Final Reflection

The readings from the beginning of the semester are the ones that have really stuck in my memory. I think the Sorce Keller reading is probably the one that will apply most broadly to how I think about music and music history in the future. Thinking of misinterpretation as a certainty can give us a lot of freedom to draw out meanings of our own from music. This was an idea that was very present in my mind when we read the Hildegard articles, which were personal favorites of mine. I also really appreciated readings on music in religions outside of Christainity- I thought the article on Islam was extremely relevant for us, and the article on Suya music gave me welcome exposure to a culture I knew absolutely nothing about.

The readings on Luther and Bach tend to blend together a bit more in my mind, but I think the guest lectures really became helpful additions to the course here. I remember that Professor Bateza’s lecture on Luther’s life and theology was particularly helpful for me- it was the first time I’d heard an explanation of the Doctrine of Justification that I really connected with. While I’m thankful for the deeper insights to Luther and Bach that I’ve gained through the course, I do think that our focus on them meant that we had to sacrifice talking about some other intersections between music and religion that could have been really interesting. Like many other students, I would welcome any more class content about theological traditions relating to music in religions outside of Christianity. I think it also would have been interesting to study some Western sacred music composed after Bach- as the podcast topics revealed, there are so many pieces that can add something new to the conversation about music and religion.

I appreciated that the class was very research-focused. The process is difficult and time-consuming, but it can be a very rewarding, and I like that research gives you an understanding of a topic that is much more detailed than what you can achieve with a single class discussion.

How many more times will I use the phrase “Luther’s hymnody” in this paper?

I’m starting the process of expanding my first paper, which was about Luther’s Christ lag in Todes Banden chorale and its medieval musical roots. I considered a couple different ideas for how to expand the scope or depth of my paper- my first thought was to continue exploring how the Victimae/Christ lag melody was used after Luther’s time; maybe by examining later works that quoted the melody. However, I was worried that pursuing this line of research wouldn’t fit with the core of my original argument, and that the paper would turn into more of a narrative re-telling of where the melody has been through the centuries, when it should instead be an expanded, thesis-driven analysis.

So I’ve chosen to go a different route, and contextualize the Christ lag chorale a bit more fully. Hopefully I will be able to make some larger claims about Luther’s hymnody that use Christ Lag (and maybe another chorale tune or two) as an example/examples. I’m starting off by trying to find information on some questions that remained unanswered in my first version. These questions are:

  • Luther’s chorale text shares some images with the text of the original sequence, but are there significant differences between the two texts that reflect Luther’s new theological ideas?
  • How many of Luther’s chorales had similar roots in Catholic liturgical music? Exploring this question could either strengthen my thesis (by showing that Luther preserved a great deal of earlier tunes) or bring up a counterargument that is worth addressing (that the inclusion of melodies with medieval roots was inconsequential, rare, or not generally representative of Luther’s hymn-writing process).
  • How significant was Christ ist erstanden to the development of Christ Lag in Todes Banden? I essentially dismissed its influence in my first version of the paper, but I’d like to find a source that gives more information about the hymn or about leise in general.
  • What other information can I find about hymn-singing practices in Luther’s congregations? The tidbits I found about the ways Luther’s hymns were sung and incorporated into worship were really interesting to me, and more information might shed some more light on how churches actually experienced new worship music in contrast with previous traditions.

The Dance of the Seven (Thousand) Articles

Given that my last paper topic was quite closely tied to Luther and Reformation theology, I wanted to venture further away for this next project.

Unlike most of the other music we’re studying this semester, Richard Strauss’ Salome is not a sacred work. However, many elements within the opera make it a worthy candidate for examination: the biblically-based story line; the layers of religious prophecy; the provocative conflation of the violent and the erotic with the sacred.

Beyond these broad thematic elements, Salome also stands as the product of a particular era in German (or even generally European) intellectual history. The opera, which depicts several Jewish characters from in and around the court of King Herod, arrived on the stage at a time when anti-Semitism was deeply ingrained in European society and was rising in virulence. This socio-religious context adds another layer of complexity to an analysis of religious elements in Salome.

The opera’s 1905 premiere shocked and scandalized audiences, but along with its infamy the opera quickly gained acclaim. It would be easy to cast the opera as a testament to the potential power of music not towards the pure and the religious, but instead towards the carnal and the blasphemous- and indeed many of its audience members reacted as such. Thus despite the fact that Salome is not a religious work, it inspired many of the same debates that theologians had been having about music for centuries.

