In a letter, dated December 23, 1955, Barth sets out to (reluctantly) esteem one of his musical heroes for a newspaper. The letter speaks for itself, so there’s no real need for a deep exposition. The only thing that needs qualifying is the concluding statement by Barth, where he speaks figuratively of imagining angels worshiping with Bach, while at work, and then later Mozart, as they gathered together. Barth writes,
‘Mozart’s music is not, in contrast to that of Bach, a message, and not in contrast to that of Beethoven, a personal confession. He does not reveal in his music any doctrine and certainly not himself […]
Mozart does not wish to say anything: he just sings and sounds. Thus he does not force anything on the listener, does not demand that he make any decisions or take any positions; he simply leaves him free. Doubtless the enjoyment he gives begins with our accepting that […]
He thought of death daily, as his works plainly reveal. But he does not dwell on it unduly; he merely lets us discover it. Nor does he will to proclaim the praise of God. he just does it – precisely in that humility in which he himself is, so to speak, only the instrument with which he allows is to hear what he hears: what surges at him from God’s creation, what rises in him, and must proceed from him […]
Mozart’s sacred music, too, is heard to originate in a region from which vantage point God and the world are certainly not to be judged identical, but which does allow the church and world (these are not to be interchanged) to be recognizable and recognized in their merely relative difference, in their ultimate togetherness: both emanating from God, both going back to God.[i]’
Out of necessity, I’ve redacted some of his letter to fit the 3:22 min instrumental. In doing so, I’ve stuck to Barth’s main theme: gratitude for Mozart. As it is, it’s neat and, I think, communicates well. Barth might not have been a musician, however, it’s clear from the melody and rhythm in his own writing, that he had the ear, heart and mind of one.
Can Karl Barth’s words to Mozart be put to music?
My tentative answer is, yes.
[i] Barth, K. 1956, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Wipf & Stock Publishers (pp.19-23) & (pp.37-40)
Music is my own.