The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers

By Patrick Kavanaugh
Nashville, TN : Sparrow (1992). 119 Pages.

Reviewed by
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 103-104

"Music has such spiritual qualities that we should not be surprised at discovering the strong faith many composers possessed" (Preface by Christopher Parkening). Biblical faith has historically held music in an exalted position. One only needs to consider the Psalms and the careful consideration given to music in worship and celebration in the biblical narratives to appreciate this point. Patrick Kavanaugh, Executive Director of the Christian Performing Artists Fellowship, himself a composer and director, describes the spiritual lives of a select group of the great composers. In this small and enjoyable volume he brings the reader face to face with twelve of the greatest composers of classical musicjust as they were. His candor is informed by original sources such as the composer's personal correspondence and journals.

Why would a pastor, Sunday school teacher, or other committed Christian read a book such as this, beyond gaining a personal exposure to the artists (or a lot of sermon illustrations to be gleaned)? Contemporary Christian music artist Michael Card responds,

In this volume, the past we should never have forgotten is remembered, the heritage we never should have forfeited is recaptured, and the perspective now lost in Christian music is at last provided (dust jacket).

In addition, even a superficial acquaintance with classical music will engender questions of the sort, "What were the circumstances surrounding Handel's `Messiah'" or "Why did Bach initial his manuscript pages with S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria—'To God alone be the glory') after he had composed a piece?" For the first time the average reader can find answers to some of these questions But the book promises something greater: an opportunity to enter the world of classical music for the sake of enjoyable listening. After even a brief introduction to the composers, listening to their works is a different experience. To even an uninitiated ear, their personal style and the age in which they composed become more clearly discernable. Knowing that Bach had personal contact with Martin Luther helps prepare one better appreciate his music.

The reviewer recommends reading this work in order to get acquainted with the men who produced much of the music which has shaped our culture. It is a prelude to the author's A Taste for the Classics (see next review). The short sections called "Recommended Listening" serve as a foretaste to the second work.