Although there is certainly plenty of musicological scholarship about Strauss and Salome, there are also articles in disciplines like dance and gender studies that address some of the same questions that I have. It will be interesting to see which of their interpretations are shared by musicologists, and I will have to be careful to keep my thesis narrow in order to avoid getting lost in the subject’s complexity. I’m not yet sure where my argument will focus or which direction it will point towards, and I will have to think carefully about how to incorporate musical evidence and analysis, but it is clear that although Salome is not a religious work, it has inspired many of the same debates about music that theologians have discussed for centuries.

“Walking Through the Forest” of Research

For my paper, I am exploring the history of Martin Luther’s hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden, which was based on the Victimae Paschali Laudes sequence from the middle ages. Since my topic incorporates two pieces of music and one very well-known theologian, general background information has not been difficult to find. However, this breadth of potential material makes it difficult to sort through sources for specific, relevant details. For example, while a search in the RILM database for English-language journal articles about “Martin Luther” uncovers 96 results, a search with similar constraints for “Christ lag in Todesbanden” only yields three, all of which are about later settings of Luther’s text, rather than Luther’s hymn in its own right. (Unfortunately, I can’t read German- that would make a few more results useful.)

The first truly solid source that I found was the second volume of  Paine and Jeffers’ Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, which focused on works with German texts. The book, which is housed in the Music Library’s reference section, has the full German text of the Christ lag hymn with both word-for-word and sense translations into English, as well as a couple of pages of textual analysis and background information on the hymn. One of the most useful sections was a side-by-side text comparison between Christ lag in Todesbanden, Victimae Paschali Laudes, and the related 12th-century leise Christ ist erstanden. I was able to use this comparison as a jumping-off point for my own analysis of the hymn.

After that reference source, the book that has proved most useful to me thus far is Robin A. Leaver’s Luther’s Liturgical Music. Not only does it provide solid background information about Luther, it also quotes extensively from his writings and other primary source material, and it has an entire section devoted to Luther’s reaction to and treatment of Roman Catholic sequences like Victimae Paschali Laudes. For my second draft, I’d like to look more closely at other sections of the book, and to spend some time tracking down sources referenced in its bibliography.

On a related note, it might be interesting to try and draw more from available primary sources, as Luther’s writings on music are pretty easy to find. I also would like to incorporate some more recent journal articles-I’ll probably have to start with ones about Luther’s hymnody in general, since I had trouble finding any about Christ lag in Todesbanden in particular. 

Music and Worship in a World of Discord

“And harmony, which has motions akin to the revolutions of our souls, is not regarded by the intelligent votary of the Muses as given by them with a view to irrational pleasure…but as meant to correct any discord, which may have arisen in the courses of the soul, and to be our ally in bringing her into harmony and agreement with herself… on account of the irregular and graceless ways which prevail among mankind generally, and to help us against them.”

-Plato, Timeus, as quoted in Weiss and Taruskin’s Music in the Western World

Music’s relationship with religion and worship is often seen as stemming from its power over the human psyche. Beginning with the earliest writings on music, thinkers have explored the profound influence music can have on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Yet in acknowledging music’s power, humans have had to face the possibility of music being a danger; being something that is capable of producing negative effects along with the positive. Plato’s reference above to “irrational pleasure,” for example, hints at a common thread of wariness that can surround discussions about music’s place in religious practice.

For this reason, music as an element of worship has been hotly contested in some circles. Even within single religious traditions, questions abound as to which instruments can be used, and what text can be sung, and by whom, and in what mode, and for what greater theological reason. Yet despite thousands of years of debate, political manipulation, and occasional moral outrage, religious traditions across the globe still value a staggering variety of musics as integral to their worship.

It is possible that the same things that draw us as humans towards religious practice are some of the same things that underlie our intense connection with music. In this sense, music-making and worshiping can have remarkably similar goals: They both can both foster a sense of greater connection to other people and to something greater than ourselves. They both can provide a way for groups to express their identity, and to communicate complicated thoughts and emotions that are inexpressible through words alone. And to borrow the words of Plato, they both can provide relief, healing, and hope in a world that so often seems “irregular and graceless.”