Monday, June 06, 2011

Why We Fight: Reason #4,558

The Trost Organ at the church in Waltershausen, Germany

From time to time it’s salutary to step back a pace or two from the humdrum slog of Counterjihad work and reflect once again on why we fight.

There are a lot of reasons why we resist Islamization. Some of them are abstract: we fight for our countries, or for liberty, or for the preservation of Western values.

Others are more specific: our children, our wives, our friends, our homes, the town where we were born.

And then there are grander reasons that are harder to put a name to. These may involve religious feelings, or aesthetic experiences, or some combination of both. They will probably be the things that move us the most, that touch that hidden place in the soul from which our deepest motivations emerge.

The other day I was struck with such a moment while listening to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach being played on a pipe organ, and watching the hands and feet of the musician who made the music come to life. I knew then that this was, among many other reasons, why I get up every morning and roll the stone up the hill yet one more time.

The Baroque pipe organ is the apotheosis of the West. Nothing we have ever created is finer than this. Science, industry, technical skill, patient learning, and artistic inspiration have joined forces to produce the organs and the music that is performed on them.

The organs themselves are technological marvels, superbly crafted and physically gorgeous. Tier on tier of pipes, carved and gilded scrollwork, angels and caryatids supporting the frames… and when they channel the soul of Johann Sebastian Bach, there is nothing on earth more sublime.

This is as good as it gets.

There is no ideology in this, none at all. The sole purpose of all of the sweat and learning and training and hardship is to create in the listener (and the performer) a moment of aesthetic rapture, all in the service of the greater glory of God. There is nothing more.

But ideology may well destroy it. Just as there are no longer any Buddhas at Bamiyan, nor any Buddhists to carve them or contemplate them, there may come a day when all the pipes lie strewn across the paving stones of a shattered building, with no more fingers to race across the keyboards nor feet to tap the pedals.

That’s one of the main reasons why I do what I do: so that this shall not pass from the face of the earth.

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One of the joys of YouTube is to be able to watch the master organists at work while listening to the music they produce. This essay was inspired by the video below, in which Hans Andre Stamm plays the fugue from J.S. Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 (at times numbered BWV 541/2, for some reason), on the recently renovated Trost Organ at the church in Waltershausen, Germany:

The audio in this performance may not be the best, but the video offers a clear view of the organist’s hands and feet doing their marvelous work, and also gives us a look at the organ itself.

It wasn’t until I was well into middle age that I acquired a taste for pipe organ music, particularly Bach. For some reason it’s not something that many young people take to. It requires close attention and the patience to understand an archaic musical idiom. But once the ear is tuned properly — what magnificence!

They say that Bach is a mathematician’s musician, and it’s certainly true for me. His music is like mathematics turned into pure sound, and nothing is more mathematically perfect than one of his fugues played on a pipe organ.

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The history of the pipe organ stretches all the way back into Greek antiquity. Simpler versions were used to accompany liturgical singing in the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t until the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries that the complex organ that we know today was perfected.

Given their size and the expense of their construction, pipe organs were confined mostly to churches. There were organs in the Catholic churches of France, and some in England, but the finest examples were designed and built in Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries. The great organ composers — Samuel Scheidt, Johann Pachelbel, Dietrich Buxtehude, not to mention the greatest of all the organ masters, Johann Sebastian Bach — were German-speaking and Protestant. George Frideric Handel and Georg Philipp Telemann also composed for the organ, although that was not their primary oeuvre.

We think of the Lutheran Church as stern and austere, yet from it came the most sumptuous and extravagant music of the Baroque period. And all of that strenuous finger-numbing labor in cold, dim churches and cathedrals was driven by a religious fervor that we can barely comprehend three centuries later.

Yet the music lives on.

That’s why I fight: to keep the Taliban out of the organ loft.

For those who are interested, there is a pipe organ blog.


Reg T said...

