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Enlivening Faith

Music, Spirituality and Christian Theology


Edited By June Boyce-Tillman, Stephen Roberts and Jane Erricker

The relationship between Christian theology and music has been complex since the early days

of the Church. In the twentieth century the secularization of Western culture has led to further

complexity. The search for the soul, following Nietzsche’s declaration of the Death of God has

led to an increasing body of literature in many fields on spirituality. This book is an attempt

to open up a conversation between these related discourses, with contributions reflecting a

range of perspectives within them. It is not the final word on the relationship but expresses a

conviction about their relationship. Collecting together such a variety of approaches allows new

understandings to emerge from their juxtaposition and collation. This book will contribute to

the ongoing debate between theology, spirituality, culture and the arts. It includes contexts with

structured relationships between music and the Church alongside situations where spirituality

and music are explored with sometimes distant echoes of Divinity and ancient theologies

reinterpreted for the contemporary world.

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2 Musical composition and mystical spirituality (Brian Inglis)


Brian Inglis

2 Musical composition and mystical spirituality1

Introduction: Music and mysticism

Mystical and visionary states have often been associated with sound and music, from the thoroughly multimedia visions of St Hildegard of Bingen (which reportedly gave rise to her chant compositions) to Margery Kempe’s auditory visions of heavenly melodies and sweet birdsong. I myself had an auditory vision as a young child, of which a kind of white noise was one of the prominent memorable aspects.2 For me this was a unique experience, but as a composer and scholar I am drawn to those who have had visionary experiences consistently, and written them down systematically. Between 1991 and 2015 I completed sixteen works setting mystical poetry, mainly by Hildegard but also including Catherine of Siena and, from different culturo-religious perspectives, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Sufi poet Rumi and the Orthodox writer St Symeon the New Theologian. In addition, several of my←25 | 26→ instrumental pieces explore spiritual concepts through symbolic objects and/or analagous processes. In this chapter I will introduce selected compositions by myself and other composers of different eras (Hildegard, Couperin, Arvo Pärt and Peter Maxwell Davies), linking and contextualising them via theoretical texts dealing more widely with notions of mysticism, spiritual ecstasy, and its musical encoding. Drawing on literature from both Musicology and Religious Studies, I offer some examples of how aspects of mystical spirituality and musical composition and reception might be understood to interact.

Definitions: Mystical spirituality...

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