books about sacred music
  • For those who have time and who like reading what are the most informative and thought provoking books ? After years of study, regular polyphonic singing in the liturgy & some writing of my own, I'd like to suggest a few titles.
    Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth. Wilfred Mellers, Celestial Music. Albert Blackwell, The Sacred in Music. Allan Atlas, Renaissance Music. Chiara Bertoglio, Through Music to Truth. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, chap on 'Music & Liturgy".
    Please could colleagues suggest some others ? Jonathan Boswell, London UK
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,350
    The definitive (more or less) historical account of the history and development of the chant is The Christian West and its Singers, by Christopher Page
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,221
    Western Plainchant - Hiley
    The Organic Development of the Liturgy - Alcin Reid
  • Here are just a few, some 'out of the way', but all highly interesting -

    I will second Hiley's Western Plainchant. There is no greater authority on chant. (On the other hand Hiley and Cardine might be complementary equals.)

    One could make an ad infinitum list of indispensable books about chant, liturgy, and church music. A very good sort of out-of-the-way book is Write All These Down, by Joseph Kerman, well known music critic and musicologist. This book is worth reading (as if the contents weren't valuable enough) just for Kerman's highly literate command of the English language.

    Are you familiar with Decadent Enchantments, by Katherine Bergeron? While not a magisterial work of chant scholarship, this is a highly entertaining look at the intrigue attendant upon the chant revival, the chant wars, of the XIXth cent.

    Page's book, suggested by Adam, is a magisterial and indispensable tome.

    A fine study of English-French influences in the late mediaeval period is Walter Frye and the 'Contenance Angloise', by Sylvia W. Kenney.

    A more recent treatment of the French classical organ music and practice is David Ponsford's French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV.

    Foundations of Christian Music: The Music of Pre-Constantinian Christianity,
    by Edward Foley.

    Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians,
    by Kenneth Levy.

    Eastern Elements in Western Chant, by Egon Wellesz.

    Inside the Offertory: Aspects of Chronology and Transmission - Rebecca Maloy


    I'll stop here - these are just a very few gems...
    Such a list as you ask for is endless.

  • toddevoss
    Posts: 128
    I may look into Decadent Enchantments - sounds like something I could grasp without the level of musical training others have on this site. I am a bit familiar with the disputes as they moved into the early 20th century between master and student.
  • Sacred Treasure, by Joseph P. Swain

    From one of the Amazon Reviews: "I'm convinced that there is simply no way to speak coherently about the liturgy without having read this book. Joseph Swain combines expertise in music with a deep understanding of liturgy. With Pope Benedict XVI as the measure of synthesis of these two bodies of knowledge, Swain contributes the detailed and particular explication that is so necessary to recovering the Sacred Treasure of music in the Church."

    https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Treasure-Understanding-Catholic-Liturgical/dp/0814662552

    10/10 recommendation
    Thanked by 2Heath CHGiffen
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,109
    Wright's Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris, 500-1550 is more on the informative side, but then when I feel like doing some provoked thinking I'm more likely to turn to Dostoevsky. Of the original list I did once look at Mellers, and recall an entertaining neutron-bomb thought experiment: in the absence of Christians and unable to decipher scripture or books, how much of the revelation could an alien gather from Chartres' windows or a CD of Palestrina?
  • m_r_taylor
    Posts: 134
    Thomas Forrest Kelly - Plainsong in the Age of Polyphony; Capturing Music: The Story of Notation.
  • I definitely agree with the inclusion of Joseph Swain's "Sacred Treasure"; It's a great read for both musicians and non-musicians alike. He tracks the development of Catholic music, both the good and the bad, and makes a well-laid out argument for what constitutes "sacred" music, without being polemical or pedantic. Everyone should lend a copy to their pastor!
    Thanked by 1sergeantedward
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,828
    Well, I seem to sound like a broken record when the subject of books comes up, but here is my all time fav on the subject in general.

    https://www.amazon.com/Papal-Legislation-Sacred-Music-1977/dp/0814610129

    and

    https://www.amazon.com/Music-Morals-Theological-Appraisal-Psychological/dp/081890660X
  • I'm grateful to hear about Joseph Kirwan and Joseph P Swain from helpful posts by M Jackson Osborn and a few others. Is there a risk of too much detailed historical musicology, much of it dry-as-dust, around specifically Catholic sacred music ? When there's so much history, that can dominate, perhaps to the neglect of what might be described as the poetics or aesthetics ? And more important still, the potentials for symbolisation of doctrine. One thing that worries me is the dreadfully high cost of some of these books, notably the Swain. Among other things that's driven a few authors like me to self-publish ! Jonathan Boswell, London, UK