This is kind of a Good Friday post, but I’m putting it up a bit early as I’ve got other things planned for Good Friday…
Tragedy transfigured – Concierto d’Aranjuez
One of my favourite childhood pieces of classical music was Joachim Rodrigo’s guitar concerto Concierto d’Aranjuez – though I thought it was called ‘Yuddadar’ (after the characteristic three-note motif of the slow central movement, which sounded to me like Yu-da-dar). And for some unknown reason I also associated that movement strongly with Good Friday and Christ’s crucifixion, and with an image of the three crosses on the horizon.
It strikes me now that this may not be such a daft connection to make after all. Rodrigo’s wife has (I understand) said that the central movement has a dual inspiration – happy memories of the couple’s honeymoon, but also sorrow at the miscarriage of their first child, a daughter. The deeply moving music contains both love and loss, and you can sense the father’s sorrow – a sorrow that words could never express, but music might just begin to.
Yet at the same time it is sorrow made beautiful, and therefore in a sense made meaningful. Which also strikes me as very Good-Friday-ish. But if so, it’s Good Friday viewed from the perspective of Easter – sorrow and loss viewed through the lens of resurrection, or hoped-for resurrection at least. There’s sadness but not despair, for death is not the end.
Henri Gorecki’s celebrated Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is another piece with this quality of sadness transformed and transfigured by hope. It is, as the name suggests, based around ideas and feelings of sorrow – three songs of deeply personal grief, mourning and loss. All three laments are based on the loss of children separated from their mothers by war, violence or death; the first and last from the mothers’ perspective, surrounding a central movement from a child’s eyes.
It’s very much then a Good Friday piece rather than an Easter one. Indeed the (extremely long) first movement centres upon a medieval Polish folk song written from the perspective of Jesus’ mother Mary at the crucifixion. Translated, its poignant words are: ‘O my son, beloved and chosen, Share your wounds with your mother’.
Yet despite the piercing grief, the symphony somehow seems to be shot through with a sense of hope, and so in some sense an anticipation of Easter (or a hint of an anticipation at least). The grief is real and present; Easter has definitely not yet happened, and perhaps there’s no absolute guarantee that it will. Yet somehow again there’s a sense that grief and loss can be given beauty and dignity and meaning, and in this there is hope, or at least the beginning of the possibility of hope.
This is perhaps most obvious in the central movement, based on an actual message written by am 18-year-old Polish girl incarcerated in a Gestapo camp: ‘O Mamma do not cry – Immaculate Queen of Heaven, support me always’. It is a profoundly moving message of comfort and compassion from a daughter to her despairing, grieving mother – though the mother of course cannot hear it.
Even the last movement, lamenting the loss of a ‘dear young son’ ends with a prayer of hope (of a kind):
O sing for him / God’s little song-birds / Since his mother cannot find him
And you, God’s little flowers / May you blossom all around / that my son may sleep a happy sleep.
The predominantly minor-key symphony resolves on a long drawn-out major chord, suggesting that loss, separation and even death are not without final hope.
Redemption before resurrection
Writing about the film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I said that the film finishes at a Good Friday moment, with no hint of resurrection to follow. Yet somehow in the redemptive sacrifice there are already the seeds of hope. Even if Easter does not follow, the world is changed; we are changed. By dying for the beloved, love has already won over evil.
This is not to say that our grief can or should instantly be taken away and replaced by joy. I think we have to feel our griefs and losses fully and properly; that way lies healing. There’s a reason for Holy Saturday, for not rushing straight from Good Friday to Easter without passing Go.
But within our grief there can be hope of redemption, of a day when even this sorrow and loss will be transformed. And music can give us a glimpse of how this can be; of how even in the darkest discords of Good Friday there are hidden the notes of Easter’s song.