celestial music? some masterpieces of european religious musicby wilfrid mellers

Download Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Musicby Wilfrid Mellers

Post on 21-Jan-2017




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music by Wilfrid MellersReview by: Christopher HatchNotes, Second Series, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Jun., 2003), pp. 907-909Published by: Music Library AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27669802 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 01:42

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.


    Music Library Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Notes.


    This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 01:42:50 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


  • Book Reviews 907

    tions are on the same page as the text re

    lated to them, but sometimes they are

    many pages removed. Smith's discussion of

    rosettes (pp. 87-89) would have been con

    siderably enhanced by references to figure 10 (p. 24) or to the color plates following

    page 94. Occasionally the musical examples are not specifically mentioned anywhere in

    the text itself (e.g., p. 148 ex. 18). The list

    of music examples (p. 365) is of little use, for it gives no more information on origi nal sources than citations for the examples themselves. One citation (p. 255 n. 32) even refers the reader to an engraving re

    produced in ajournai article, ignoring the

    fact that the same engraving has been re

    produced at the bottom of the page itself!

    Clearly, Smith was writing his text without

    any awareness of which illustrations and

    musical examples would be included. This

    is perhaps understandable, but surely one

    might reasonably expect better final copy

    editing and coordination between text and

    illustrative material than that found here.

    Another more detrimental editorial deci

    sion is the omission of parallel tablature

    with the musical examples. There are a few

    well chosen facsimiles, but it is quite disap

    pointing to find so little tablature in a book

    about the lute. (Surely this is not an indica

    tion that we are retreating to an era of

    scholarship when tablature was regarded as

    a nuisance!) Far too much information is

    shown in the original that cannot be con

    veyed in staff notation. For example, Smith's

    references to "rapid string changes" in the

    music of Joan Ambrosio Dalza (p. 114) could be much more clearly shown?even to someone without ability to read tablature

    ?with the tablature itself. Another exam

    ple (p. 177 ex. 26) purports to show, in

    part, the use of the upper positions of the

    instrument, but this is hardly evident from

    the staff notation. While parallel transcrip tions would have added bulk to this already substantial volume, they were a most useful

    feature of Matthew Spring's recent The Lute

    in Britain: A History of the Instrument and Its

    Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

    2001). This reader would have preferred that pitch names be given without the com

    mon, but distracting, elision of hexachord

    syllables ("G sol re ut" rather than

    "Gsolreut," as on page 153). None of this should detract from the very

    real value of the work and the fine prose

    Smith brings to it, for this book is a must

    for any library collection dealing with early music or serving the needs of lutenists or

    classical guitarists. While it is not the last

    word in lute research, it will serve as a wor

    thy foundation for future study. As the au

    thor aptly states, "Like musicians of the

    Renaissance, today's lutenists look to music

    of the distant past for inspiration. There is a vast repertory of lute music to inspire, and despite all the modern studies and edi

    tions, still more to discover" (p. 307).

    Gary R. Boye

    Appalachian State University

    Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of

    European Religious Music. By Wilfrid

    Meilers. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.:

    Boydell Press, 2002. [xv, 320 p. ISBN 0

    851-15844-7. $50.] Music examples, index.

    In 1936 Wilfrid Meilers started publish

    ing his thoughts on musical matters, and

    today a partial list of his writings contains

    well over 150 items. In fact, his latest book, on religious music, profits from being "a

    retrospect of material produced over . . .

    sixty or more years" (p. ix). Reshaping what

    he has drawn from this ample stockpile, Meilers has based Celestial Music? on some

    powerful arguments that spring from a

    deep familiarity with the masterpieces of

    Western music combined with an amazing breadth of learning.

    He wisely begins by asking "What Is

    Religious Music?" and in this prologue ex

    plains that it is quite separable from liturgi cal or sacred music. In one of his earliest

    books a certain piece of vocal church music

    by Fran?ois Couperin is said to produce "a

    'celestial' radiance" (Fran?ois Couperin and

    the French Classical Tradition [London: Denis

    Dobson, 1950], 157). But such spirituality can shine forth even from purely instru

    mental concert music, and for Meilers the

    late quartets and piano sonatas of Beetho ven exemplify this (p. xii). Though cap tured in sound, the transcendent immateri

    ality of these works connects, albeit

    circuitously, with concepts such as music of

    the spheres (pp. 308-9). In short, the nu

    minous moments speak of things beyond the simply musical or earthly realms.

    This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 01:42:50 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


  • 908 Notes, June 2003

    The bulk of the book follows a chrono

    logical course through a thousand years of European music?from Hildegard of

    Bingen to Arvo Part, and concludes with

    Aaron Copland. The series of twenty-eight

    chapters is broken into five groups that sug

    gest the religious temper of the changing times. At the outset, when organum was a

    cutting-edge genre, religion firmly bound

    the community together, though increased

    self-consciousness made itself felt as early as

    Guillaume Du Fay's Ave regina caelorum III

    where an insertion made by the composer names him as a suppliant for God's mercy. Then the second set of chapters shows how, with operatic narrative techniques at hand, an age of more humanistic self-assurance was reached. The best exemplar here is

    George Frideric Handel's Messiah, in which

    "it is difficult to perceive any distinction be

    tween Glory to Man, and Glory to God, in

    the Highest" (p. 93). In the third group we

    see that sonata form principles in music

    and varied religious beliefs, or lack of

    them, moved composers to write highly in

    dividualized treatments of sacred texts. The

    period features orthodox Christians such as

    Joseph Haydn and Anton Bruckner as well as agnostics such as Gabriel Faur? and

    Johannes Brahms. The last two groups deal

    with music of the twentieth century and

    represent conflicting tendencies in the

    sphere of religious convictions during those years. While the fourth section fo

    cuses on British composers from Edward

    Elgar to Benjamin Britten, the fifth brings forward both English and continental

    works in which a return to ritual and other

    forms of impersonalization may be dis

    cerned (e.g., in Olivier Messiaen, Igor

    Stravinsky, Arvo Part, and John Tavener). Within this grand historical scheme a re

    curring plan offers a welcome fixity. That is

    to say, each and every chapter examines in

    detail a single work or, at most, a handful

    of them. Not surprisingly, Meilers discusses a number of Masses, including (1) settings of the Mass Ordinary by Guillaume de

    Machaut, Franz Schubert, and, of course,

    Johann Sebastian Bach (Mass in B Minor) and Ludwig van Beethoven (Missa solemnis) and (2) settings of the Requiem Mass by

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, and Giuseppe Verdi. Other liturgical or

    biblical texts come into play for such pieces as Thomas Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah,

    Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers (Vespro dette

    Beata Vergine), Heinrich Sch?tz's St.

    Matthew Passion, Sergey Rachmaninoff's

    Vespers op. 37, William Byrd's Lullaby, My Swete Eitel Baby, Handel's Saul, and Haydn's Creation. If at a few points Meilers goes into

    music that seems extraneous to his topic, he does argue strongly for the relevance of

    Frederick Delius's Mass of Life, Stravinsky's

    Oedipus Rex, and Copland's Twelve Poems of

    Emily Dickinson. Only one entirely instru

    mental piece, Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps, is addressed. All told, the musical

    inclusiveness is extraordinary, despite an undeniable tendency to favor British

    composers. Viewed singly, the chapters have the