Thank you so much for posting that. Incredible.
Being somewhat intellectually lazy, and not as bright as I would like to be, I've not yet been able to come to any conclusions as to why the human race no longer seems capable of the kind of music and art that Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and so many of their contemporaries wrote and which so many of the Masters painted.

There are still many of us who appreciate it, who recognize their genius. Still many who are capable of performing those musical works, not simply with technical skill, but with the heart ad love of music that is integral to them. I do not believe, however, that there are those among us able to match, let alone exceed, what they created.

Or is it simply that some things are too perfect to even think of trying to equal or exceed them?

Yorkshireminer said...

Dear Baron,
reminds me of a visit to Breda Grote Kirk (Breda Great Church) many years ago, it was in the middle of the day when somebody started to play the organ, it was simple overwhelming. I had to sit down and let it wash over me. I still think that Bach's cantarta 147 Jesu joy of mans desiring is still one of the greatest pieces of church music ever composed

Thank you baron

philip.zhao said...

Imagine the day when the chorus of Allahu Akbha mutes Bach's St. Mathew's Passion ! That's reason #4,559 !

sulber nick said...

Writing in 'The Decline of the West' this is what Oswald Spengler had to say about the organ:

"The rustle of the woods... stands with its secret questions 'whence? whither?' its merging of presence into eternity, in a deep relation with Destiny, with the feeling of History and Duration, with the quality of Direction that impels the anxious, caring, Faustian soul towards infinitely-distant Future. And for that reason the organ, that roars deep and high though our churches in tones which... seem to know neither limit nor restraint, is the instrument of instruments in Western devotions. Cathedral and organ form a symbolic unity like temple and statue. The history of organ-building, one of the most profound and moving chapters of our musical history, is a history of a longing for the forest, a longing to speak in the language of that true temple of Western God-fearing. From the verse of Wolfram von Eschenbach to the music of 'Tristan' this longing has borne fruit unceasingly. Orchestra-tone strove tirelessly in the 18th Century towards a nearer kinship with the organ tone. The word 'schwebend'... is important alike in the theory of music, in oil-painting, in architecture and in the dynamic physics of the Baroque. Stand in a high wood of mighty stems while the storm is tearing above, and you will comprehend instantly the full meaning of the concept of a force which moves mass."

In 'The Decline...' Spengler has some interesting things to say about the Arabian Culture and about Islam and I'm convinced that his wisdom can inform our quest.
I'd like to know what Fjordman thinks about this.

LAW Wells said...

Bach was indeed a master of the organ.

My favourite Vivaldi concerto is for four violins (in B Minor). I swear, the first movement always makes me visualise the inner workings of a clockwork mechanism.

You oldies aren't the only ones to have some fun with the classics. Though I must admit, I was ignorant that organs had what appears to be a keyboard for the feet.

Like Calvin said of the 1812 Overture when told it included cannons as instruments, "And I thought classical music was boring".

I wonder who told him that...

LAW Wells said...

I might just add, Baron, that Bach did transcribe the abovementioned concerto for the harpsichord.

OldSouth said...

Thanks so much for this post. Ironically, as I read it, the radio is playing one of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos...

You said so much here, so succinctly, to remind us of what we fight for, each in our own arenas of the War For The West. I'll be sharing this with my readers.

If I may extend your thoughts just a bit, I would ask you to consider and advocate for the cause of developing organists and church musicians worthy of these instruments, and the music written for them. In so many places now, the organs sit silent and deteriorating, for lack of musicians to bring their music to life.

Thanks again.


MissC said...

Yes. The first Christmas we spent in West Germany, we were invited to a Lutheran service. The music was glorious, and the organist...well, I was moved to tears. He played Bach. We sang hymns composed by him. Our German friend asked me if I would come back and sing with the choir. Oh..I wished that I could. That made my Christmas. I regret not daring to record it, but all that next year, I collected tapes of the sublime that is Mozart, Bach and Brahms.

