Friday 30 March 2018

A Good Friday thought

Odd, isn't it, how much of the most beautiful music being written in our time is overtly religious. This wasn't supposed to happen; nothing was going to reverse the onward march of secularism, and the arts would surely secularise along with everything else. Arguably some of the arts have indeed done so, as demonstrated over the past fifty years or so by the poor quality of most religious art and the near-absence of religion from the literary mainstream. Music, however, is different. This most immediate and least didactic of art forms, the one that can bring us closest to God, has found new life by returning to its spiritual wellsprings. Nowhere has the effect been more dramatic than in countries that formerly laboured under the secular imperium of Communism and where now great religious music is being written by the likes of Arvo Part, Peteris Vasks and Valentin Sylvestrov. But the resurgence (or persistence) has spread far wider than that...
  The other day on Radio 3 I heard a beautiful psalm setting by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a young Icelandic composer whose name was new to me. I haven't been able to find that particular piece, but here is Thorvaldsdottir's simple but perfect setting of an Icelandic psalm – something to lift the spirits on this dark, wet Good Friday.


  1. Wonderful sounds Nige - and you would agree, I'm sure, that in a turbulent world, we need as much aural balm as this kind of music offers. There are signs in Thorvaldsdottir's latest compositions that she is moving away from what Roger Scruton (and Sylvestrov) called 'metaphorical' music, and toward a palette that requires more engagement from/with the listener. So-called 'sad' music does not, therefore, possess 'sadness' - this is not possible. But the sadness of a melody(for instance)can only be experienced by someone with "intellect, imagination, perhaps even self-consciousness". We still need 'the ears to hear'particularly on this Easter Day.

  2. Wise words, Mm - we do indeed need 'the ears to hear'...