Music, School of


Date of this Version



Faulkner, Quentin. Wiser than despair: the evolution of ideas in the relationship of music and the Christian church. Contributions to the Study of Music and Dance, Number 40. GREENWOOD PRESS Westport, Connecticut & London, 1996.


Copyright © 1996 by Quentin Faulkner. Published by Greenwood Press. Used by permission.


The fact that human beings want to make music, as well as all other forms of art, is a given of human existence. Artistic expressions, however, are not isolated or autonomous. They are conditioned, among other things, by social and cultural factors, and these factors have a powerful influence in shaping any art form.

There is no more compelling example of a culture's power to condition art than the evolution of European art music during the Middle Ages under the influence of the Christian church and its theological stance with regard to the arts. The church's ideas about the purpose and function of music were the deciding factors in determining the directions that musical composition took during the Middle Ages. That direction has in turn helped determine not only modern compositional and performance practices, but indeed the very notion of what constitutes "quality" and "greatness" in Western art music.

This book traces the interaction of philosophical and theological ideas and attitudes with the conception and practice of music, beginning with the earliest ideas about music and the foundations laid by the ancient Greek philosophical systems, and continuing through the transformation of ideas and attitudes about music that happened from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The book's purpose is to explore--by means of many excerpts from primary sources, selected quotations from modern authors, and commentary on both--a highly complex and elusive matter: why the church was able to contribute so generously to music (and to the other arts, as well) from its earliest days up through the eighteenth century, and why it has suffered since that time from a creeping artistic paralysis: The opening chapters may be understood as a contribution to a more complete conception of the history and philosophy of music up through the eighteenth century. The final chapters are of greater interest to those who are specifically concerned with church music, especially as it has been conceived and practiced since the eighteenth century. I have presumed that the reader is familiar with the history of European art music and, within that, with the history of music in the service of the church.