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Myths, Music and Religion

Seminar ListAbstract • PreparationMain Text


Weatern art music is often used and has often been used to invoke the atmosphere of the supernatural. However, there tend to be distinctions between a Christian and a mythological supernature. Strangely, although as a culture we tend, still, to be highly influenced by the Christian religion (and this is perhaps more true than the average in terms of comtemporary composers), there does not generally seem to be a problem with the acceptance of mythologies which appear to owe nothing to, or even contradict, Christianity. Most obvious examples are from the Romantic period and subsequently, where especially more nationalistic composers would freely elaborate on their country's mythologies. Composers such as Wagner frequently dramatised gods, giants, monsters, dwarves, while making no reference to any Christian God. A British composer such as Harrison Birtwistle has made frequent use of non-Christian sources in his operas, for instance Punch and Judy, Yan, Tan, Tethera, The Mask of Orpheus and many others, (although his recent opera The Last Supper clearly at least references a highly significant Christian event.

Why is this? It is not at all solely a musical phenomenon...


Listen to some of the above pieces, plus any others you can come across. Read some Shakespeare (e.g. King Lear), read some Jung on the subject of mythology and archetypes.

Prepare answers and further questions in response to the following:

Main Text

Main text (not usually available until after the lecture).