Reading Barth with Mozart in mind: An exploration of Mozartean resonance in the theology of Karl Barth

Birchley, Keith Andrew (2012). Reading Barth with Mozart in mind: An exploration of Mozartean resonance in the theology of Karl Barth MPhil Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Birchley, Keith Andrew
Thesis Title Reading Barth with Mozart in mind: An exploration of Mozartean resonance in the theology of Karl Barth
Formatted title
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Supervisor Geoff Thompson
Neil Pembroke
Total pages 119
Total black and white pages 119
Language eng
Subjects 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
220405 Religion and Society
190409 Musicology and Ethnomusicology
Formatted abstract
Barth’s famous connection with the music of Mozart has tended to be approached in terms of either the small number of texts that expressly mention Mozart’s name or the theological loci with which those texts are immediately concerned. The resultant accounts have tended to highlight and separate a small number of aspects of Barth’s indebtedness to Mozart, often reflecting the emphases of the various commentators.

Working from the assumption that life affects consciousness, and Barth’s own conviction that theologies have an inherent musical counterpart or accompaniment, this thesis argues that the resonance of Mozart’s music is more widespread and multifarious than previous studies have suggested. At one point, it even attains to the level of an explicit influence on the theologian. Aspects of the key text (the excursus in CD III.3, §50) are examined in detail. Unlike other studies, however, this text is set alongside a previous excursus related to Mozart (CD III.1, §42), the four Mozart Bicentennial Essays of 1956, and Barth’s extended account of providence (in CD III.3, §48 and §49) in which the name of Mozart is not mentioned.

It is found that Barth’s connection with Mozart is observable in a range of places and in a range of ways. 1) There is a striking resemblance to Mozart’s operatic world in Barth’s theological world. This is particularly noticeable in the drama and poetry of his doctrine of providence. 2) When dealing with the threat to creation posed by chaos (das Nichtige) or the abstraction of creation from redemption, it is Mozart who supplies Barth with the best and most adequate aesthetico-theological language. This language is then seen to be, for Barth, indicative of all theological language. 3) Finally, in depicting the goodness of God in creation and the distinct joi de vivre of the Christian life, Mozart again comes to the fore. Similarly, he is irreplaceable when Barth deals with the task and demeanour of the theologian. Barth’s conception of Mozartean play is fundamental to his ethics, and the ambience of play surrounds his theological writing more widely.

Resistant as Barth was to claims of extra-biblical revelation, his attachment to Mozart shows the most profound indebtedness to extra-biblical influence. The Barth/Mozart phenomenon displays both Barth’s intense and impassioned openness to culture and his dependence on music to express thoughts too deep for words.
Keyword Barth

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Created: Tue, 28 May 2013, 12:12:30 EST by Keith Birchley on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service