Gift of Music

Gift of Music

Great Composers and Their Influence

by Jane Stuart Smith, Betty Carlson
Publisher: Crossway Books
3rd Edition, ©1995, ISBN: 9780891078692
Trade Paperback, 317 pages
List Price: $23.99 Sale Price: $19.19

In an age of Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez, we've seen a lack of the experience and enjoyment of Classical music to a greater extent than ever before. Sadly, those who claim for themselves a sort of Classical music apostleship often do no more than contribute to the problem: anyone who's listened to NPR will have heard the snobs who act like those who don't love Mozart and Beethoven are sub-human.

Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson (the authors of The Gift of Music who were also personal friends of Edith and Francis Schaeffer and had both lived and worked at the original L'Abri) take a much different approach. Instead of dwelling on the cultural aspects of Classical music, or on "high art" and "low art" distinctions, they look at a number of the world's great composers in terms of the biblical influence on their work. This isn't an attempt to whitewash the character of ungodly men, however: Smith and Carlson are brutally honest, yet never gratuitous.

The introduction describes the role of the biblical Psalms in the history of Western music, moving from the Reformers to secular composers. Throughout the rest of the book, the authors identify the influence of biblical passages and themes on both well-known and relatively obscure pieces. Sometimes the influence was a negative one, and they describe those instances as well, but the fact remains that Western Classical music is firmly rooted in and overshadowed by sacred literature.

Each chapter includes both a short biography and an assessment of an important composer. To say "famous composer" would be something of a misnomer, since many of these men are all but unknown today. The Gift of Music begins with Heinrich Schutz, a late-Renaissance German composer, and proceeds all the way to the 20th century Russian giant, Dmitri Shostakovich. A couple of chapters at the end discuss the influence of Shakespeare on music, and Christmas carols. Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading and recommended listening.

At the heart of this book is a desire to see Christians moved to experience joy in the affirmation of life. Classical music is an art form traditionally devoted more than almost any other to the celebration of the beautiful and (in many cases) the glory of God, and for Christians to reject it in favor of "pop music" is to deny themselves a spiritually rich and rewarding experience. A foreword by Francis Schaeffer spells this out, and the rest of this excellent book supports those claims. Highly recommended!

This new third edition is fully expanded and revised, presented in an attractive format, and just as relevant as it was over 35 years ago.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Summary: Brief yet thorough biographies of several Classical composers and what influence Christianity had on them.

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