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Any Protestant Composers?

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Showing 1-24 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Apr 2010 09:08:01 BDT
Androcleas says:
After following a number of discussions on this forum that have seemed to end with the conclusion that modernism in classical music is the result of the 'death of God' in the last 150 years or so, I am left feeling a little confused. It seems to me that it is rather surprising the number of composers both within Romanticism and Modernism that have been deeply inspired by Christian spirituality, rather than by the ruling ideas of secularism and atheism.

As a Christian myself, I find that this music resonates deeply with me. One question that keeps coming back to me is: Why are all these composers either Catholic or Orthodox? There are many Catholic composers - from Elgar and Bruckner to Messiaen and Penderecki. There are also a number of composers deeply influenced by Orthodox spirituality - for example Part and Tavener - even possibly Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. I recently followed up a lead on Petr Eben from this forum, and found his music very interesting - and found out he was a Catholic.

Does anyone know of any Protestant composers of the last 150 years or so, or do I have to go back to Bach? I know that Vaughan Williams wrote a lot of music influenced by English hymns - and edited music for the Anglican Church, while all his life remaining an agnostic. He did a great service to Anglican Church music - but it would be difficult to say that his music is influenced by Protestant spirituality.

This question has interested me for some time, and I would be very grateful for any answers....

Posted on 3 Apr 2010 09:55:33 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Apr 2010 09:57:46 BDT
Three that eventually came to mind (although I am unfamiliar with their works and the respective depths of their faith) are Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), Herbert Howells (1892-1983) and John Rutter (1945-).

Posted on 3 Apr 2010 10:06:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Apr 2010 10:12:45 BDT
Britten wrote a good deal of sacred/spiritual music, most famously his War Requiem, which although it uses the Catholic liturgy, was written for the dedication of the new Anglican cathedral in Coventry. I am not certain but I am nearly sure he was a practising Christian. Holst also set various sacred texts including Psalm 86 & 148, not sure of his personal beliefs. Frank Martin was a devout Protestant from a Calvinist background but unusually set the Catholic Mass; he didn't intend it for performance but regarded it as a matter between God and himself - it has been recorded. Stretching your 150 years, Mendelssohn was a devout Lutheran and wrote sacred works. Brahms set a lot of Germn sacred texts for unacompanied choir (strongly influenced by Schutz) but was probably agnostic. Max Reger also made some settings of sacred texts (in German). Stanford and Parry wrote music for the Anglican Church but I don't know about their personal beliefs. I am sure there are lots more but as society has become more secular so has contemporary music. The golden age of Protestant church music was probably from Schutz to J S Bach.

Thanks SCH, forgotten about Howells, also Rubbra was a commited Christian but in his Sinfonia Sacra deliberately chose both Catholic and Protestant texts.

Posted on 3 Apr 2010 10:24:08 BDT
Who came to my mind was the welsh composer William Mathias (1934-92) who wrote a lot of music for the church, Mathias: Lux Aeterna is rather good. However, having hunted about a bit I can find no definitive statement of his own faith.

Posted on 3 Apr 2010 16:34:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Apr 2010 16:35:57 BDT
Androcleas says:
Thankyou very much. I will check out Frank Martin when I get the chance. He's one of those composers who has never really come my way. I used to work at Coventry Cathedral, and am therefore aware of Britten's War Requiem. I heard a performance in Coventry Cathedral to mark its 40th Anniversary - very impressive stuff, but it isn't really what I would call Christian spiritual music. Sacred texts are mixed with World War 1 poetry in such a way that the main message of the text is about peace rather than religious conviction. I think it maybe fits better with a piece like Tippett's 'A Child of Our Time'.

I have listened to music by Rubbra. It doesn't really grab you immediately, but its very good, tautly constructed stuff - but I have to say I couldn't find anything much about his religious convictions, other than that he was 'mystical'... I'd like to know more.... I will check out Howells too - a disc of his music recently worked its way on to my amazon 'recommended for you' page.

