Title: Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music
Author: Wilfrid Mellers
It is difficult to read a man groping in the dark, as Wilfrid Mellers does in Celestial Music. He rests far too heavily on music for his comfort and support:
Music is often said to be the closest of the arts to religion since what we call its ‘language’ cannot be intellectually articulate; indeed, its very lack of articulacy may put us in touch with the numinous, and therefore presumably with the divine, or at least with the forces we call ‘spiritual’. Although I am not myself a ‘believer’, I seem to be partial to religious music, I suspect because it asks, though it cannot answer, those eternally Unanswered Questions.
Prologue: What is religious music? p.xi
Of course he is drawn, coincidentally, towards the music of composers such as Bach. But he misreads them completely:
To compose for the good of the work was to com-pose - to put things together - ‘for the Glory of God and the Instruction of my Neighbour’. Bach believed that his work, well done, perfectum ex perfecto, could make people ‘better’.
And it does. (p.77)
The danger in such an attitude is the danger of one-up-man-ship. If a humanist like Mellers finds such strong spirituality in Bach, then we as Christians must surely find more.
J. S. Bach was a man. He worked hard at what he did. He sought to glorify God. If we like his music that is lovely for us. But it is not the meaning of life. It is music that is better than most. But it is nothing like salvation. It is no substitute for faith.