Friday, January 27, 2023

Book Review: The Music of Christendom

 The Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press have published The Music of Christendom by Susan Treacy.  (Ignatius Press:  San Francisco, 2021 ISBN978-1-950939-24-4)  This will be a very brief review.

Prof. Treacy (emerita, Ave Maria U) holds a Ph.D. in Historical Musicology and degrees in music from Oberlin and Manhattan School of Music.

The book's title promises a lot; after all, the music of Christendom has been around for 2000 years or so, not counting the music of Chant which was allegedly founded in Temple chant going back another several hundred-plus years.

But the promise is not well-fulfilled.  Dr. Treacy's 211-page offering appears to be a typescript of a first-semester music course.  It mentions many of "The Names," of course:  Bach, Beethoven, Viadana, Dufay, DesPrez (etc.) right through current-day writers such as MacMillan and Tavener.  

But the narrative she gives on them is very frustrating.  Treacy mentions 'significant compositions' of each of them, and even tells the reader of the construction of the pieces, such as how the harmony works (etc.) but does not provide a screen-shot of the score for the reader.  One suspects that Treacy would use her classroom CD player to illustrate her points for students, perhaps in conjunction with screen-shots of the score.

She tends to be heavy on the biographies of the composers (another clue that this may have been a semester's outline).  To this reviewer, that was superfluous.

It is startling that Treacy never mentions Benjamin Britten.  Britten definitely wrote 'music of Christianity' and his War Requiem has been praised as the most significant choral-orchestral work of the 20th Century.  Yet no mention of the composer, the Requiem, or--for that matter--his Ceremony of Carols, which is a favorite of college choirs everywhere. But she does bring up Messaien, a French composer of...........ahhhhhh.........problematic music.  It's difficult to hear and difficult to enjoy--but Dr. Treacy likes it a lot.

In sum:  Dr. Treacy's book will be most useful for high-school or first-year college 'music survey' courses, or for someone who was trained in another discipline but would like to learn about Western music as a whole.  We can hope that Ignatius and Dr. Treacy will bring forth a CD which consists of the music she discusses (even just the appropriate snippets) to make the offering much more complete.

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