Friday, June 19, 2009

Albert Schweitzer Portrait in Chicago

In 1949, Dr. Albert Schweitzer traveled to Chicago to receive an Honorary Doctorate degree from the University of Chicago. On that day, Rockefeller Chapel was filled to its capacity of 2400. Another 2600 spilled out of the chapel onto the lawn to hear Dr. Schweitzer's words.

An interpreter who has revived for his own generation the vision of greatness: as scholar, interpreting the works of Jesus; as musician, interpreting the works of Bach; as humanist, interpreting the writings of Goethe; as historian, presenting in philosophic terms the meaning of history; and as Christian medical missionary, rendering distinguished service to Equatorial Africa.
--Original language conferring the honorary degree from the University of Chicago to Albert Schweitzer, July 11, 1949.

As part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Schweitzer's visit to America, on June 6, 2009, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship presented "The Albert Schweitzer Legacy: A Gala Concert and Forum." The concert included works of Bach, Sandstrom and the World Premiere of Albert Schweitzer Portrait in its organ version, performed by Thomas Weisflog on Rockefeller Chapel's newly renovated Skinner organ. The text was read by Elizabeth Davenport, Dean of the Chapel.

The two versions, one for full orchestra, and the other for organ, are very different yet equally compelling. The hope is that each version will find its own venues for performance.

For all of the colors achievable by such a remarkable instrument, the organ version cannot capture the timbres of a full orchestra. Thus after the organ premiere, Jonathan McPhee, Thomas Weisflog and I met with Gary Fry, who had so brilliantly orchestrated both versions. Gary has now created a 3rd version, which adds a string quartet to augment the sounds of the organ and lighten the challenging score for the organist.

Revisiting Albert Schweitzer Portrait

Dr. David Satcher narrates at
the World Premiere on May 9, 2009

"When I hear a baby's cry of pain change into a normal cry of hunger, to my ears that is the most beautiful music."

This is what Albert Schweitzer said:

"Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter-- to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way."

He was born in a small town in Germany that after the war became part of France, and was awarded degrees in theology, philosophy, and music. An urgent appeal for physicians in French Equatorial Africa inspired him to study medicine and surgery at the University of Strasbourg. Schweitzer later wrote:

"I wanted to become a doctor in order to be able to work without words...My new occupation would be not to talk about the gospel of love, put to put it into practice."

In Africa, while traveling up the Ogooué River from his Lambaréné hospital, his thoughts crystallized into a new philosophy. He wrote:

"There flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase 'Reverence for Life'...The iron door had yielded. The path in the thicket had become visible...I knew that a system of values which concerns itself only with our relationship to other people is incomplete and therefore lacking in power for good. Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us..."

For contradicting the common wisdom of his time, Schweitzer was branded a radical.
But the spirit to serve was the bedrock that sustained him. This is what he said.
Albert Schweitzer said,

"One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life."

He urged young people to "grow into your ideals so that life can never rob you of them."

Albert Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 and in his acceptance speech this is what he said:

"We now know how terrible an evil war is in our time, and we must spare no effort to prevent its recurrence. Only through the spirit can this be done. A humanitarian spirit abides within all men like tinder ready to be lit, waiting only for a spark. May the nations, in their efforts to maintain peace, do their utmost to give the spirit time to grow and to act."

This is what Albert Schweitzer said, this is what he said:

"A human being is never a total and permanent stranger to another human being. We belong to one another. We can no longer live for ourselves alone. We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all life."