The malleable meanings of music

Butt, J. (2019) The malleable meanings of music. In: Hawkey, J., Quash, B. and White, V. (eds.) God’s Song and Music’s Meanings: Theology, Liturgy, and Musicology in Dialogue. Routledge: London, pp. 127-139. ISBN 9781472478641

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This chapter explores the ways in which music can generate its own religious culture, inspiring a devotion and discipline that can provoke tensions between ‘two religions’: of musicians and of the clergy. The author traces the history of Christianity’s relationship to musical culture, including 17th century clashes over musical style and diversity. As music expressed and emotionally actualized Scripture in new ways, there were arguments about whether, for example, music should be the ‘mistress’ of the biblical text or vice versa. In parsing music’s proper relationship to more propositional aspects of faith, the author invites a reading of music as rhetoric, something not reducible to a ‘stable semantic equivalence’ with a text. From the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 to the Lutheran environment of J.S. Bach, the author explores the performative, sensual, and subjective dimensions of church music, suggesting that its meaning is discerned not only by the relevant text but also by the contexts of listeners: their circumstances, expectations, and emotive reception. Butt suggests that a critical tension between a musical tradition and a religious one could even be productive, resisting closed, simplistic systems, forming a dialectic that benefits both music culture and religious practice.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Butt, Professor John
Authors: Butt, J.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
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