Posted on 3 Apr 2010 18:21:14 BDT
Androcleas - don't forget to tell us what you think as I'm unfamiliar with Martin's work as well. I think his father was actually a minister.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Apr 2010 20:12:02 BDT
Sadly, the only one I know is Mendelsohn although there are minor composers like Stainer (Crucifixion). The main reason is that the Catholic/Orthodox tradition always actively encouraged it (and Art/Literature etc) as their world/faith view is rather different to Protestantism and more reliant on the visual/aural etc.

Posted on 3 Apr 2010 20:13:53 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 4 May 2010 08:52:15 BDT]

Posted on 4 Apr 2010 10:18:37 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Apr 2010 10:19:45 BDT
Frank Martin's Mass is avaialble on Hyperion Martin; Pizzetti - Sacred Choral Works. If you want a non-liturgical work try his Cello Concerto on BIS Martin, F.: Cello Concerto / Ballade for Cello and Piano / 8 Preludes (Poltera).

Music as part of Protestant worship has varied over time and from country to country. In the 17th and 18th century it was very important indeed in Germany so there is a vast amount of music available (not just Bach). In England there has been a strong tradition of music in the Anglican Church although the confused nature of the English Reformation has meant it has varied greatly in style. I had a colleague many years ago who was a Methodist but he must have previously been Anglican because he regularly attended Leeds Parish Church as a student; he said he heard enough Samuel Sebastian Wesley to last him a lifetime. S S Wesley was organist at Leeds (which has a strong musical tradition) for a time and is one of a large number of Victorian composers who wrote extensively for the Anglican Church. There are specialist labels who record Anglican music (choral and organ) but I can't remember their names offhand. I am sure they also record living composers - all I can offer as a lead is Philip Moore (b 1943).

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Apr 2010 13:17:43 BDT
Depends wether you have to have written religious music or just symphonies etc.

Most Scandinavian/northern European composers are likely to be protestants by birth if not inclination.

Thus Sibelius might be considered a great Lutheran composer.

Greig certainly wrote a little religious music.

Posted on 4 Apr 2010 14:47:37 BDT
On the wider issue you raised I think it is a matter of numbers, wealth and patronage. Roughly speaking, prior to the Industrial Revolution the wealthy countries in Western Europe were Catholic; Spain, France, Italy. Germany (as the Holy Roman Empire) was approx. 50:50 but the wealthier south was dominated by the Catholic Habsburgs. The numerous princely courts and the Catholic church (sometimes the same thing, as in Mozart's employer, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg) patronised composers. The less wealthy, less populated Protestant countries couldn't afford it to the same degree and in some cases had a puritanical attitude towards music at one time or another. After ca. 1800 the balance of wealth swung the other way and Britain, Prussia, France (now officially secular) and increasingly the USA became the industrial and political powers. Even in their relative decline Italy and Austria maintained their musical traditions. The newly powerful countries (except for France) didn't have quite the same base to build on in terms of musical heritage. Musical life in Britain really began to expand in the second half of the 19th century with new orchestras and choral societies springing up. The choral societies were overwhelmingly Protestant in character and commissioned works on biblical themes from the growing number of native composers (occasionally foreigners such as Dvorak), some already mentioned (Stanford, Parry, McEwen etc). Elgar was something of an anomaly as a Catholic although he worked as an organist in Worcester Cathedral. Society as a whole didn't really become overwhelmingly secular until after WWII and then the 19th century choral heritage went decidedly out of fashion. The intellegentsia (for want of a better word) were becoming secular (or non-religious) long before that and many composers in nominally Christian countries were non-believers (Berlioz, Verdi, Brahms). Even Faure, who was a church musician all his life, was probably agnostic (his beliefs are a bit obscure).

I think the modern composers you have in mind are a minority and stand out because of their religious beliefs, most being secular. A number of Christian composers have emerged from Eastern Europe but I think that is probably because the churches there were a unifying source of opposition to the Soviet regimes. I expect Poland, Latvia etc will rapidly become as secular as the west.

