“Is God?” – The Problem of Evil

Greetings, friends, enemies, and ambivalent subscribers!

Please enjoy the latest upload from the recent “Beer and Difficult Music” concert, my musical take on David Hume’s “The Problem of Evil.”

Words about the music:

The Problem of Evil was composed in fall 2010. The text for the work is taken from Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, in which he paraphrases Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus’ original statement of the oldest and strongest argument against the existence of a theistic God.

Hume writes:

“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able?
Then He is impotent.

Is He able but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.

Is He both able and willing?
Whence then is evil?

Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him ‘God’?”

The form of the music is supportive of the form of the text, divided into four parallel sections. The first three sections begin with a piano ostinato of six notes, pre-figuring the vocal melody, while the fourth begins with a condensed chordal presentation of the same material. Each ostinato (and thus each vocal phrase) begins with a rising perfect fifth, which I hear as a yearning motive befitting the profound questioning of the text. The vocal melody in section one is reminiscent of early church modes, but, just as Epicurus slowly spins his syllogism, so does the music unravel and dissolve into less stable places. The piece ends with a deconstruction of the ostinato material, ending quietly with the familiar rising fifth motive ringing and important questions unanswered.

Over 9,000 thanks to Perry Davis Harper (tenor), Alex Volobuev (violin), Johnny Moc (cello), Rose McDowell (flute), Brad Baker (piano), Eric Scott (sound), Joe Parmer (event hosting, filming), and Colin Brogan (filming, editing). What a team!

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