Have you ever noticed the Oratorio of Revelation? Lovers of music should study the book of the Revelation of Saint John, for its mighty choruses. It is striking just now to notice the double key-note of that closing climactic book of this old Bible. It is this: Satan chained, and Christ crowned. But note for a moment the oratorio sounding its music through these pages.
It opens with a solo in the first chapter. John begins writing with steady pen until he seems to get a glimpse of Jesus. Then his pen drops the story, and he begins singing:
|Unto Him that loveth us,
And loosed us from our sin by His own blood;
And hath made us a kingdom,
Priests unto His God and Father;
To Him the glory and the dominion
Forever and ever.|
In chapter four comes a quartette. The four living creatures round about the throne take up the refrain of John's solo. And, as they sing, their song is caught up by a sextuple quartette, twenty-four white-robed, crowned men before the throne.
In chapter five the Angel Chorus swings in. They are grouped round about the quartette, and the twenty-four elders. John begins to count them. Then his figures give out. His knowledge of mathematics is too limited. There were ten thousand times ten thousand, and unnumbered thousands of thousands. As far as his eye could reach, to left and right, before and behind, was one vast sea of angel faces.
And John listened enraptured and awed, as their wondrous volume of rhythm rang and thundered out. Sweet sopranos and mellow contraltos; ringing tenors and deep basses; first one, then the other, back and forth responding to each other, then all together; marvellous music it must have been.
Then the refrain of their song is caught up by the Creation Chorus. Every living creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, as though unable to resist the contagious sweep, catch up the music and add their own to it. We don't commonly associate music with the animal creation, nor with nature. It has been said that all the sounds of nature are keyed in the minor, as though some suffering had affected them. We talk of the sighing of the wind, the moaning of the sea-waves, and the mourning of the doves. Though the singing-birds must be excepted. They seem to have caught and kept some of the upper strains.
But evidently something has occurred to strike a new key-note. For now they take up the refrain of the joyous song of the others, and increase the mighty song by their own.
In chapter seven the music has ceased or softened down and is taken up afresh by the Martyr Chorus. Again John's figures give out. He declares that nobody could count the multitudes that make up this chorus. It is a polyglot chorus. They sing in many different languages, but all blend into full rhythm. It's a scarred chorus, too. These have been through great tribulation. Their scars tell the mute story of the fierceness of the fight, and the steadiness of their faith.
Through their singing runs a distinct strain of the minor. Its strangely sweet cadence, learned in many an hour of pain, runs as an under-chording through the song of triumph that now fills their hearts and mouths. And as they sing, the angel chorus and the quartette drop to their knees, and swell the wondrous refrain.
In chapter fourteen comes the music of the Chorus of Pure Ones. They are gathered close about the person of Jesus. They sing to the accompaniment of a great company of harpers. They sing with a peculiar clearness in their tones. Theirs is a new song. Purity always makes a music of its own, unapproachable for sweetness and clearness.
The Victors' Chorus rings out its song in chapter fifteen. These have been in the thickest of the fighting. The smoke of the battle has tanned their faces. They have struggled with the enemy at close range, hip and thigh, nip and tuck, close parry and hard thrust. And they have come off victors. The ring of triumph resounds in their voices, as to the sound of their own harps, harps of God, they add their tribute of song to all the others.
And at the last comes the great Hallelujah Chorus, in chapter nineteen. In response to the precentor's call, they all join their voices in one vast melody. The Quartette, the Sextuples, the Angels, the Creation, the Martyrs, the Pure-Ones, the Victors -- all sing their song together.
John tries to tell what it was like. His mind went quickly back to earlier days in his home city, Jerusalem, when thousands of pilgrims crowded the temple areas and narrow streets, and spread out over the hills. The unceasing sound of their voices in speech and in their pilgrim songs of praise comes back to him. He says it was like that.
But that isn't satisfactory. It is so much more. He thinks of how the ocean-waves keep pounding, with cannon-roar, on the rocky beach of his Patmos prison isle. So he said it was like that. But still more is needed to give an idea of the vast volume of sound. And he remembers how sometimes the thunders crashed and boomed and roared above him as he lay in his solitude on that lonely bit of sea-girt land. It was like that. It was like all of these together.
And what is it they are singing? Well, there's a variety in the wording of their song, as well as in their voices. But through all runs a refrain that brings back to me the great London chorus. It is this --
|And crown Him!
Yes, Crown Him
Lord of all.|
It is the rehearsal of the great Oratorio of Victory that we are all to join in singing.