Friday, February 4, 2011

A Masterpiece

From today's RZIM's Slice of Infinity (well worth subscribing to, if you haven't already).

In Multi-Dimension
By Jill Carratini
Friday, February 4, 2011

An important manuscript long thought lost was rediscovered hiding in a Pennsylvania seminary on a forgotten archival shelf. The recovered manuscript was a working score for a piano version of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge," or grand fugue. Apparently, grand is an understatement. The work is known as a monument of classical music and described by historians as a "symphonic poem" or a "leviathan"—an achievement on the scale of the finale of his Ninth Symphony. The work is one of the last pieces Beethoven composed, during the period when he was completely deaf. The markings throughout the manuscript are in the composer's own hand.

In fact, such markings are a particular trademark of Beethoven, who was known for near obsessive editing. Unlike Mozart, who typically produced large scores in nearly finished form, Beethoven's mind was so full of ideas that it was never made up. Never satisfied, he honed his ideas brutally.

And a look at the recovered score portrays exactly that. Groups of measures throughout the 80-page manuscript are furiously canceled out with cross-marks. Remnants of red sealing wax, used to adhere long corrections to an already scuffed up page, remain like scars. There are smudges where he rubbed away ink while it was still wet and abrasions where he erased notes with a needle. Dated changes and omissions are scattered throughout the score, many of these markings dating to the final months before his death in 1827.

I find there is something inspiring about the labored work of a genius. Beethoven wrestled notes onto the page. For him composing music was a messy, physical process. Ink was splattered, wax burned, erasers wore holes in the paper. What started as a clean page became a muddled, textured mess of a masterpiece ever in progress.

At times when I consider the Christian notion of myself as a creation I am jarred by the finality of it: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Upon calling on Christ as Lord, the Christian holds that she has been made into something new. Before we have even tried to live well, before we have even labored as disciples, the marred and muddied scene of our hearts has been shaped into something else. The Father sees the masterpiece of the Son.

Though I stand amazed at this grace, it is also easy for me to stumble at the thought of it. I imagine God handing me a clean paper and asking me to hold it in a world full of ink and dirt. And I immediately wish I would have been more careful. I picture the white page given to me and think of all of the smudges and eraser marks I've added to it, some of them from lessons learned the hard way, others merely from bumping into life as I walk along.

If truth be told, life is far messier than we would like it to be. People get angry and depressed and sick. We struggle with remaining hopeful in the dark and seeing through bouts of self-deception. Our lives don't turn out how we planned them, and the roads we choose aren't as straight as we would like them to be. Even so, the Christian claims God is faithful through the mess. More than this, the Christian claims the mess to be the masterpiece. "For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

To an unknowing eye, Beethoven's scores would appear muddled disasters. But mindful observers have called his masterpieces works of "three-dimensional" art. There is a texture and a character to his manuscripts that display an artist who went beyond merely writing the notes, but compelled himself upon the page, in order to make a symphony. All the more, a life in Christ is fleshed out of us. Scuffs and blotches are wrought with the work of one who descends into the mess of life to shape us. Like a composer willing to labor over his pages, the potter's hands are not afraid to get dirty. Our lives, in multi-dimensional beauty, are marked with the signs of the master ever at work.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

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