Jewel said...

My favorite organist was E. Power Biggs. His playing was the first reason, his name, the other first reason.

Dymphna said...


Agreed! I love that name & he didn't make it up.

When the Baron went to Bach I only followed part-way. To me, the space in which one listens, as several have described, makes the difference. His is the music of large spaces, as sulber nick quotes Spengler's metaphor of the forest (how Germnan that is!). But it could well be the ocean also. Something huge and rythmically perfect in its ceaseless return to the shore.

LAW Wells -- the organ is indeed whole body music.. it probably couldn't have happened without the revolt of Luther to bring it out. Catholicism's Gregorian chant, that perfect blend of East and West orthodoxy, had gone as far as it could. It has an ageless eternal simplicity. The music of the Scholastics, perhaps.

I agree with Yorkshire Miner: Jesu is also my favorite. Bach's famously happy disposition is reflected in his music.

Our church is very small; it was only while the future Baron was growing up that we had an organist. Now he has moved on to a "real" church and has the opportunity to sing in the choir, to simply be one tenor within a larger whole. He is fortunate to have had the music training he did; his ear and voice give him joy.

BTW, a standard salutation in those days (in English, that is) was "I give you joy". So full bodied compared to our anemic "hello".

I'm glad we still have Bach and that we are still generating children who grow up surrounded by Baroque and Romantic music:

Conducting Beethoven with your whole heart

As I understand it, the kid asked his parents for a baton. It is only at the end of that Beethoven movement that we 'get' his utter comprehension of his own participation...

Old South-

We must do more than simply advocate for music and musicians. We have to make certain that our culture itself generates these kids. That's when it has to start...Bach was enmeshed in a cultural matrix which permitted his powerful gift to flower.

Dymphna said...

I meant to say that his organ works are the music of large spaces...

Hal K said...

"...we fight for our countries, or for liberty, or for the preservation of Western values.

Others are more specific: our children, our wives, our friends, our homes, the town where we were born."

A race or nationality is an extended family. If we refuse to admit being loyal to our race, then we will be at a disadvantage, since members of other races are openly and unapologetically loyal.

Hesperado said...

Speaking of classical music in general, the violin is of crucial importance (and not only to Bach), and thence the symphony orchestra (though, speaking of forests, I am partial to calmer experiences therein -- woodwinds and afternoons of fauns -- than Spengler's furiously Wagnerian storm-ravaged treetops).

The historian of technology, Lynn White, Jr., in one of his essays—I believe included in his collection entitled Machina ex Deo: Essays in the Dynamism of Western Culture—traces the history of the violin and notices what a politically correct multi-culturalist would be loath to notice: that, while the rudimentary violin had been invented in the area of Sumatra in approximately the 9th century A.D., its technical development and musical uses remained in that culture stagnant for centuries, and never evolved until the West returned to colonize and bring the gifts of her superiority to it (I don't doubt there has been, pace the iron fists of Sukarno and Suharto, a "Jakarta National Symphony Orchestra" over the decades).

Meanwhile, after that rudimentary 3rd world violin, translated across the Spice Route through the Islamic Middle East (similarly unfit to unfold the potential of this instrument as when Muslims were not banning music they were playing ouds that sound forever like annoying insects buzzing) into the hands of the Western Crusaders, was introduced into Christian Europe by the 13th century, it was relatively quickly improved and refined, and over the following three hundred more years one begins to see the signs of a progress in violin music—and music in general—astonishing in its beauty, reaching its apogee with J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and ascending impossibly higher with Mozart and Beethoven after that.)

And then there's the piano; and the guitar, and the electric guitar; and the saxophone; and so on...

Frankly, one needn't pull out the stops (pun intended) of Bach: one measly kazoo played ineptly is superior to all of Islam.

Lawrence said...

Things were getting a bit dark in overall context lately, regarding the struggles we face.

