“As I look back on my life, I thank God for placing music beside me almost as a traveling companion”
In the summer of 2005, Joseph Ratzinger had been Pope for a few months and a photograph went around the world: during a short vacation in Les Combes, in Valle d’Aosta, in the same chalet where his predecessor John Paul II went, he was immortalized in a shot that showed him at the piano playing a score by Johann Sebastian Bach.
That photo told everyone about Ratzinger’s passion for music: a passion born as a child when his father gave him a harmonium that he played together with his brother Georg (also a priest, for a long time director of the cathedral choir of Regensburg). Since then, the future Benedict XVI has continued to play the piano as one of his favorite pastimes, with the awareness that “the greatness and beauty of music” can also give “new and continuous inspiration to build a world of love, solidarity and of peace”.
“Looking back on my life, I thank God for placing music beside me almost as a traveling companion, which has always offered me comfort and joy. I also thank the people who, from the early years of my childhood, have brought me closer to this source of inspiration and serenity. I thank those who unite music and prayer in the harmonious praise of God and his works: they help us to glorify the Creator and Redeemer of the world, which is the marvelous work of his hands”, said the pontiff April 16, 2007 when, for his eightieth birthday, Maestro Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Stuttgarter Radio-Symphonieorchesters in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Because, the Pontiff underlined, “music is truly the universal language of beauty, capable of uniting men of good will all over the earth and of leading them to raise their gaze upwards and to open themselves to the Good and the Beautiful.” absolutes, which have their ultimate source in God himself”.
The piano has always been present in Ratzinger’s residences, both in the archbishopric of Munich and then in the Vatican, playing his beloved Bach but also compositions by Mozart.
His passion for music Ratzinger also manifested in the attention he paid to the concerts offered in the Vatican during his pontificate. And speaking of music, as a musician who knows how to combine notes with faith, he believed that art manifested a spark from the Creator.
“Music purifies and lifts us up, it makes us feel the greatness and beauty of God”, he said in October 2005 after a concert by the Münchner Philharmoniker conducted by Christian Thielemann, wishing that “the harmony of song and music, which knows no social and religious barriers, represents a constant invitation to believers and to all people of good will to seek together the universal language of love which makes men capable of building a world of justice and solidarity, of hope and of peace”.
In 2008 a concert was offered in honor of Pope Benedict XVI: in reference to the performance of the “Song of Destiny” for choir and orchestra, opus 54 by Johannes Brahms, on that occasion he underlined how this composition had enriched a “religious trust ” the “Song of Destiny” by the poet Friedrich Hölderlin.
A concept taken up in 2013 by bishop Josef Clemens, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, during a mass in Munich in memory of the conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch. Clemens recalled that according to Pope Ratzinger the spiritual value of the musical art is that of “instilling hope in the human soul, so marked and sometimes wounded by the earthly condition”.
In 2015, now Pope emeritus, receiving an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and the Academy of Music of Krakow, he stated: “It can be said that the quality of music depends on the purity and greatness of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and pain. The purer and more true that experience is, the purer and greater will also be the music that is born and develops from it”.