Almost always, I draft my posts days or even weeks before they become public. This one, however, was conceived, drafted, revised, finalized, and published all within a couple of hours on the same day. That is speedy for me. And it may be good, or it may be bad. . . .
As one comes to understand harmony, s/he grows to perceive that not all major-key musical works are “happy.” Furthermore, although few minor-key works are effervescent or jubilant, minor harmonies can certainly carry a variety of moods. They may sometimes be mournful or ominous, yes, but also yearning, or plaintive, or resolute, or even annunciatory—and more. Minor keys are often used in a transitional or modulatory manner, within a larger structure that shifts its mode to major—such as in the 18th-century horn concerto I’m listening to now. It also bears mention that a minor key (which wasn’t conceived of per se as “minor” until a relatively late time in music history) in the Middle Ages or Renaissance is a different animal than the minor of, say, the German High Baroque, the early 20th century for a Scandinavian composer, or the current era.¹
The “minor prophets” of the Hebrew Bible are so labeled because of the size of the written work that remains. Not all of them are minor in terms of significance—even speaking relatively. Yes, Isaiah is a major prophet in anyone’s literary analysis, but Micah also left an important message, and so did many of the others, as far as I can tell.
I often like music in minor keys, but I don’t like to read prophecy, regardless of whether the prophet is considered minor or major. Sometimes I forget (or try to forget) this aversion, and then I read prophecy again. Invariably, I regret it. It makes me upset—not because I identify with the people of Judah or Israel and feel harshly criticized to the point of self-defensiveness. No, I get upset because I simply don’t get prophecy. The tenor often seems to be one of stern criticism or mournful repentance or hopeless doom—and I do understand those, in general terms—but so many of the multiplied words are lost on me that I become wistful at best . . . and irritated or disenfranchised or hopeless at worst. Maybe an early 20th-century blues song (in a major key, mind you) or a hippie folk song would be good about now.
“Why not read a commentary?” you ask . . . “You know, something that could help you understand, you ignorant wretch who must repent, or something worse will befall you?” Although I have some at my disposal, I have come to believe that there more authors who misunderstand the import of Old Testament prophecy than is the case with any other type of literature. A lot of the problem, at least in the western world, has to do with the silly enterprise of trying to apply Israelite prophecies of, say, the 7th century BC to modern-day Syria and Iraq or the USA. Many gullible people have bought into that kind of garbage, and more off-base books on prophecy have sold than better-conceived ones. I suppose I feel I know just enough about prophecy to know when a preacher or author is full of baloney (deserving true prophetic condemnation in some cases!), but that’s roughly where my knowledge and insight leave off.
And it’s frustrating, because I want to understand Israel’s history during the centuries that led up to the birth of the Messiah. John Bright’s book The Kingdom of God has lately drawn me to the prophecy of Amos. Aside: I’m confident in saying that Bright, who died a couple of decades ago, was not one of those careless, pop-theology authors who merely wanted to sell books . . . no, I infer that he really “gets” Amos. The prophet Amos, as Bright painted him, was a man of the old ways. A man who deeply “got” God’s original covenant with the people. A man who was deeply distressed with the state of Israel under the kings and who called the people back to God as King. With that vision in mind and heart, I started reading Amos this morning. And I hated almost every minute of it. The message is redundant at best. I can’t hear much of the message I suspect the people of Israel would have heard.
So I think I’ll listen to some minor-key music from the Renaissance. Or maybe a folk tune in the Mixolydian or Dorian mode. Those are nice, and I can understand more of them.
P.S. I wrote this post after having read the first four chapters of Amos. I almost quit in a minor fit of frustration. Much of the material in the last five chapters was much more understandable for me. Finishing Amos today was not a major accomplishment, but one I wanted nonetheless to document!
¹ All of this pertains to “Western music,” i.e., it does not speak to music of the Arabian desert, Tibet, India, etc.