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<<  -- 2 --  Gordon Rumson    CELESTIAL MUSIC

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What then is religious music?

Wilfrid Mellers is vastly well equipped to investigate this question as he does in Celestial Music? He is a secular humanist (his discussion of Bach's religiosity from a non-fundamentalist position, earned him an acidic reply from a narrow minded religious critic in one review), but Mellers is also a deeply spiritual thinker where spirituality and dogma are not the same thing. This is very hard for the religious mind to accept. For them spirituality is religion, which is tradition, text, belief, faith, and dogma. Sometimes it is a complex system of beliefs, vast in intellectual scope (St Thomas Aquinas, for example) and other times it is very simple ('One must be washed in the Blood of the Lamb').

Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music. Wilfrid Mellers © 2002 Boydell and Brewer
Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music. Wilfrid Mellers © 2002 Boydell and Brewer

Mellers does not fall into this limited, abstraction-challenged position. He is prepared to say that spirituality manifests itself in many ways, with different words and ideas at different times and in different places. That is, spirituality is not religion, though it can be found in religion, theology, dogma etc.

For this reason Mellers is able to enter into the musical expression of these 'higher matters' with an open mind. He can sympathize with the medieval mind, though his mind is not medieval. Mellers can sympathize with the Romantics sharing some of their doubt, though not their extravagance of expression. He can critique the modern though he is a modern. Mellers' traversal of these compositions is actually a tribute to an open mind which listens, ponders and considers deeply. (The only great religious composer I think Mellers ignores unjustly is Franz Liszt. I believe this is due to a true apathy to this composer's output and character. But no one can sympathize with everything!)

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Copyright © 27 April 2003 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada

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