One more aspect of Barth’s humanity we must note is its genius. That is to say, it is a humanity that is full of surprises. Here, although no doubt he would resent it, we may compare his theological thinking to the music of Beethoven with its breath-taking turns rather than to the predestined texture of Mozart’s inimitable compositions. Mozart may well be the greater genius, but when he has announced his theme and swept you into the skies like a lark, he creates in you the power of anticipation and you can hear the music from a long way off, and Barth certainly has this quality, too; but again and again Beethoven’s music suddenly breaks in upon your ear with astonishing novelty that startles you, and you protest that he has shattered the logic of his composition, but before you can recover your breath you find that he has worked the whole symphony into such a rich and complex movement that the new element actually contributes to its unity. That also is the genius of Karl Barth.I was very gratified to come across this point because, at the risk of losing my membership in the Karl Barth Society of North America, I have always preferred Beethoven to Mozart. Back during the few years I spent being classically trained in piano performance, nothing got to me more, or gave me more joy in playing, than did Beethoven. If Mozart captures the joy and freedom of being human, as Barth has intimated, Beethoven catches humanity’s tragedy and pathos. And he does so, as Torrance points out, in often surprising ways.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
T.F. Torrance on Barth, Mozart, and Beethoven
This is from Torrance’s introduction to Barth’s Theology and Church: Shorter Writings, 1920-1928 (Louise Pettibone Smith, trans.; New York: Harper & Row, 1962): 9-10.