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In Quest of Spirit (with audio CD): Thoughts on Music (Ernest Bloch Lectures)
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The interests of the British composer Jonathan Harvey are wide and varied, embracing Christianity, Buddhism, eastern and western philosophy, aesthetics, science, and mysticism. All affect his musical thinking and are a part of this text, which is accompanied by a compact disc featuring works discussed by the author. Harvey explores aspects of music that he connects with spirituality: self-identity, ambiguity, unity, stasis, and silence. In the course of his explorations he offers corroborating statements about music and spirituality from sources ranging from Nietzsche to Oliver Sacks. The book and CD include samples of his own music as well as of compositions by Mozart, Scriabin, Stockhausen, and others that help to illustrate the profoundness of what Harvey deems "the good listening experience".
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If you don't know his music, but are drawn here by the general topic of music and spirituality, you need to know what sort of book this is, and what sort of music is on the CD. The book is more of a sketch than a thoroughly worked out study of this topic. Excluding the musical examples and footnotes, it is only about 88 pages long, and it covers a great many topics, so it can hardly be expected to do more than briefly scratch the surface of each of these topics. But in briefly scratching the surface, he does offer provocative hints at ideas that the reader can then research or think through in greater detail. These little hints at ideas are often very good--he has interesting insights into Wagner and Mahler, for example, and other 'traditional' composers...it's not all Stockhausen and IRCAM. But they are never more than just hints at ideas, except when he is talking about his own music, when he does get into more detail. This reads something like a journal of an artist...today I jot down this thought, tomorrow a different thought.
The music on the CD is Harvey and other examples of what some have called, accurately I think, 'difficult listening.' This is avant-garde stuff, and make no mistake. I'm afraid that I am something of a philistine in this area, and sometimes I like the descriptions of the music more than the music itself. But that might change if I heard the pieces in their full development rather than these excerpts. At any rate, including a CD with the book was a wonderful thing to do. Since the CD consists of brief musical excerpts, it resembles the book in 'hinting at' musical ideas, and that's what it's intended to do.
Having expressed my reservations, let me just add that Harvey comes across in this book as an astute listener and thinker, and he doesn't hide behind jargon or ambiguous language. There is a lot of candor in his discussion of his own work, and considerable insight in the nuggets of ideas that are sprinkled on every page. It's just that it's up to the reader to take these nuggets and develop them on your own.