Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost. Unlike other festivals in the church’s liturgical calendar, Trinity Sunday centers on a doctrine of the church, rather than an event. It celebrates the unfathomable mystery of God’s being as Holy Trinity. It is a day of adoration and praise of the one, eternal, incomprehensible God.
One of the ways we begin to speak of this part of the mystery of God is through metaphor. And, perhaps, one of the best metaphors of the three-in-oneness, is musical.
Music can reflect the Trinity when three voices weave beautiful harmony from their particular sonorities to create a whole. Arvo Part’s Fratres is a superbly complex work in which the composer has created three distinct groups of music. The musicians perform these various segments in a semi-prescribed fashion, creating a unique combination of the parts. In the selected performance, the 12 cellos of the Berlin Philharmonic (with 4 cellos on each part) create a stunningly beautiful presentation of this work.
Another example of how music reflects the Trinity, is when three separate instruments combine to share themes in a single work. The instruments themselves are unique, with their own features and particular characteristics, but they combine to create a unified beauty. The Horn Trio by Johannes Brahms is example of this type of music.
But the best metaphor of the Trinity, some scholars believe, is found in Bach’s 3-part Fugue in Eb, BWV 876. The Prelude and Fugue in Eb are found in Book II of the Well Tempered Clavier, one of Bach’s best-known compositions. The complexity and skill of Bach’s contrapuntal keyboard writing mirrors the mystery and beauty of our theological thinking about the Trinity. The fugue is composed with three voices: each one takes the opening theme, then restates it in shorter or longer phrases, through inversion or diminution, intertwining with each other to create a transcendent unity.
If you are wondering about how to communicate the wonder and mystery of the Trinity this Sunday, consider the beauty of metaphor and music.
YouTube playlist for Sound Theology #59, featuring music for Trinity Sunday.