The Art and the Hours – Masterpiece

by Br. Gilbert Heater, OSB

This week I want to share a piece of music that I find absolutely delightful. Paul Drayton’s marvellous Masterpiece is a brilliant summation of the past four-hundred years of Western Classical music and this performance by the King’s Singers is itself a masterpiece of skill, timing, communion, and comedy. Drayton’s genius shines in his ability to precisely and succinctly characterize so many composers and despite the apparent ease of the singers, this is a very difficult piece. The variety of styles, the numerous comedic interjections, and the sheer length and complexity of the music showcase the absurd talent and harmony of the group. Their last chord is exactly in tune with the opening note and throughout the piece, their six voices blend together as one.

There are a few special moments that stick out to me such as the bass entrance in the Bach fugue (1:50) and the fantastic coda that ends that section (2:05). The bass part during the Mozart tribute is also wonderful (3:42 and 4:00). I am always left a bit breathless by the transition from Johann Strauss to Debussy (8:40) and the way the harmonies delicately shift and blend to take on Debussy’s rich impressionistic swath of colour is simply enchanting. To sing those fluid and flowing chords with such accuracy is impressive. The finale is also magnificent, and the exuberant gentleman applauding at the end (12:31) perfectly captures the happiness and joy that this piece brings to my own heart.

It is a good reminder that God created us to be happy and that there is value in setting aside time to enjoy the gifts he has given to us. We tend to focus on emotional extremes, the moments of grief and sorrow or joy and exhilaration. This is natural and human, and thus it is no surprise that in her liturgy the Church sets aside seasons where we can enter more deeply into these things. We have the penitential anticipation of Advent and Lent, the painful mourning of Holy Week, and the exultation of Christmas and Easter. But this week we leave Christmas behind, and it can perhaps be a bit disappointing to return to Ordinary Time. It just feels so . . . ordinary. But this season is a great blessing because it reminds us that all of time is a gift of God and even what seems most ordinary is really part of his masterpiece of salvation.

Much of God’s work throughout history has taken place in the ordinary passing of time, in the day-to-day routine of those who seek to discover him, love him, and draw closer to him. We celebrated a special aspect of God’s revelation at Epiphany, but all of human history is a process of God revealing himself to his creation. It is a gradual unfolding of his love for us, an unveiling of the fulfilment for which every heart yearns, a discovery of ourselves as a beloved child of God whose every feature and facet was not only a choice of God, but an object of his delight.

Drayton’s Masterpiece looks back over the last few centuries of music history and it can inspire us to reflect on our own lives and all the ways we have experienced the presence of God. There are grand and tragic milestones, but we can also recognize the slow and patient ways in which we have grown in harmony with God’s perfect plan. For God is a God of poverty, a God who especially loves the meek, the humble, and the small. Our daily faithfulness in the little things, our oft-repeated acts of trust and surrender, our perseverance in times of pain and desolation: these are what make us saints and bring us ever closer to that true happiness which begins in Christ, is sustained by him, and finds in him our fulfilment.