Thanks for the nice reminder of what it's all about. Sometimes we gotta just open the shades and notice there is still light in this world that the darkness of this world cannot quench.

Hesperado said...

"Things were getting a bit dark in overall context lately, regarding the struggles we face."

Hugh Fitzgerald -- you know, that guy who used to be a major fixture at Jihad Watch until he suddenly exited stage left for reasons that, naturally, remain murky -- used to provide irregular "Interludes" in the same spirit (and he still does, now in his little interstice far from the jetsettingly hectic fame of Robert Spencer, from where all his former Jihad Watcher praisers seem curiously absent).

His latest "Interlude" there is here.

MyUSConstitution said...

Thank you Baron.
It is good to have a little R&R between battles. All the negatives associated with warfare, both physical and mental, tend to wear away the soul.
Bach is such a treasure to the world and I dare say that if Muslims would take the time to study and listen to his compositions and to the compositions of his contemporaries, there would be less murder and mahem in the world.
Musician John Bullard applied his musical talents of the banjo to several of J.S. Bach compositions and with surprising success. Some may recoil in horror at the suggestion of Bach and Banjo in the same sentence but it is quite refreshing.
Try a YouTube search with the phrase "Bach on the Banjo with John Bullard". It is light enough that you can carry it with you back to the battle and to the "front lines".

unprintable said...

Yes Jesu is sublime but my personal favourite is 142,even more....well...sublime.

Hesperado said...

So far, my favorite Bach piece is Minuet and Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, conducted by Helmut Winschermann. It's not so typically and briskly "mathematical" as other Bach compositions; one detects a bit of Mozartian melancholy in it.

cornholio said...

I believe all musical instruments are haraam in Islam (and possibly singing as well), at least according to this imam:

Dymphna said...

@ Hal K-

I find it hard to be loyal to my "race"...which one should I choose?

Sorry, but by the time you move to that level, it's too abstract...

And tiresomely divisive.

Might as well try to talk competing football teams' fans into rational discourse. It's simply not part of the conversation.

@ cornholio

That's my understanding re Islam's view on music also. And painting, and the arts in general.

The behavioral joy deomonstrated by that little boy (in the YouTube video I posted earlier) conducting Beethoven would be foreign to devout Islamic families. That family dynamic tends to kill off curiosity; without that essential character trait, genuine creativity isn't possible. Many Western Muslims are drawn to engineering, medicine, etc. Not as creators but as practitioners working within a secure system where the rules are established.


Hesperado --

During the recent Nashville event featuring Geert et al, Mr. Fitzgerald seemed to be holding down the fort at the Iconoclast. Probably because everyone else was out in the heat at the speeches, etc?

Reading his posts back then made me realize how much I missed his voice. So I went back into the Iconoclast archives to search for more. I ran acroos this one, in which he echoes, at the end, something I've been thinking for a long time:

Islam is a Cargo Cult, the biggest Cargo Cult in history

You're right that his fans from the days of Dhimmi Watch seem to have evaporated, but then (with some exceptions) comments at Jihad Watch appear to be down quite a bit. Perhaps it's a summer phenomenon...

More re The Iconoclast later...

Van Grungy said...

Thank You..

Hesperado said...

Yes Dymphna,

Though I believe that "Cargo Cult" essay was a reprise of an old essay Hugh wrote when he was at JW.

I've noticed that Hugh at the Iconoclast doesn't wax with quite as much verve and grandiloquence as he used to when he had the JW podium, so to speak. It seems the wind's been taken from his sails, at least somewhat; but then, he also always had a wryly understated side to his trenchant sarcasm, which his new medium accomodates -- when he sees fit to deploy it, which also isn't often enough.

Dymphna said...

It can be extremely difficult to recover from personal betrayal. This is especially so when it is public or partially public.

Betrayal is *the* most common human experience, but we never get used it. Never.

I hope the old verve returns...