Posted on 4 Apr 2010 17:32:25 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 4 Apr 2010 17:35:19 BDT]

Posted on 4 Apr 2010 17:32:38 BDT
Androcleas says:
I have just listened to Frank Martin's Mass and I have to say it was most impressive - a very luminous and clearly heartfelt piece of music. It is quite approachable, while putting across a distinct musical personality. It definitely deserves repeated hearings. I think I will start investigating his instrumental music if I get the time tomorrow. Interestingly, the recording that I downloaded from youtube (I live in Russia so ordering discs is a little problematic) has a picture of Frank Martin shaking hands with someone who is obviously some kind of Catholic dignitary. He didn't convert to Catholicism later in life by any chance? I can't find much information about Frank Martin's beliefs, even on the official Frank Martin web site.

In answer to Stephen - I think what really interests me is not so much 'religious' music in the liturgical sense, but music inspired by religious beliefs - so for example Bruckner's symphonies are not 'religious' in the sense that they do not contain liturgy or religious words, but they were by all accounts deeply inspired by Bruckner's personal religious beliefs and desire to praise God. I think most composers' music breathes something - so for example Tippett's creative inspiration is Jungian psychology, whereas Shostakovich's inspiration might be a desire to express and find meaning in human suffering. Other composers such as Sibelius and Webern were inspired by nature - Sibelius by forests (and his native Finland) and Webern by flowers. I think I'm asking really - are there any composers of stature out there who were/are inspired by Protestant Christian spirituality?

Geoffrey - your last post is very interesting too - I think you may be right to some extent about Eastern Europe, although I think Russian music will continue to be influenced by Orthodox spirituality for the foreseeable future. I suspect Penderecki's music is Catholicism mixed up with Politics, and I suspect that he would have less to say in a more Western, secular society - I might say that even now, his music is not as interesting as it was. Part and Tavener in my opinion have a more personal approach to expressing faith in music. Messiaen of course is something of an anomaly too. I greatly respect Messiaen, because whereas most composers (especially modern ones) are able to paint negative emotions and events in vivid colour, Messiaen seems able to do the same thing with joy - I believe a very necessary attribute.

When I have thought about the lack of Protestant composers, it always seemed to me that it is possibly down to a lack of mysticism within the main strands of Protestantism. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are in a sense far less practical and more reflective, using icons and ritual to express faith. Possibly the development of secularism has been particularly pronounced within the Protestant societies of Northern Europe, because secularism is also rather practical and down-to earth? Interestingly there has been a development within world Protestantism within the last 20 years or so due to the Charismatic movement. I know of one such group of Charismatic Christians that is very interested in the arts - they write books and dramas - I even heard them perform an oratorio. It wasn't all that interesting musically,but at least its a start :-) Maybe in the future there will be more Protestant composers?

But this is of course mere supposition. I don't have any hard facts to support these conclusions....

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Apr 2010 20:42:03 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Apr 2010 20:44:37 BDT
Fompous Part says:
Err ..... wasn't Bach a Lutheran???? He seems to be being mentioned here only in passing!

I would also seriously question the validity of describing the CofE as a Protestant Church. It is closer to Catholic than to the "protestant" churches.

Glad you have had a look into Petr Eben, by the way!

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Apr 2010 23:25:47 BDT
Basilides says:
If you can get the BBC R3 website in Russia you will find another performance of 'Golgotha' which was broadcast last week. It should be on there for another few days.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2010 09:36:55 BDT
FP: It depends entirely on which branch of the Anglican Church you belong to. It is either Protestant, Catholic but reformed or just plain Catholic; the emphasis has fluctuated between these positions over the centuries but the Anglo-Catholic wing, however vocal, is a definite minority. Most people would regard it as Protestant despite its Episcopal organisation and belief in Apostolic Succession. In the main it closer to Lutheranism than Catholicism.

Bach was only mentioned in passing (twice by me) because the orginal posting specified the last 150 years.

According to the booklet accompanying the Hyperion recording of his Mass, Frank Martin was a deeply religious man all his life and religious themes form the basis of many of his works, both choral and instrumental. His father was a Calvinist minister.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2010 09:57:55 BDT
Fompous Part says:
The only Martin I know is the same Mass for double choir that has been enthused about - justifiably - by others.
I think we will have to agree to disagree on the nature of the Anglican church. I suppose it's a bit like de Broglie's electron, catholic/reformed duality?
I missed the 150 years bit - mea culpa (or should I say my mistake to avoid being mistaken for Catholic??!)

