Saturday, May 21, 2011

A confession: I quite enjoyed watching the royal wedding

I'm probably one of the few Republicans who watched the Royal Wedding with much pleasure, but I think I've got a respectable reason for doing so; firstly, the music was quite fantastic, and secondly, the BBC's production values within the Abbey itself were quite stunning - adding to the spectacle that was driven by the music.

This is becoming something of an odd departure for me, on a personal level. It must be a sign of getting older, but I'm nurturing a bit of an obsession with religious music - particularly William Byrd and almost anything recorded, for example, by Oxford Camerata.

I only got to the BBC4 Sacred Music series featuring Simon Russell Beale late and managed to record two of the four episodes. Hopefully I'll able to grab a repeat - they all really require repeat viewing.

This doesn't herald any religious epiphany (at least I don't think it will), but the appeal remains similar to the one I noted here when I first started taking an interest a few years ago.

In that old posting, I noted that....
"...religious choral music is almost unique in that it is a concerted attempt to make noise that can be unequivocally described as beautiful. This is because the intended audience is not interested in getting laid, having a dance, or being provoked to think in any way.

When people compose music, they do it for all sorts of reasons, but very rarely simply to create something that is purely, subjectively beautiful, and this is why sacred music is so singularly fascinating."

Since I posted it (when I was beginning to take an interest) I've learned a lot from an old In Our Time podcast that I stumbled upon devoted to 'The Music of the Spheres' and an annoyingly-written but very informative book I've just read (or, more accurately, dipped into) called 'How Music Works'.

It's fascinating looking at the way economic and ideological constraints that have been applied to the production of music have reflected different conceptions of what is beautiful. From the lavish pre-reformation investments to the beautiful simplicity of some Lutheran and post-Lutheran music (the constraints being less patronage and fewer monasteries, among other things).

It's oddly similar to the departure from the big Jazz bands marked by Be-Bop - partly a product of smaller groups with the option to make longer saleable recordings.

Throw this into the mix with a combination of technological advances in the production (and recently, the recording and transmission) of music (a positive advance, surely) and the awful impact of inclusivity in which, I suppose, was the logical response to the religious subjectivity of Protestantism (beautiful = what lots of people sing in church) and you've got a strand of music that will forever give.

A school friend of mine - who went on to be fairly traditionally-minded Catholic priest - used to get very annoyed by what he called banjo masses - a horrible thing that went hand-in-hand with charismatic Christianity.

I'm beginning to understand more why I agreed with him on so many particulars - particularly on how protestantism was almost an unnatural perversion of what religion should be. This is all made odder by the fact that I never could muster up much interest in the big generalities of religion (I was in my early 20s before I fully decided I wasn't religious).

Listening to the symmetries and patterns in some of Bach's works (for example), having understood a bit about the mathematics of harmonics, it also helps to reflect upon why people start to see great Intelligent Designs in nature. It allows even agnostic / atheistic philistines like me to have a glimpse of what that over-used word 'awesome' can mean.

Update: Googling to write this, I've found this (yay!) and this - I hope they put it on again?

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