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GORDON RUMSON explores sacred and secular
in the writing of Wilfrid Mellers


It may be that a secular humanist is -- or is not -- the best author for a survey of religious music through the last thousand years of the Western Musical tradition. On one hand, the distance from the tenets and experience of faith may preclude a penetration into the arcanum. On the other, a separation from those very tenets and inner assumptions may allow for a deeper grasp of the essential.

Besides, the history of Western art music is not a single line of development, pure to its own singular faith, but more of a series of expressions germane to a period and place that have some degree of conjunction with the others due in part to physical proximity and some conjoined cultural assumptions. It would be laughable to say that Gregorian chant and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis are the same music, though it would also be folly to suggest that the earlier had no effect upon the later.

Nor could the religious tenets of medieval religiosity be compared and found in one-to-one correspondence with the religion of say the Romantic era. Certain ideas remain, some are changed, some have dried out, some have resurfaced, some ideas are in denial. For example, the cult of Mary, which might be seen to elevate the Feminine above the Son of God and almost to an equality with God is more likely to be found in the earlier period and not the post-Council of Trent period. The mind of man, in its search for the Divine is always flexible, and perhaps confused. Each time has its own character.

Might it be that it is the mind of man which is the shape shifting one? Might it be that our mind whirls and the Divine stays the same? It is just that we don't notice?

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Copyright © 27 April 2003 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada


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