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Apr 2010 14:27:08 BDT
This question seems bizarre to me. I am an American who has worshipped often in Catholic, Unitarian and Episcopal churches as well as synagogues with reformed and conservative congregations. After returning home from mass on Sunday, my grandmother would ritually cleanse her kitchen in the Jewish tradition while reciting the Kaddish in Hebrew and a prayer to St. Patrick in Irish. The Founding Fathers of the United States rarely went to church at all; they were Deists who thought that after God created the world he left it to humans to take care of it. In other words, I am a typical well educated American who thinks religion is a personal and private matter; it should not affect anyone's tastes in music or any of the other arts.

Posted on 20 Apr 2010 14:47:15 BDT
The original poster is a music lover who is also a committed Christian and a Protestant. He asked a perfectly reasonable question about the apparent lack of Protestant composers in the last century or so, especially when compared to a number of high profile Catholic and Orthodox composers. The question is historical as much as it is religious. Also, I read nothing in his posting (or the subsequent discussion) to suggest that his religious affiliation affected his taste in music.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Feb 2011 18:33:05 GMT
grace kim says:
your act of worship is closer to New Age movement. Very obscure...Far from Protestant belief..

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Feb 2011 18:42:17 GMT
Carradale says:
Luther Van Dross?

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Feb 2011 18:50:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Feb 2011 19:29:07 GMT
Edgar Self says:
More Protestant composers, stretching the 150-year limit a bit: Cowper, Purcell, Handel, J. S. Bach, Buxtehude, Telemann, Schuetz, Britten, Wesley, Watts, Charles Ives, Ernst Pepping, Hindemith, Furtwaengler (Te Deum), Paul Goudimel, Fux, Praetorius, Fux, Zelter, Tallis from both Catholic and Protestant music, and BRAHMS!, who was a considerable Biblical scholar and chose his own texts for the German Requiem, using many of those in Handel's Messiah, except that in Brahms we have The Last Trombone in place of trumpet, and Death's Sticker instead of Sting.

Brahms also wrote a little-known Canonic Mass, almost a student work.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Feb 2011 22:05:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Feb 2011 22:09:43 GMT
JayJayDee says:
Personally I think religion has nothing to do with music. And music should have nothing to do with religion. It is divisive and always was- always will be! The main cause of strife and evil in the world as we know it for two thousand years.

Composers have always been just smart enough to know where their sponsors lie.

Surely Haydn increasingly wrote music for the aristocracy (as sponsor) and socialist realists wrote music for the (all knowing all powerful) State.

It's just a way of making a living.
And some modern composers (of undoubted genuine faith) find it necessary to cultivate a similar kind of sponsorship.

But mostly they go into John Williams and other quite brilliant modern composrs who are forced to write 7 second jingles (QI?) instead of an 80 minute symphony or an oratorio!

Just teasing!?
or am I?

Posted on 4 Feb 2011 23:39:53 GMT
Androcleas says:
Well - I think music really does have a lot to do with religion - and that modern composers aren't simply 'using it'. Christian mysticism penetrates the music of say for example Messiaen or Part to a degree that would suggest that it is all that really matters to these composers. They hardly ever wrote music about anything else.

Historically, it is an interesting question of course, with Bach and Buxtehude creating a great deal of Protestant music.

But I think for me the question really remains - my hypothesis is that there is something in Protestantism as a whole that inhibits creativity particularly in the arts, and therefore in music too. It strikes me that the comment above by grace kim demonstrates the kind of view that many Protestants have of classical music - 1. disinterest 2. suspicion. Some Protestants I have met even believe it is dangerous to get too involved in music - they think it is a sort of spiritual escapism, or idolatry. This reminds me of the iconoclasts' views on religious art in around 600AD Byzantium.

Personally, as a Christian, I believe God can be worshipped through music, be it classical or otherwise, art or any other creative activity. Maybe that means I'm actually a Catholic at heart.
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Initial post:  3 Apr 2010
Latest post:  4 Feb 2011

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