wanted to write something more thought-provoking and fun but discovering there's hiring fraud scams that are just phishing scams has me irritable. I do plan to write about Atanas Ourkouzounov's fun new album Movement but I am starting to think this will have to wait another week. I have a holiday to spend with family coming up and my brother-in-law is returning from his time in other lands serving with the armed forces. I don't just want to provide a review of Movement but to also provide an overview of Ourkouzounov's recorded work and, yes, write to you about what you missed if you didn't get the recordings he did on KLE, Gendai, and with Shin-ichi Fukuda on Denon. So, you see, a four CD overview is going to take some time and some careful consideration. I have to revive the dormant journalism student for that and with job hunting and insomnia I am not in the greatest state of mind or body to be all thoughtful. Maybe I need to go get ripped like those Wolverine knock-offs in the health ads.

HT iMonk--Required Behavior Modification and the Gospel

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/riffs-112309-required-behavior-modification-and-the-gospel

Appropos of Michael Spenser's post I have been reminded of a fellow I met in my freshman year of college. He was a curious little man with a history being into boxing. He was also a charismatic Christian in the theological sense of that term rather than the personal sense. I remember him now mainly for rather daring proclamations of the sort a guy in his mid-twenties could seriously propose having had certain kinds of Christian education. Let me give an example.

"I don't think Augustine was really ever a Christian."

"Really?" I replied, "I thought he was one of the most famous Christians there ever were."

"Then why didn't he have a transformed life? Why did he have so many problems with women? That doesn't sound like a real Christian to me. If he really had the Holy Spirit he should have changed."

I said at that point (since I was about 19 years old and, you'll understand, I am paraphrasing here) that maybe some things take time in the Christian life. I wasn't in a situation to say Augustine wasn't a Christian just because some things in his life didn't change quickly. How many Christian men have ever found themselves able, at any level, to relate to the curiously Augustinian prayer, "Lord, make me chaste ... but not yet"? the way some of the super-evangelicals talk it would seem as though Augustine would have been better off being married and that people subsequent to him ought to be praying they lose their chastity in the bonds of marriage so as to really further the real work of the kingdom, but I digress. I just found it amazing that this fellow could so confidently ... even cavalierly declare that Augustine was never really a Christian.

Now plenty of Christians would hear about this fellow's statement and say he was wrong but in a way this "Augustine wasn't really a Christian" Christian represents a temptation we can all struggle with. I realize that we can often take with the right what we give with the left. We can say that there's no "varsity and junior varsity" on the team and then immediately turn around and create precisely that dichotomy while also adding the supplemental category of people who just didn't make the football team because their lives are not sufficiently transformed by Jesus. There are few things quite like the life of David to demonstrate that the hope in the faithfulness and goodness of God is not the same thing as hoping that you are good enough to merit God's kindness.

internetmonk.com expired

Aw! One of my favorite websites to read on the planet has expired. Best wishes to Michael Spenser on getting things back up and running.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jared Wilson's "Give Us A King"

http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2009/11/give-us-king.html

In what way is evangelicalism's prevailing pastoral emphasis -- from church job postings for pastoral positions to the Leadership cottage industry -- like Israel's asking for a king? And in what way is Saul, the king they got, like the pastoral type we most champion?

Is it possible evangelicalism is asking for a king (and getting what it asks for) all the while we should be cultivating within each other a desire for Saul's successor? Namely, a shepherd.


Just thinking aloud here.

As with God's people in the old covenant so with God's people in the new covenant. They wanted a king like other nations had and the Corinthians were impressed with super-apostles. The Corinthians considered Paul's letters weighty but his physical presence to be weak and his speech contemptible. Paul was, it seems, not a physically imposing or necessarily magnetic presence. He was not the rock star church planter versed in all the latest fads that Corinth wanted. He was well-educated and worked to support himself rather than take advantage of those he preached to for the sake of material gain, even though he granted it was within his rights as an apostle to do so. He noted how the super-apostles were better speakers than he but not better in knowledge.

