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  • Exploring Christian Song ed. by M. Jennifer Bloxam and Andrew Shenton
  • Daniel Jay Grimminger
Exploring Christian Song. Edited by M. Jennifer Bloxam and Andrew Shenton. New York: Lexington Books, 2017. [xix, 238 p. ISBN 9781498549905 (hardcover), $100; ISBN 9781498549912 (e-book), $95.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

In the 1990s, a group of scholars who believed that the study of music and theology was being excluded from meetings of the American Musicological Society gathered to create a forum to support dialogue on the topic. They were scholars with a personal commitment to Christian faith, something that is disregarded in the scholarly world, yet this detail is a significant part of these scholars' work and identity. In March 2002, a steering committee met in Philadelphia to plan a conference for the next year. The Forum on Music and Christian Scholarship was born. The name would later change to Society for Christian Scholarship in Music. A number of prestigious scholars have been among its ranks ever since. Exploring Christian Song is a Festschrift in honor of this organization. It brings together keynote addresses from the organization's first fifteen years of meetings. But the real value of this collection of essays lies in the fresh, alternative approaches employed by the ten authors.

To look yet again at the controversial subject of the role theology played in Johann Sebastian Bach's compositional conventions might seem to be reinventing the wheel. The work of Alfred Dürr and Georg von Dadelsen are well known to the musicological community as is the theological work of Jaroslav Pelikan. But Stephen A. Crist embraces a via media resulting from his analysis of cantata arias. Crist sees Bach's compositional conventions more as a result of his "encyclopedic approach to the conventions of aria form" than of the "theological content of the texts" (p. 91). Markus Rathey views oratorios of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann as part of a larger paradigm shift that pulled on "images of devastating events" (e.g., earthquakes), which "were invoked to teach proper moral values and patriotic behavior" (p. 123).

Scholarly literature on medieval and Renaissance music is voluminous. Source critical, notational, and repertory studies abound. M. Jennifer Bloxam puts this early music in the context of lived experience. By focusing on Jacob [End Page 137] Obrecht, she sees early sacred music as a direct result of the daily encounter with the cantus of Mass, daily office, and processions. Obrecht and other cleric-composers "would not have needed to open a book to recall their texts or tunes" (p. 35). As a result, cleric-composers were exegetes and "musical celebrant[s]" (p. 45). Similarly, the familiarity of sixteenth-century people with the Divine Office had an influence on motet printing, namely that of Ottaviano Petrucci, whose "early motet prints encouraged sixteenth-century readers to approach the prints with a devotional inflection that mirrored the reading of contemporaneous horae … these books (horae and motet prints) 'rubbed shoulders' with each other … readers approached and engaged with Petrucci's prints with an attitude of reverence granted to the 'Middle Ages Best Seller'" (p. 53). Melody March-man Schade studies this relationship from the standpoint of spirituality, grasping the devotional function of the motet that has been overlooked by more traditional musicological analysis.

Study of Calvinism's radical stance on music in the liturgy and its psalm tradition usually centers on the sixteenth century. Timothy H. Steele uses Zoltán Kodály's Geneva Psalm 50 as a window into twentieth-century Calvinism. Part of this choral work's context is the church-state crisis of 1940 in Hungary. Conversely, it is a gloss on this Hungarian crisis through the lens of reformed theology. "Kodály's Geneva Psalm 50 was an appeal not only to Calvinists but also to the nation as a whole … [in the psalm] God brings a charge against his own, the church, but the warning is universal" (p. 144). Andrew Shenton writes about Arvo Pärt's Magnificat, combining a semiotic approach à la Umberto Eco with key Eastern Orthodox theologies, which are operative in Pärt's personal faith (i.e., kenosis, catharsis, hesychasm, theosis, theoria, and...


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