Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
Part of the objective for this lesson is to ‘help class members understand… the Second Coming’. In this lesson outline I aim to offer some thoughts on a particular passage in D&C 88 in connection with Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Between Christmas and New Year I took my mother to hear Beethoven’s 9th symphony performed at the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra. Aside, from hearing Robert Levin perform a few of his Mozart completions a few months earlier, this was the first time that I had ever attended a classical music concert. It was an unforgettable experience. Certainly my limited knowledge of the musical canon and of the forms that structure such large pieces necessarily made my listening quite unsophisticated. It was primarily a raw and immediate response to this celebration of human contradiction.
While listening to the fourth movement I was reminded of something that Daniel Barenboim has said about the 9th symphony in his Reith Lectures.
“I have been always every day asking myself since I was a very small boy, why is it that so much of the day goes by and nothing happens and then something happens at a certain moment of the day that influences not only everything I think and feel after the event but everything that I have known and felt before… I learned this in a much stronger way from the music.
I have here one musical example which I would like to play for you, of exactly that, of the moment where there comes a fantastic vertical pressure on the horizontal floor of the music, and that that moment you know that the music cannot continue any more the way it was before.
I learned the fact that there is a vertical pressure on the horizontal floor, that there is something that shows at a certain moment that we have to accept the inevitability of something that has changed our life both to the future and to the end.”
For Barenboim, this moment comes in the middle of the fourth movement as the choir sing: ‘Und der Cherub steht vor Gott, vor Gott, vor Gott’ (between 9.00-9.35)
The repetition of Gott comes crashing through the composition and changes everything. Not only does the piece enter a radically new phase after this pronouncement but, at least according to my own experience, so do the listeners. In an earlier lecture, Barenboim discusses the importance of silence in music.
“The physical aspect that we notice first is that sound does not exist by itself, but has a permanent, constant and unavoidable relation with silence. And therefore the music does not start from the first note and goes onto the second note, etc., etc., but the first note already determines the music itself, because it comes out of the silence that precedes it.”
This downward pressure in Beethoven’s ninth is followed by silence, at least in theory. In reality we are left with the reverberations of what has gone before, left to appreciate what has just happened and left to re-orientate ourselves in preparation for what is to come. In that moment we come to the stark realization that something has changed. The world has radically altered and we (all of us) have become something new.
According to the D&C, the world will experience great upheaval in preparation for the Second Coming. According to section 88,
“And all things shall be in commotion… And angels shall fly through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, sounding the trump of God, saying: Prepare ye, prepare ye, O inhabitants of the earth; for the judgment of our God is come. Behold, and lo, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. And another angel shall sound his trump… And he shall sound his trump both long and loud, and all nations shall hear it.
And there shall be silence in heaven for the space of half an hour; and immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up, and the face of the Lord shall be unveiled; And the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him.”
In Beethoven we find a musical analog to this commotion, declaration and then, finally, this silence in the heaven. I remember, as a missionary, speculative late-night discussions about what this passage might mean and why there was this silence. Beethoven has given one answer. That silence is not really a silence at all, but a moment when the reverberations of what has happened will be felt. A moment when we become cognisant of this radical break in the world. A break so fundamental that we need some time to reorientate ourselves to this newness, both in ourselves and around us.
If I were teaching this lesson, I would play them Beethoven. Not only might we understand the Second coming a little better but by listening to the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony we might begin to sense what it would be like to witness ‘silence in heaven’.
1. This somewhat apologetic introduction is intended to promote criticism and discussion of my response.