What do musical tastes tell about a Bishop?

Dinoscopus--Williamson.jpgThat’s the question I was asking as I tried to parse the latest blog posting from Bishop Richard Williamson, the un-excommunicated SSPX bishop who has become the focus of p.r. efforts by both the Vatican and his own confreres, who are distancing themselves from Williamson and his Holocaust-denying views.
Me, I’m beginning to warm to the fellow (okay, not enough to merit excommunication or a letter from the ADL, please). Williamson seems to have a droll take on events, as evidenced by the name of his blog–“Dinoscopus”–and the caricature of himself as a liturgically-correct stegosaurus. (I believe that’s the creature, though paleontologists–there must be some among you Latin Mass folk–may correct my taxonomy.) The latest evidence is that his first blog posting since disappearing into a cone of silence in Argentina (where he heads the seminary) is called “Heroic Harmonies,” and is an apprecitation of one of his favorite works, Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica.”
As Williamson notes, Beethoven intended it as a musical portrait of Napoleon, until the little rascal made himself Emperor (and made the pope crown him, if I recall.)


“Beethoven ripped out the dedication page to Napoleon and dedicated the symphony instead to a hero,” Williamson writes. “But the music remained unchanged: the revolutionary expression of Beethoven’s ardent hopes for a heroic new age of mankind to emerge from a tired old order of kings and cardinals.”

“Tired old order of kings and cardinals”? Interesting. But Williamson goes on to praise “that old order, as expressed by Haydn (1732-1809) and Mozart (1756-1791) in particular, that gave to Beethoven the musical structures within which to shape and contain his dramatic new emotions.” Williamson continues his exegesis (on the symphony’s first movement) and concludes:


Upheavals and calm alternate for the rest of the movement. Notable in the Development is the most tremendous upheaval of all, culminating in a threefold shattering discord of F major with E natural in the brass, out of which mouth of the lion comes the honey of a brand-new lyrical melody, but still striding! Notable in the Coda is the fourfold repetition of the hero’s triumphant main theme, climaxing with inexorable logic in a blaze of glory. Lord, grant us heroes of the Faith, heroes both tender and valiant, heroes of the Church! Kyrie eleison.

The bishop invites speculation here, so why not indulge him? His sign off is pretty good, too:

La Reja, Argentina (where, I might note, His Excellency is neither dead, dying, nor retired. – Ed.)

Not sure about that third condition, exactly. La Repubblica reports today that Williamson has been removed as head of the seminary there.

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posted February 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm

No self-respecting stegosaur would claim that caricature. It is, at best, a cartoon dragon. Long necks were reserved for apatasaurs that were large, defenseless, herbivores usually found wallowing in shallow water. The spikes were found on medium sized herbivores in need of defense against aggressive raptors. There is nothing in this caricature that is offensive, though great offense is taken by his positions and re-interpetation of history. Well, the pointy hat may be offensive – in many ways.
Good music has fans; Great music has a following; The music of the spheres is claimed by people of all persuassions. Many people are moved and inspired Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsy and all the rest. But they are not in political, religious, philosophical, or scientific agreement.

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posted February 9, 2009 at 7:25 pm

I seem to remember Gary Oldman’s character in ‘The Professional’ was an upper-popping, murdering, drug-dealing corrupt DEA agent who loved Beethoven symphonies. His character, of course, was impeccable.
I do agree we need a few more heroes in the Church, though I probably wouldn’t look in all the same places as ‘Bishop’ Williamson.

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