Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History 

Title: Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers

Author: Patrick Kavanaugh

Published: Zondervan, 1996

This volume bothers me. It appears to be the most ecumenical and non-divisive book on music ever written. That makes it far more dangerous than books that take a more blatantly controversial stand.

It is not as "neutral" as it appears to be. There is something subversive in the assumption that composers are de facto "spiritual". It is an idea just plucked from no where, or rather from the tenuous evidence provided from the lives of the "great" composers. When we look at them in further detail, they are all cut from different cloth. Some were bold believers who worked for the Church. Some were secret believers who never told anyone about their "private" beliefs. Some like Haydn believed a composer can earn musical ideas by being right before God. Dvorak believed God told him what to write. Handel too is regarded as divinely inspired. Others like Schubert are seen as re-crucifying Christ through their music. The conclusions we could draw from these points in our own lives and our own compositions are pretty devastating. As long as we have our own sincere kind of spirituality, God will "pay up" and make our music great.

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