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The Music of Chopin and the Rule of St Benedict

A Mystical Panorama of Life

Bernard Sawicki

The book defines and describes the relationships between Chopin’s music and one of the oldest but still used monastic rules, the Rule of Saint Benedict. Its goal is to construct bridges between music and spirituality. Since these two realms both refer to human life, the chapters of the book deal with current and existential issues such as beginnings, authority, weakness, interactions, emotions and others. The Rule of Saint Benedict and Chopin’s music appear to belong to the same stylistic category of human culture, characterized by nobleness, moderation and high sensibility. In this way two seemingly incompatible realities reveal their affinity to each other, and the one may explain the other. The book is situated at the boundary of musicology and theology. Its discourse is illustrated by many examples, carefully chosen from Chopin’s music.
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The inspiration for this work came from many sources. It is still a somewhat sketchy draft of an idea which is impossible to express fully and clearly. Perhaps this is what happens to every very personal reflection which has been in the making for too long and at too deep a level.

Yet, when trying to share the most personal, and often surprising, discoveries, we can only test them by trying to “objectivise” them in various ways. The circumstances in which this takes place either encourage one to be bolder and continue the search, or destroy one’s illusions without mercy. The idea of juxtaposing the music of Chopin with the Rule of St Benedict formed the basis of the Retreat I gave to two Benedictine communities in Canada: the convent of Sainte-Marie des Deux-Montagnes and the abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. The favourable reaction there encouraged me to develop my thoughts into a “Mystical Chopin” project, a contribution by the Abbey of Tyniec to the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Fryderyk Chopin’s birth. The reflections which came about in this way offer a wide range of reasons for linking Chopin’s music with the Benedictine tradition in general, and with the Abbey of Tyniec in particular. However, there is a difficulty in presenting this material in full since, naturally, Chopin’s music has to be an integral part of it. This means that, where necessary, music quotations need to be skilfully merged with the verbal discourse. Thus, technically,...

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