Threnody for the Innocents

In his Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis posits that the original language — that of the angels — is music.  Peter Kreeft continues the theme saying that language one step fallen from music is poetry, one further step is prose, one further step is mathematics.  Music has the power to convey much much more than ‘mere words.’

In thinking about tomorrow’s march for life, I was reminded of the movie Children of Men.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it as a very moving pro life movie.

It shows a world not too different from our own where for mysterious reasons, women are no longer able to become pregnant.  As the world ponders the cause from pollution and disease to God’s judgement, society devolves into a true nihilism, fully exploring what Josef Pieper outlines in theory in ‘Leisure: The Basis of Culture’ .    Anyway, I thought that there are books, images, and movies that try to convey the nightmare of abortion; but I’m not aware of equally powerful music written for the purpose.  And when I say music, I don’t mean lyrics.  Maybe the problem is that so many modern art music composers are very very liberal in their politics and philosophies.  That’s a shame, and another story.  So I thought I would comb my back catalogue and find some ‘classical’ music that really conveys the emotional impact the pro life movement is trying to spare us from.   This is not music to celebrate heroism or in most cases even hope.  It is the musical counterpart of ‘The Silent Scream’ and the Truth Trucks.  A word of caution, much of the music I reccomend here is very difficult to listen to, both because of the subject matter, but also because much of it is of a post modern composition.

A good place to start is the soundtrack from the film ‘Children of Men’.  Just about every piece will do, starting with the very hard to bear ‘Threnody of the Victims of  Hiroshima’ by Kryzstoff Penderecki.    The piece—perhaps as a nod to John cage originally called 8’37” . Penderecki later said “It existed only in my imagination, in a somewhat abstract way.” When he heard an actual performance, “I was struck by the emotional charge of the work…I searched for associations and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims”. The piece tends to leave an impression both solemn and catastrophic, earning its classification as a threnody. Since the piece was not commissioned for Hiroshima specifically, I think it serves equally well for the 40 million aborted since Roe v Wade.  Also of special note on this album are several compositions by John Tavener, including ‘Mother and Child’, ‘Song of the Angel’, ‘Fragments of a Prayer’, and ‘Mother of God Here I Stand.’

Another album that musically chronicles tragic and violent loss is ‘Black Angels’ by the Kronos Quartet.  The liner notes for ‘Doom A. Sigh’tell that the composer was writing an elegy to the innocent martyrs shot during the communist takeover of Romania.  In the background you can hear the folk recording of two Romanian women crying while trying to sing an elegy.  Periodically the instruments produce sounds like gunshots.  Other notable works on this album are the Spen in Alium by Thomas Tallis, eponymous Black Angels ; and Shotakovich’s haunting Quartet no 8.  Dmitri Shostakovich once said after a perofrmance of it that he wished he could write a piece of music for every individual who was murdered by Josef Stalin.

Another good album as a whole is Dark Wood by solo Cellist David Darling.  The entire album is one piece in several movements.  It is a masterful work of brooding ultimately ending in cautious hope.  At points throughout you if you listen close you can hear the Cellist (Darling himself) breathing heavy with the effort of playing the cello (although not, I think, in this example).

Finally, if we as a nation don’t correct our course on the dignity of all human life, we have this to face:

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2 Comments on “Threnody for the Innocents”

  1. Mike Says:

    Thanks for the education and culture. What was the last piece? I only listened to parts of each so far, but the last one is my favorite.

  2. Christian Says:

    Half of Children of Men album is composed in a tonal structure that most people would consider ‘listenable.’ The last one is Verdi’s Dies Irae (Wrath of God’ for us non latin speakers) from his Great Requiem Mass.


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