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Highlights From the Great Composers

04/15/2013 04:13 EDT | Updated 06/11/2013 05:12 EDT

The Canadian scholar Northrop Frye, has called the Bible, "The Great Code". It is always interesting then, to see what parts of the Bible, some of the world's greatest composers, have chosen to set to music.

For example, Beethoven's beautiful hymn "Ode to Joy" is based on Biblical themes, and Psalm 19 is one of the famous passages of scripture that he chose to put to music.

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 Day after day they pour forth speech;

    night after night they reveal knowledge.

There is no language where their speech is not heard

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

    their words to the ends of the world.

This is a beautiful passage from the Bible, and so it is no wonder that some of the world's greatest composers, including Beethoven, Bach, and Haydn, have put it to music. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_19#section_5

But is it true? I think Northrop Frye would at least appreciate that I bothered to ask the question. And there is one recent discovery in astronomy that might help answer it. When the Cassini satellite swung by Jupiter in 2001, on the way to Saturn, Nasa had to turn down the satellite's cameras because Jupiter's moon Io was too bright. Io has hundreds of active volcanoes and has been called our solar system's "hot spot".

Here is a report by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explaining that Io's excessive heat and volcanoes are the result of gravity tides.

And then here is a Science Daily report saying "No, Io is way too hot for all of the heat to be caused by gravity tides. Io is still a mystery.

Just Wondering? And I don't want to be "fundamentalist" on this or anything, but maybe Io is trying to tell us something. Maybe Io is not "cold" because it is not "old". Just wondering?

Another great composer, inspired by Biblical themes, is Anton Dvorak. His "New World" symphony is one of the best loved of all time, and someone has penned the words to it "Going home, going home, night and day, what a friend I've known". Dvorak also set to music Ten Biblical Songs.

And we can't forget Handel's Messiah, which is a quotation of many of the Old Testament Bible prophesies, about the birth of Christ, set to music.

And Bach, really, the greatest composer of all time, practically set the whole Bible to music. Every Sunday, he would write a new Cantata for church, setting some Biblical text to music. And some of the world's best loved melodiess, come from this. Here is "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring"

P.S. Here is a link to a review of a new edition of Northrop Frye's book "The Great Code: The Bible and Literature" in Canadian Literature Online Magazine

I am sure the review is very scholarly, but here is a direct quote from near the end of the review: "But he seems too close to Frye to see that the Christian Bible is no longer a great code of anything (if it ever was) except the junkfood fundamentalism of such hacks as Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsay, and of the odium of American rightwing evangelism." OUCH, THAT HURT. But at least we can all agree, that without the Bible, our world would be at a loss for some of the most beautiful music ever composed.

P.P.S. Here is Yehudi Menuhin Playing Bach at the United Nations.