Patorpreneurial kings are not actually shepherds even if they persuade themselves that they are. Pastorpreneurial kings make good bishops in episcopates, perhaps, but that's not the same thing as being a shepherd. The first pastorpreneurial king of Israel was not a shepherd and he eventually broke down into madness and self-aggrandizing even though God had given him many gifts. The temptation to have the most photogenic and gifted pastor is an easy one to understand. In the convention of single combat warriors vicariously fight the battles we want to fight for ourselves but do not feel strong enough to. The warrior goes in to fight for us so that his victory becomes our victory. We see this playing out constantly in politics even when we imagine ourselves to be more enlightened or thoughtful than our forbears. As the South Park episode after the 2008 election demonstrated, there are certain sorts of people who think that because one person won an election that the world will be set right or that the world is going to end when neither is the case. The world is what it is as God directs it and has designed it.

Yet God's people did not trust that God would really deliver them from Phillistines. They wanted a king to do it. They wanted to see a human agency to what they should have trusted God for, and not just any human agency. The king was someone they could point to and say, "This is our king, who will deliver us in battle." Yet it was sinful for them to ask for this sort of king and the sort of king they NEEDED was the king who chose to be a servant to the people, not just the one who won battles for his own glory and renown.

Israel asked for the sort of king who reflected, ultimately, who Israel was, and they got Saul. We cannot overstate the significance of this issue because if we don't see that Israel's first king was the one they wanted, the one like other kings, then we do not see the contrast clearly where the scriptures say that David was a man after God's own heart. David was a warrior with blood-stained hands, a shepherd, a man who took many wives and killed innocent men ... and yet he was a man after God's own heart. I do not think that we could exhaust exploring the significance of this by looking at David's failures, which are arguably more numerous and heinous than those of Saul, but that is another topic for another time, for the time being.

Perhaps the simplest way to articulate the core of Saul's failure throughout his life would be to observe that he did not really love the Lord. Yet it would also be useful to note how this looked in the way he related to other people. One's love for God can, in part, be measured by how one loves one's neighbor. Saul took credit for the victories of others while shirking his own responsibilities. He was initially successful in his military ventures but ultimately he prized the power and privilege of royalty over its responsibilities. He even built a monument to himself. Saul was walking the path of the super-apostle, pastorpreneurial king and contemplating the greatness of his own legacy. This is a bad sign if you come across a spiritual leader among God's people whose concern is his legacy.

To continue the reflection on Jared's comparison, David left no monument of himself yet both Saul and Absalom built monuments to themselves. When David lost the throne to the scheming of Absalom he recognized that the God who gave the throne could easily take it. When confronted with the consequences of his legacy of failure David recognized it for what it was while Saul entrenched himself and became more resistent. The shepherd recognizes his own failures and that his kingdom is a gift from God that God can take away. The pastorpreneurial king in Saul continued to say "mine" and to cling to what God had already taken from him.

I suppose that's enough reflecting on what Jared brought up about kings and shepherds for now.

Job hunting and hiring fraud--creativity in the midst of not having a job yet

It seems as though with the economy the way it has been that there are new-fangled ways to do old-fashioned swindling. I was not aware of hiring fraud until this month. It turns out that what appear to be job offers are just bait and switches for marketing and spam. I applied for a couple positions only to discover that there needed to be yet more confirmation of stuff I had already (so I thought) established. The volley of spam I got was suspicious in itself.

See, when you apply for real jobs at real organizations you get a few formal missives that are couched in pretty impersonal terms. You don't get something particularly personalized via email unless you're dealing with a hiring or temp agency. Hiring fraud capitalizes on this (i've learned through wasting time on what turned out to be non-existent posts) by promising well-pyaing jobs nearby but then doesn't provide any substantive information. There can be small tell-tale things that, in hindsight, I wish I had seen as spectacularly suspicious. For instance, if when prompted to give references you are not allowed to go back and edit content that's a red flag. No professional site for a legitimate organization is likely to let you verify information without asking you two to five times. Jobs I applied for with the government include all sorts of caveats and warnings about how you better not be commiting fraud or lying ot them or you're in mountain ranges of trouble.

