Inglis GUNDRY Composers by the Grace of God

Thames Publishing ISBN 0 903413 38 8 price £12.50


Although the sub-title of this book, "a study of religion and music", perhaps gives the impression of an objective assessment of the subject, it seems clear that the author himself by no means takes a wholly impartial stance. He comes down firmly on the side of the relevance a religious belief has on the inspiration and motivation a composer 'ought' to feel.

Its 270 or so pages certainly set out to be comprehensive: the thirty-two chapters range from Music in the Old Testament, by way of the Coming of Christianity, the Devil, Notre Dame, Monteverde, Purcell, Vivaldi, Bach, and a whole host of greater and lesser composers down to Shostakovich and Schoenberg. Thus it forms a kind of 'abridged Baedeker' of composers' and their supposed or non-supposed. acknowledgement of the influence of religion on their creative gifts. In many ways it is an interesting account, obviously undertaken after considerable research and wide reading from earlier historical sources. Some chapters are revealing, but others are less so, since the author appears to have his preferences for this or that composer. somewhat to the detriment of an objective assessment of those he does not particularly warm to.

0f course, we all have our favourites, but the compiler of a guide cook of this nature needs to be more objective. There is thus, a rather uneven quality in the writing, and the suspicion grows on the reader that he is being preached at instead of being allowed to make up his own mind, Far too easily he assumes that a particular composer 'must' have felt this way or that way about religious inspiration.

Some chapters are especially woolly in their exposition: 'Romanticism' and 'Nationalism' for instance. He also tends to expound at length various opera plots (since his own first love is opera?) but, by comparison, has less to say about the probable motivation or tantalising inspiration behind abstract instrumental music: the sonata, string quartet, symphony or concerto other than the obvious historical facts such as are well documented, for example, about Shostakovich.

The literary style is faintly naive at times and there is often a tendency, grasshopper-like. to go off in another direction for no apparent reason when the reader could have wished for a more closely-reasoned explanation for the original topic under discussion.

Despite some interesting historical information, collected from a wide variety of sources, and being well marshalled; over all this book does not make for compelling reading; its inclination to a partisan view ot the significance of religion, and the occasional fervour of emotion this generates makes for more than a little tedium.


Arthur Butterworth

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Arthur Butterworth

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