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Some scherzi paradoxically combine lightness with intensely determined feelings, sometimes even bordering on malice and despair. This week we examine some such examples.

I have heard a handful of answers which seem to be in common circulation, and perhaps you subscribe to one of these yourself. Some say all necessary facts and ideas related to salvation and rightness with God are contained within the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Some look to the confessions outlined by the Nicene Creed for the essential truths of the faith. And still others look to different sources, internal or external, to discover what is true and good.

This idea was famously articulated by the great English author and apologist, C. Lewis, much of it in his book of the same name. But the keen philosophers among us point out that this is, in fact, identifying an authoritative body of teaching by which to measure orthodoxy, simply a different one from those outlined previously.

However it also seems reasonable to use this standard in an everyday kind of way.

It becomes a practical, working standard so that the average Christian does not have to think through beliefs and moral decisions obsessively at every point during his day. And it is in fact a mixture of contents drawn from the various seats of authority that Christians of different stripes recognize. The divinity of Christ and the Resurrection, for example, are entirely clear in the Nicene Creed, but less so in the New Testament I would argue. Sure, it can be seen if you read between the lines, but the case is not nearly as clear as it is in the creeds.


Conversely the idea of Satan is nowhere to be found in the Nicene Creed, but is an essential component of mere Christianity. The case for the existence of Satan is found in holy scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. In Judaism the seat of authority is even foggier. There is no one person who holds spiritual authority as the pope does and centuries of rabbinic discussion and debate have generated a much-studied body of literature that more comments and offers interpretation on theological truths than establishes unshakable doctrines.

So, is there satan in Judaism? Even though the story of Job appears in the Old Testament, the corporeal embodiment of pure evil has never really caught hold in that particular theological system.

I get the sense that when composers like Mozart and those prior to his generation set Christian texts like the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass, it was most earnest.

Over the course of the next half century or so, I feel like something shifted. As art reflects culture, it was probably ultimately a societal change, fueled in large part I suspect by the anti-clericalism inherent in the French Revolution. More and more after Mozart, you read about great composers who were either not religious, or possessed an unconventional personal alkaan.

This was true of none of the great musical figures of the Baroque and Classical eras: Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn were all devoutly religious or, if they doubted ad all, would never have expressed it publicly. And yes, the unconventionally orthodox Romantics all wrote sacred works well, except for Wagnereven incredibly moving and undeniably spiritual sacred works, but they are sacred works tempered with ideas from other philosophies.

In addition to that, grave religious musical texts, once sacred cows, began to be slain and profaned, even by composers who would have taken them seriously in religious contexts. The famous chant sounds like this: But in the hands of Romantic composers it became a trope to create an atmosphere of profanity and wickedness, particularly in the flamboyant virtuoso culture of Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Here are notable examples of this phenomenon by Liszt and Berlioz, respectively: Berlioz and Liszt differed in their personal religious journeys — Berlioz, while born a Catholic, eventually drifted toward unbelief; Liszt, after a life of flamboyant performance and questionable morality eventually found his way back to the arms of the Church, even becoming ordained into a minor religious order toward the end of his life.


But their use of the Dies Irae quotation in the above examples is more parodistic than reverent, a tool to create an atmosphere of morbidity and dread.

Even for a composer like Alkan, for whom the devil was probably not a concrete spiritual reality as it was for many of his Christian colleagues, the devilish mood was useful and musically evocative, and probably a trick of the trade that was necessarily mastered.

For the romantic composers the devil and all that came with him had been largely extracted from its religious contexts, useful for the extremes of expression that came with its territory as composers forged more and more, and in contrast to their artistic ancestors, their own moral philosophies largely external of the religious institutions of their time.

Alkan: Scherzo diabolico, Op. 39, No. 3 (page 1 of 1) | Presto Classical

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Alkan, Charles Henri Valentin (alias of Ch.H.V. Morhange)

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