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
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?
Copyright © 27 April 2003
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada