An Easter Renewal in Europe
WE had gone to England that spring for an earful of the English tongue and a rest for my jaws. We lived in Bonn at the time, and my jaw muscles complained from having to speak German in my work. English, at least as we Americans speak it, is a lazy language, despite its vitality and vivid directness. But I've never met a German with lazy lips. The jaws chew on the vowels before the lips emit them as fully-shaped projectiles of meaning.
But I'm digressing from the beauty of spring in England. April breezes there can be chilly as ice, but thanks to the radiant sunshine of daffodils, yellow riots popping up at most every turn, the lingering cold is somehow scared away. England's daffodils announce the season's renewal with brilliance and fearlessness.
We had arrived in the town of Bath, perched high above the Avon River, and the plan was to spend just a day there. Everyone loves Bath. It's a holiday place. One finds it hard to spend just one day there. Thermal springs in Bath pour out hundreds of thousands of gallons of warm water a day - a delicious treat in cold weather!
Long before the Christian era, the Romans built elaborate baths there, which were eventually covered by later generations, then dug up again as archeological finds and turned into rather charming tourist places.
Talented architects have raised up admirable designs in Bath. Skilled workmen and lovely stone cooperated. The people are amiable. We thought the British-Roman touch was lovely. What was still to come was the British-German touch, and it happened this way.
We noticed a line of people in front of the cathedral in Bath. Handel's ``Messiah'' (the British-German touch) was to be performed that evening. We changed plans immediately. My wife got into the very polite line for tickets and I went to search out a bed and breakfast. After obtaining tickets, we had a light supper and went for the real feast, the gift of Handel's art melded so delicately with the English Scripture's message of God's redemption for mankind.
For most Americans, I'd venture, ``Messiah'' brings the Christmas season to mind. But the oratorio was first performed April 13, 1742, in Dublin, as a benefit for local charities. In London it was first done in March 1743, and again in April 1745. ``Messiah'' is indeed the Easter theme in its essence. Its third part is a great hymn of thanksgiving and joy for Christ Jesus's victory over death. More than one listener has compared its joy with the exaltation in the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The chorus and orchestra were modest in size, much like the ones for whom Handel had designed the work. The music had a fresh and local bounce, especially the part where the chorus sings, ``All we like sheep....'' The words and notes exulted with the message that joy and freedom are original to man's being. Away with the dust!
So Bath was our refreshment and renewal, not through bathing in thermal waters, but from that bright marriage of the redemptive poetry of the King James Bible and of Handel's assured and inspired musical architecture.
Over the years, I have often thought back to that evening in Bath. The British-German collaboration of the ``Messiah'' says a lot to me about Europe's direction. At the root of all freedom - individual or collective - is redemption from past mistakes.
Winston Churchill's ``History of the English Speaking Peoples'' records, among other things, England's bloody history. Germany's came later, but it's in the same club. France has had it. What nation's history is free of violence? Certainly not that of the United States.
Charles Jennens, who selected and arranged the English text of the ``Messiah,'' put early in the first part this verse from the book of Haggai in the Old Testament: ``Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.''
A new European unity can be built on the opportunity for a truer, purer freedom; one stronger than before, and free of past mistakes. It will be a special Easter in Europe this year, and for all who love Europe. Our family certainly will think back to that day in Bath, and we will offer our Hallelujahs!