As an avid Radio 3 listener, I have had to endure a week with the theme “Martin Luther – breaking free”. There are concerts, live discussions and of course Composer of the Week. Whilst I’ve only tuned in to parts of it, what I’ve heard from our taxpayer-funded broadcaster is not exactly free of bias, as we’ve come to expect.
The overall impression given is that Luther liberated Europeans from some dark, obscurantist representation of Christianity, which led to enlightened thinking within our continent. It could be argued that he did a lot for the German language, and of course many local princes and dukes latched on to his ‘revolution’ of translating the bible into the vernacular. The Catholic Church admits in retrospect that its position on this was unsympathetic. No doubt mention will have been made about the vast, appalling blood-letting that soon took place in German lands after his ideas spread – something far worse than we experienced in England.
During a panel debate it was stated that purgatory isn’t mentioned in the bible – see 2 Maccabees 12 for starters. That went unchallenged.
Composer of the week, which has suffered from political correctness this year, features Michael Praetorius, a man best known for his light-hearted Terpsichore dances. It is good to air music on this programme, which would not otherwise be heard much if at all, and his church music is not bad. Like other German composers such as Schutz, he wanted to emulate Italian fashions and ideas, but if you compare his work with contemporary Monteverdi, it is rather 2-dimensional. Like German lager, which prides itself on its purity, it lacks any character. How can this be called progress, compared with all the glorious polyphony it supplanted? We can only imagine what music was lost in Henry VIIIs bonfires of England’s old culture.
4 May is the feast of the Reformation Martyrs. On this day in 1535 the first of them, including Carthusian priors St John Houghton of London, St Robert Lawrence of Beauvale, and St Augustine Webster of Axholme met their grisly deaths by being hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, after being dragged through the streets of our capital. Contemplative monks being treated in this way – what kind of terrifying, demonic message did that send to the ordinary folk lining the streets? Of course on Radio 3 we were told that the abbeys – soon to be ‘nationalised’ – were empty. Well, I believe the Carthusians had a waiting list at this time.
I also wonder whether the Beeb will look at how the Lutheran churches are doing in our own time. Most, being the national churches of Scandinavian countries, avidly toe the line of their secular governments: they have fully embraced all the legislation on gender equality with all that implies. I believe their membership is in rapid decline. If only the Catholic Church was in a position to rescue these confused, lost souls!
I wonder whether Radio 3 will do a week’s homage to the Counter-Reformation?