….More than one commentator has remarked on the striking way in which music shaped the life of Joseph Ratzinger for more than nine decades. Perhaps none of those commentators is so well-equipped to appreciate the musical dimension of Ratzinger’s personality as the British composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan, who prepared a new setting of “Tu es Petrus” for Benedict XVI’s entry into Westminster Cathedral in 2010 (it can be heard here). In the current issue of the London-based Spectator, my friend MacMillan wrote movingly of Ratzinger the musician, music-lover, and, in a sense, musicological theologian:
“One group delighted with the papacy of Benedict XVI was musicians. He was one of us. He had a grand piano in his apartment at the Vatican and played (mostly his beloved Mozart) regularly. His love of music was not restricted to music for the liturgy. He saw the numinous dimension to music in its secular form, too.
“When, two years after his renunciation, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the John Paul II Pontifical University in Kraków [and the Kraków Academy of Music—GW] he chose to give his lecture on music. These words stand out to me: ‘In no other cultural ambit is there music of equal grandeur to that born in the ambit of the Christian faith: from Palestrina to Bach, to Handel, up to Mozart, Beethoven, and Bruckner. Western music is something unique, which has no equal in other cultures….’
“Benedict believed that the greatest works of Christian composers could not have appeared haphazardly but ‘could only have come from heaven; music in which is revealed to us the jubilation of the angels over the beauty of God.’ He once recounted the experience of hearing Leonard Bernstein conduct Bach at a concert in Munich. He turned to his friend, the local Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann, and said, ‘Anyone who has heard this knows that the faith is true….’ ”
Full story by George Weigel in First Things.