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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Religious Music

Tuning the Soul: Music As a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlavby Chani Haran Smith  (IJS Studies in Judaica: Brill Academic) is an in-depth study of the function of music in religious experience according to Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. It provides new insights on his unique doctrine of the “Good Points”, which represent the core of loving kindness and holiness in the human soul, and the musical context in which they become both a means and a metaphor for spiritual transformation. Drawing on midrashic and kabbalistic sources, the book explores Nahman’s perception of different types of “tzadiqim” (religious leaders), including himself, and the special role music plays in their leadership. It highlights the importance of creativity and renewal in the messianic process that involves both music and loving kindness. All those interested in key aspects of Nahman of Bratzlav’s world view and self-perception, the place and transforming power of music in human life, spirituality and religious leadership. More

Celestial Music?: Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music by Wilfrid Mellers (Boydell Press) Wilfrid Mellers, who occupies a special place among music critics, describes himself as a non-believer; but his preference for music that `displays a sense of the numinous' (in his words) will strike a chord with many who listen to religious music nowadays, and who share his view that music that confronts first and last things is likely to offer more than music that evades them.

The essays in this book (five of which originally appeared in Choir and Organ) form five groups, which together offer a survey of religious music from around the first millennium to the beginning of the second, in the context of the difficult issues of what religious music is, and, for good measure, what is religion?

The parts are: The Ages of Christian Faith; The Re‑birth of a Rebirth: From Renaissance to High Baroque; From Enlightenment to Doubt; From `the Death of God' to `the Unanswered Question'; and The Ancient Law and the Modern Mind. Musical discussion, with copious examples, is conducted through­out the book in a context that is also religious‑ and indeed philosophical, social, and political, with the open‑endedness that such an approach demands in the pre­sentation of ideas about music's most fundamental nature and purposes.

The composers whose work is the subject of these eighteen essays are:

Hildegard of Bingen, Perotin, Ntachaut, Dunstable, Dufay, William Cornyshes father and son, Tallis, Byrd, Monteverdi, Schutz, J.S. Bach, Couperin, Hande,l Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Berlioz, Faure, Verdi, Brahms, Elgar, Delius, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Britten, Janacek, Messiaen, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Part, Tavener, Gorecki, Macmillan, Finnissy, Copland

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