A Few Footnotes

We’ve had some fascinating questions regarding faith and some fascinating remarks about religion and somehow tied it all together with sacred music (no double entendre intended) in response to my last post. I said there would be no discussion of faith per se–about religious specifics–and I will stick to that, although I think the effect of the Reformation on music is worth a mention, briefly. Lutherans tend to feel that it is all about the Reformation while others who were part of the “re-forming” didn’t allow any music at all.

There are a few other follow-up notes I’d like to offer. Yes, Veljo Tormis is very much a hero in Estonia, and a figure I saw at nearly every concert I attended. He is a much beloved man, and I fell under his spell as much as anyone. Veljo is also a humble man, but he would be very proud to know that other people are talking about him as being such an important composer.

I lived only a few blocks from him in Estonia. He lived in what had been touted by the Soviets as the ‘composer’s building’. I ended up living in the apartment complex across the street from the former Communist Headquarters’ now the equivalent of the Estonian State Department. (It was only when I returned to the U.S. that I found out that the building in which we lived had primarily housed visiting KGB representatives.)

There is a major song festival–which is held every year but only every third year in Estonia (alternating with Latvia and Lithuania)–that I missed by a few weeks. Under Soviet rule there were certain types of music that were forbidden. After the coup d’√©tat during the song festival in Estonia, tens of thousands of people began singing the forbidden national anthem of Estonia. The Soviet guards didn’t know quite what to do. Unfortunately–or fortunately, depending on your taste in music–the song festivals are moving towards popular Western music (I mean the Western world, not the wild west), and many people are moving away from their traditional music which has held so much meaning and was passed down generation to generation. This move towards a version of rock or pop music is typical around the world, but the festival’s loss of character is something that has to be especially mentioned.

In the commenter discussion about the intellectualizing of sacred music here, some of the examples to which William and artmusicsouth referred are some of the best of sacred music. I am drawn to the idea of being among a group of composers whose sheer musical joy would translate and transmit as energy. I would love to experience that sheer joy.

There are certain places I go, and certain houses of worship I go to for concerts in order to experience this unmitigated joy through music. Before you mentioned it, I did not necessarily think of Nadia Boulanger, as important a figure as she was for 20th-century music, as being bound to sacred music. I knew she loved the organ, and many of her students wrote for the “king of instruments,” but that was very French and in vogue at the time. She also loved counterpoint lessons, to the point that, later in life, I am told, she had some of her previous students’ exercises played to her as if re-living the moment.

The joy of counterpoint, the joy of music, sacred or secular, it moves us through deep reflection.

Thanks for all your comments. I look forward to continuing this discussion.

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