Sunday, May 15, 2011

Art and Secularism

Lately I've been listening repeatedly to Handel's Coronation Anthems. The Anthems are incredibly beautiful. I find them both energizing and soothing at the same time, if that makes any sense. Below is a clip of The Sixteen performing Anthem 4:

The Coronation Anthems are among those compositions, like Brahms' Requiem or Handel's Messiah, that leave with me a dim, inarticulate sense of loss that it's simply not possible to write such works any more. Kings in the old sense are gone. So's God.

While the recent, disgraceful media obsession with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton shows that royalty hasn't lost all its magic, what royalty means now is a parody of what it meant when Handel wrote his Anthems for the coronation of George II and Queen Caroline in 1727. The King of England was also the head of the Church of England. One of his titles was Defender of the Faith. He was the Lord's Anointed, the apex of an order set up by God Himself. The Anthems were written for that idea, that concept of what royalty was, more so than they were for George II (who, for what it's worth, seems to have been a decent guy as kings go).

I don't want to live in a monarchy. I think all monarchies should be abolished. But it's hard not to feel a little irrationally wistful about a society that could produce music like that.

As an agnostic I also harbor similar feelings about music such as Handel's Messiah. Religion is one of the finest instruments of oppression mankind has ever devised, but secular society is never going to produce that sort of beauty.

Or as I read somewhere, atheists will never build a Chartres Cathedral.

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