Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers

"The study of great composers' lives should be more than an academic exercise. Biography is to inspire, not merely inform" -Patrick Kavanaugh

After attending a performance of Brahm's Requiem by our local symphony last night, I was reminded of one of my favorite music history books- “Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, ” by Patrick Kavanaugh.

This book, offers a refreshing glimpse into the lives of 20 different composers including well known names such as Bach & Handel, and lesser known composers such as Elgar & Messiaen.
Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of each composer-their tempers, financial trouble and failures, he highlights the virtuous characteristics of each.

Each chapter begins with a brief story like narrative that introduces you to the composer in an engaging manner.Then follows a well-documented description of the "verifiable aspects of these mens' lives as they strove for good, sought to understand God, and found meaningful spiritual purpose in their lives." (p.13) My favorite part of each chapter is the conclusion in which the author highlights one particularly striking character trait that each composer exemplified. I found each chapter in this book both informative and inspiring. After reading it I felt inspired to be more like the great composers of the past... to have the humility of Haydn, the unselfishness of Ives, the determination of Beethoven and the optimism of Mendelssohn.
Some interesting facts I learned:
Who composed and performed while he was a prisoner of war during World War 2?
Who preferred to compose at his kitchen table while his children chased noisily about him?
Who was proclaimed by the public to be the “eighth wonder of the world?”]
Who said “when I sit at my old worm-eaten piano I envy no king in his happiness?”

ISBN 0-310-20806-8 approximate cost new $10.99 (I bought a nice used one on for about $7)
"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

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