Zenster said...

They say that Bach is a mathematician’s musician, and it’s certainly true for me. His music is like mathematics turned into pure sound, and nothing is more mathematically perfect than one of his fugues played on a pipe organ.

An old maxim states that:

Mathematics is music for the mind and music is mathematics for the soul.

Dymphna: Betrayal is *the* most common human experience, but we never get used it. Never.

Rubbish. Pure, unadulterated and unmitigated rubbish.

Yours is the cynical and pessimistic view that upholds a malevolent universe of which no such thing exists.

If, indeed, there is a God and, most certainly whatever it is that we regard as the Human Spirit is supposed to be anything at all, THAT EXPERIENCE IS ONE OF LOVE.

Betrayal? Hogwash! To suggest such an abomination is to uphold the most niggardly appraisal of the exact same Human Spirit which saw Bach pen some of the most immortal musical works, if not THE MOST IMMORTAL musical works, of all time.

God, Humanity, music and all enduring forms of worthwhile Art epitomize one thing above all others and that is Love. To place betrayal above them by even an iota is, indeed, betrayal - at its very worst - of all that it means to be human, if not Divine.

Do Bach's works shout "Betrayal!"


They routinely exalt mankind's utmost capacity for encompassing an unparalleled appreciation of the transcendent.

This is why, long after most other familiar music forms are mouldering fragments of historical curiosity, the Western European Orchestral Tradition - of which papa Bach was the penultimate progenitor - will endure through the centuries and millennia to come as one of mankind's most refined and quintessential artistic expressions.

To proclaim "betrayal" as "*the* most common human experience" is an obscenity that ridicules every scintilla of valuable human feeling, thought and expression.

I pity and deride any such false-hearted declaration of evil's triumph over good. It is as offensive as it is objectionable. Betrayal is the domain of swindlers, cheats and felons. It shall NEVER have a place in the bosom of reality.

Hesperado said...


I took Dymphna's comment as rhetorically hyperbolic, not to mention perhaps she wasn't seeking to be scientifically precise at that particular moment.

At any rate, the glass is both half full and half empty; this life is a mixture of good and bad. Bach believed in the eschaton, and I don't doubt he agreed that this life is, in many ways, a "vale of tears", etc. Was Bach celebrating this life alone, or the next life alone -- or perhaps their mysterious intersection? Somehow, I don't feel in Bach the peculiarly this-worldly exuberance of the spirit which only a few decades after his death began to possess Western society (which, in turn, requires a great deal of effort, imagination and heavy doses of denial along with laudanum, absinthe, opiates, cocaine and alcohol to sustain). It would take the West another two centuries, approximately, after Bach to reach that musical apogee of Modern Progress that "accentuates the positive" and "eliminates the negative" -- without the slightest hint of irony (other than, perhaps, what lingers on the aftertaste of dry vermouth on one's martini olive).

Bill said...

Thank you very much. This is the first classical music and in particular organ music that I have been able to enjoy since I damaged my hearing a couple of years ago. I didn't realize until now how much I miss it. I will have to get my E. Power Biggs vinyl moved onto CD and iPod.

Zenster said...

Hesperado: Bach believed in the eschaton, and I don't doubt he agreed that this life is, in many ways, a "vale of tears", etc.

Not being an expert on Bach's life and times, I have no way to disprove such a declaration.

However, as a self-taught musician on several different instruments, ― a few of which Bach played in their prototype forms, (i.e., flute, recorder, piano, keyboards) ― I can tell you that many of his works are not just uplifting but literally ooze with a barely contained joy and exaltation of, if not outright revelry in, life and love.

Go ahead and try to tell me that these people aren't having an absolute gas doing what they quite obviously and audibly enjoy.

As the father of so many children ― and, literally the twelve tone chromatic scale itself which the vast majority of performed musical works use today ― Bach's life could hardly have been a "vale of tears". Towering genius of his sort is most certainly its own reward and Bach knew it bloody well.

