Last weekend, I went down to Hyde Park to hear the Bruckner mass that the Chicago Chorale was singing at Rockefeller Chapel. The mass was the main item on a program devoted to religious music by Bruckner and his contemporaries. It was really very lovely. I’m not a music critic (as my friend’s mother says, “I think it’s all beautiful”), so if you want all the details, check out this glowing notice on the Chicago Classical Review.
In this case, the pleasure I took from the music was entwined with many other pleasant feelings. My aesthetic satisfaction was heightened by the setting, the connection that I felt to the people in the audience, the performers (several of them known to me for many decades), and the traditionary character of the Sunday afternoon concert.
I even enjoyed the program notes, which were written in an unusually dramatic style. The character of Anton Bruckner came across vividly (“half idiot, half God”), a musical innovator of great un-self-consciousness and piety. From the notes, I learned that the music scene of Bruckner’s time was riven with conflict between traditionalists and composers like Wagner and Mahler who were referred to as the ‘New German School.’ Although all that historic conflict now seems entirely beside the point, still it was fun to know. Fortunately, the beauty of Bruckner’s work (and Brahms, too, for that matter) has proved enduring. (One of my favorite Brahms motets was also performed.)
Because her mother was singing in the choir, a young friend sat with me. Eventually her brother joined us, and her father, too. It’s a special experience to sit with some of your closest friends in a church pew for a concert.
Afterward, everyone milled around, chatting and congratulating the musicians, who were coming out to join their families and friends. Hyde Park is like a village in that many of its residents live there for decades and know one another mainly though neighborhood-y things. No, it isn’t like a college town. It’s an urban place where many bright and brainy people hang out. People from other parts of the city don’t flock here in numbers, so the brainy and cultured villagers have Hyde Park pretty much all to themselves.
As I was leaving, I took this picture of the chapel’s exterior. It’s always a complex experience, seeing the chapel and other parts of the University. I spent a lot of my life here, so that every sight and stone evokes many various memories.
The hulking form of Rockefeller mimicks an old Gothic cathedral, whose spiritual specifics are disappointingly vague. An ecumenical space, it avoids any reference to any specific religion, instead going for an austerely empty but lofty airiness inside.
For many years, I worshipped here on Sundays, back when Bernard Brown was the chapel’s dean. I received my college diploma in this building, attended memorials for dead people, sang Christmas carols with various loved ones, celebrated the University’s centennial with an amazing assemblage of scholars dressed in their academic regalia, even received my PhD.
At one point, I would even have gotten married in this building, but marriages are the one thing that are never allowed.