Protesting the Present

In 1954, renowned cellist Pablo Casals and organist Albert Schweitzer met as friends in Switzerland. Their topic concerned protest, that is, music and activism.

Pablo Casals was of the opinion that activism outside of the art of music making was a necessity. During WWII he had done so: not only refusing to play in countries that recognized totalitarianism but volunteering through giving financial and moral support to those who mailed and came to him. His current residency in France was also protest, vowing not to return to his native Spain until the democratic government, the Spanish Republic, was again restored.

This balance between activism and art is common. From Bono to Rage Against the Machine, we see musicians taking up the mantle of social issues beyond writing songs about them.

And then there is Albert Schweitzer’s opinion, to me the more fascinating.

Schweitzer believed that music making was activism, that it was enough. This is coming from a man who, as a prominent theologian, also made a religion of playing the organ music of Bach. Championing Bach in the early 20th century for Schweitzer was to yearn for the time where religious reverence was intimately linked with music. It was a matter of revival for Schweitzer. In playing Bach he meant to bring back the moral religiosity that the modern age seemed to question with war and prevailing philosophies.

Music in of itself then, especially classical, can be seen as protest against the present. From Bach to Brahms, this music yearns for a better world, where feeling and intellect combine in beauteous harmony.

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