If you do not yourself play a musical instrument, Hesperado, perhaps then this may elude you. If you do play any one of the orchestral instruments, then I sincerely doubt that you find any fault with the foregoing.

Were I to project upon Dymphna's mistaken claim, it might be said that "Betrayal is *the* most common human crime, but we never get used it. Never." Deceit is, perhaps, the easiest and most convenient ― if not seemingly profitable ― lapse of human character (as Islam so amply proves).

Love, and love alone, will always be the "most common human experience". If ever that should change, the human race is doomed to rapid extinction.

My dear, learned friend, Father Rex Alarcon, and myself found ourselves in a most ready and profound agreement that if God is one thing above all others, it must be LOVE. If the Divine cannot embody that one thing first and foremost above all other things, then it would clearly be unworthy of any worship. Of that I am more than sure.

Hesperado said...

The wryly understated side of Hugh Fitzgerald, in fact, can be detected in his introduction to his reprise of his old Cargo Cult essay:

"I ran across a comment I posted four years ago at a different site with which I no longer have anything to do, one of several tens of thousands of comments I posted there."

He goes on to say:

"Most, for various technical reasons, are now lost forever. But why should I not re-post those that are still up, that when googling I run across, and that remain perfectly apposite today?"

After Hugh one day suddenly vanished from Jihad Watch after years of posting formal essays and innumerable comments, he wrote no essay saying "Goodbye, it's been real, I'd like to thank Robert Spencer, Marisol, my agent, my producer, my wife, and God..." etc. One would expect a person who had become a popular and productive fixture at Jihad Watch for years to have penned a valedictory for such a momentous occasion.

And if that wasn't odd enough, several days went by (if not weeks) during which Robert Spencer mentioned nothing about it. At the time, my voice in comments there hadn't yet been muzzled by banning (again, for the fourth time over the years), so I raised the question of the oddity. Then a couple of other commenters began to express their curiosity as well. It was only then that Robert Spencer suddenly saw fit to write an essay adverting to Hugh's No-Longer-Being-Here-at-Jihad-Watch-Anymore-As-You-All-Might-Have-Noticed -- adding with a concealed note of anxiety that his remiss tardiness in announcing this had only to do with his hectic schedule of jetting around the world from conference to round-table to public demonstration and back whilst fitting in copious laptop-typing in various airport lounges and hotel rooms around the globe. Then, in that same announcement, he mentioned something vaguely cryptic about "financial reasons" for Hugh's departure, but naturally wouldn't respect his loyal and supportive readers enough to say what that actually means.

From the wryly understated barb I quoted up top, and from Hugh's consistent refrain to refrain from ever uttering a single pejorative word about Jihad Watch or Robert Spencer, one reasonably concludes he has taken the high road away from a once fruitful, but increasingly distasteful professional relationship.

The details, of course, as ever, must remain vaulted up in the plush and shadowy interiors of the Gentlemen's Club.

Hesperado said...


I'm not denying the presence of joy and other good things that love brings to this life. Tragically, however, this life is not simply love and joy. I don't know why you seem intent on translating my expressions of tension between (and the problem of Both/And) into an Either/Or.

The wisdom of the ages sees that this life is neither Black nor White, neither Dark nor Light, but chiaroscuro simultaneously. That's the mystery, that's the tragedy, that's the hope.

Zenster said...

Hesperado: I don't know why you seem intent on translating my expressions of tension between (and the problem of Both/And) into an Either/Or.

I'm not.

urah2222 said...


The Pipes will NOT "lay strewn across the paving stones" They will become part and parcel of the local jihadi "space program." Just like irrigation and sewer pipes are used in Gaza by the local "Rocket Scientists."

Dr. Shalit

Dan Canto said...

Yes, keep the damn Taliban out of the organ lofts! And the lying "moderate" Muslims too.