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“If With All Your Hearts” from the oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn
For a moment, I want to say, “Thank You.” You, our audience member, our listener, our reader, are why we do this. Thank you for being on the other side of that screen and for giving thought to the chance that music matters.
We really like you.
This aria comes at a point in the Old Testament narrative where the people were in utter despondency because of the drought that God had brought on the land. Mendelssohn chose to smoosh together with a dash of creative license, two other biblical texts for this aria’s lyric; Joel 2:12 and Job 23:3.
The two were written centuries apart. Joel and Job weren’t buddies. Also, neither context has anything explicitly connected with Elijah’s story. However, in juxtaposing these two texts Mendelssohn captures something totally human, the internal conflict between our awareness of God’s nature, and our state of being.
This aria swings back and forth between the voice of God and the thoughts of man. God says through the prophet, (actually quoting Joel, my paraphrase) “If you’re all in, I’ll meet you there. I don’t want you half-way.” The other flavor present is the prophet quoting Job (again my whine-implied paraphrase); “I wish I could just come talk to you because I really think if you just knew my side of the story you’d understand.”
When we were dating, we help lead a youth group in producing a staged dramatic reading of the entire book of Job.
The story goes like this: God allowed Satan to do lots of horrible things to Job to test Job. Job’s friends, and even his wife, and Job himself are trying to explain away why all of this is happening and God shows up in the end and says, “I’m God, you’re not going to figure me out,” and goes on to learn ‘em good.
Despite the reality that God’s ways are past finding out, the pursuit of Him with our entire hearts is a good way to live life. Or at least to try.
‘If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me,
Ye shall ever surely find Me.’
Thus saith our God,
Oh! That I knew where I might find Him,
That I might even come before His presence!
Rabbit Trail Trivia: Mendelssohn wrote the soprano role of this oratorio especially for the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, who some know of primarily from her part of the story line of The Greatest Showman. (Enjoy the movie, but please don’t tell yourself that that is actually what she sounded like. Thank you.)
Coincidentally, the local public school where our kids attend is named after this famed singer. I find this ironic, considering that the student population now is approximately .000000001% Swedish. Don’t quote me on that. You get the point. Being in the minority is a new experience for us, unless you include homeschooling. But even then, when assessing the ethnic representation in our kids’ respective classes, they were definitely in the majority.
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