Classical music and atheists: Art and context

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It’s the holiday season again. And concert halls are bursting with various classical music concerts. Seasonal favourites include things like Händel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. But have you ever stopped to consider how these pieces might sound to non-Christian listeners? If you haven’t, here’s a little tongue-in-cheek demonstration.

Of course, there is a lot of classical music with themes that are not religious. So the claim about “most classical” here might be a slight exaggeration. And then there are pieces that are so beautiful that one is just swept away by the music no matter what the lyrics are. But there are lot of average pieces that are not so lucky.

Usually for me it is important to understand the context of an art piece in order to really enjoy it. And if the context happens to be something completely nonsensical like “our beard-dude is great, all praise him” which is then repeated for the next 60 minutes, it can get quite boring, or ridiculous, and usually both. And it’s not that I would not understand it. I was brought up in the Christian religion and culture. I just let go of the religion when as I was old enough to make my own decisions.

Of course, there is lot of other culture too which is silly or does not make much sense. But I think the effect is worse in Western classical music as it is often taken so very seriously. The whole dressing up and being all pompous combined with the nonsensical content reaches a completely new level of ridiculousness.

It is sad to think how much energy, effort, and talent has been spent on this inane stuff in the last 500 years. Hopefully our culture is finally moving on from that. Perhaps we can now spend the next half a millennium writing really beautiful pieces about the Easter Bunny.

Happy midwinter everyone! Our journey towards light has begun again.

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