A rather sad start to a holiday week this has been for me, though not really on any other grounds. Creatively I am doing well. I have been able to finish projects I started as far back as seven years ago. I finished a little divertimento for guitar and cello in G sharp minor. It's a trifle but it's a trifle I am happy to say is finished. I also finished composing a quartet for clarinet, French horn, guitar, and cello for a Delcamper called Sean, which I feel certain I must have mentioned already somewhere! Throw on top of all this that I finished a fugue in A major for solo guitar and a prelude in B flat minor in the last few weeks and this last month has been artistically very productive for the first time in maybe three months. I may even have enough creative momentum and time to get back to my string quartets.

Of course I also wrote two hymns. I suppose I sould include a big sarcasm warning about those two hymns just in case anyone actually thought I was being serious. When I wrote the poem that starts with the line, "O Word of God who formed the Sun" I was being totally serious writing that text. Genunine adoration of Christ does not require phrases like supralapsarian, semi-Pelagian, or post-millenial. As if all that weren't brazen enough there are reasons I decided to evoke the melody of Dixie in Rejoice Ye Homeschooled children. A number of home-school advocates who are uber-Reformed take quite seriously the notion that the Unionist North were a bunch of heretical power-grabbers and that the righteous Confederacy was fighting for states' rights and to oppose the extending of federal power beyond what as constitutionally warranted.

Well, I don't as a general rule like to divulge tons of personal information but let's say I have some American Indian relatives and I heard a somewhat jaundiced take on the Civil War, which was that the northern racists beat the southern racists and about a century later things actually got better for black people when folks like Martin Luther King Jr started pointing out that things weren't right. American Indians, on the other hand, were still getting the shaft from Uncle Sam regardless of what was or wasn't supposed to have been settled by the Civil War or the "War of Northern Aggression".

I have already gone about a week having trouble getting a decent night's sleep so I'm probably going to, as it were, reset the clock.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

more ruminations on fugues

I have been going through Bach's 48 and have been reminded how rarely Bach employs what we would normally identify as stretto. This is surprising for me to rediscover even though for more than a decade I had been aware of this. In my own fugues I have been unable to resist the temptation to pull off stretto in each of my fugues.


Stretto, for those who aren't familiar with that term, is a trick where you take your melody and present it in succeeding voices. Let's say you have a choir with four voices. Well, singer 1 starts singing the tune but singer 2 starts singing the tune before the first singer is done singing. The third singer starts singing the same tune before the second is done singing, and so on. What can sometimes happen is that the time through which the tune is being sung shrinks with each successive entry of each singer. So the gap between when singer 1 starts and when singer 2 starts will be bigger than the gap between when singer 2 starts and singer 3 starts. Or the time period may not change.


You have to hear examples to fully appreciate how awesome and effective this musical trick is. One of my favorite examples of stretto comes in the climax of the Kyrie in Maurice Durufle's Requiem. Stretto creates a surge of energy by having the melody in different voices, as it were, stumbling over itself in the most literal way to be heard. It's like five different kids all rushing to sing you happy birthday because they are so excited and happy for you they can't bother to start together. It's something like that, and if you don't like kids replace it with kittens or puppies or whatever you consider cute, charming, or beautiful. For people too macho to accept this illustration, just turn the quintet into five guys who are stumbling over themselves to defeat you in combat.


Having indulged in potentially pointless illustrations my earlier observation is that Bach used stretto surprisingly rarely if you compare Bach's actual fugues to what academics have often said about his fugues. As the stuffy but still great scholar George Oldroyd put it in his book The Technique and Spirit of Fugue, Bach saw to it that the musical material developed according to its nature and not against its nature. As to exacty what that entails books have and will continue to be written about that.