Theology of Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Credo, and Verdi’s Dies Irae

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In pieces of music set to biblical or liturgical texts, the musical connections of one passage or one movement to one another. In a musical sense, these texts have a meaning and significance that can be and often distinct from the meanings achieved by syntactic relationships. Sometimes the syntactic meanings are lost in the musical repetitions and overlapping entries of many voices; in the case of texts for different movements, syntactic relations often simply do not exist. Consequently, the music does not merely parallel or illustrates the text’s theological meaning or guide an affective response to an already familiar contemplation of God and the Divine presence in the world. Rather, it relates the texts’ images to one another in a specific and particular way and achieves a theological coherence that is distinctive to the particular piece.

The book carries out this approach in analyzing three works of sacred music: The Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah, the Credo of Beethoven’s Mass in D, and the Dies Irae of Verdi’s Requiem. The analyses show how the composers’ melodic, harmonic, and structural events work on and determine the ideas and images in the texts. The goal is to point to the “heard analogy” that becomes available when listeners pay attention to the musical relationships and their impact on the contemplation of God.


“[The author’s] analyses of these works are superb and should be of interest in their own right to students and scholars of any of the composers examined here. The spiritual depth of [the author’s] insight into these pieces, however, takes the reader far beyond conventional music analysis, and sets this book in a class with very few peers.”—Prof. Jonathan N. Badger, St. Johns College

“The most engaging and perceptive study of its kind. Rarely have I seen expertise in music (analysis and history) combined so astutely with theological discernment and with such keen awareness of the spiritual vitality and significance of major works of music”—Prof. Frank Burch Brown, Christian Theological Seminary

Table of Contents

Preface by Jonathan N. Badger

Chapter One: Sacred Music, Theology, and Spirituality

When Listening to Sacred Music is Hearing Theology

When Listening to Sacred Music is a Relation with God

Chapter Two: Handel’s Messiah: Theology Heard in a New Kind of Time

The First Cycle
The Second Cycle
The Third Cycle
The Fourth Cycle
The Fifth Cycle
The Sixth Cycle
The Reprise of Prior Musical Relations and the Theology Heard in the Sixth Cycle

The Retroactive Effect of the Sixth Cycle Reprise on the Theology Heard in Cycles One through Five

Chapter Three: The Credo of Beethoven’s in D: Divine Leadership and Life in the Age to Come

The Musical Structure

The Thematic Structure
The Harmonic Structure
The Structural Dissonance
The Resolution of the Structural Dissonance
The Meaning of the Musically Related Images

The Thematic Structure: The Lordship of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ

The Harmonic Structure: Lordship and Jesus’s History

The Structural Dissonance: Problematic Relation of Christ’s History to Divine Leadership

Resolution: Life to Come—Completing Lordship and Christ’s History

Chapter 4: The Dies Irae in Verdi’s Requiem: Hanging Between Despair and Hope

Dies Irae
Quid sum Miser
Qui Mariam



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