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Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers Paperback – March 19, 1996

4.4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Messiaen . . . Men of genius as different as their music - but all inspired by deep spiritual convictions. Peter Kavanaugh uncovers the spirituality of twenty of music's timeless giants, revealing legacies of the soul as diverse as the masterpieces they created. Warmly written, beautifully illustrated, and complete with listening recommendations for each composer, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers is a fascinating look at the inner flame that lit the works of these masters.

About the Author

Patrick Kavanaugh, executive director of the Christian Performing Artists' Fellowship, holds a doctorate in music composition. A conductor and performer, he is the author of Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, and Raising Musical Kids.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan; Rev and Expanded ed. edition (April 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310208068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310208068
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patrick Kavanaugh, executive director of the Christian Performing Artists' Fellowship, holds a doctorate in music composition. A conductor and performer, he is the author of Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, and Raising Musical Kids.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
. . .with some flaws which limit it's appeal.
Noted Christian composer Patrick Kavanaugh has done a good job in presenting his thesis; namely that many, if not most, of the great composers over the last 400 years, were men of spirituality -- even if not always completely orthodox in their expressions of that spirituality. As far as that goes, the point is quite valid.
However, at times, Kavanaugh seems to be stretching his thesis to include less obvious examples (Schubert, for instance) when more obvious examples could have been used. (However, he does do the musical world a good service by rehabilitating Wagner and demonstrating that while he was a man with many faults, he cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of Hitler!)
Also frustrating was Kavanaugh's habit of ascribing specific internal motives to several of the featured composers. In addition, there is a strong anti-Catholic bias in the book which I found distasteful. Those composers with Protestant backgrounds had their Protestantism emphasized, while those with Catholic backgrounds had their Catholicism minimized and even ridiculed. For me, this was unnecessary and intellectually dishonest.
This being said, I would still like to see another volume. Many, many other composers come to mind which could fill such a book. And hopefully, some of the anti-Catholic bias could be filtered out.
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Format: Paperback
As both a classical music fan and a Christian, I was initially excited by this book. A quick perusal before purchasing let me know it would not be an in-depth exploration, but brief biographical sketches of the composers. While the author did a good job of providing a balanced presentation of the facts (see the chapter on Chopin), the book suffers from a kind of redactive shallowness that comes from attempting to look for genuine Christian faith in two-dimensional biographical material. The weakness of this approach is that it looks for certainty about individual faith from the sociocultural milieu in which the composers lived, where spiritual language was the norm. It is important to note that, while the author uses "spiritual" in the title, he means "Christian," or so it appears by his attempt to reconcile the unorthodox beliefs and conduct of men like Wagner and Beethoven with orthodox faith. The small postscripts at the end of each chapter that linked a character trait with each composer was trite and did not add any value to the book. I tended to skip them. Finally, there were some disappointing omissions: Vivaldi, Schumann, Mahler, Arvo Part and John Tavener come to mind. All in all, an interesting but unremarkable read.
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"People of faith" will likely be the most interested in these mini-biographies of the great composers that focuses mostly on the spiritual (mostly Christian) aspects of their lives. In that light, this book helps fill-in some of the personal faith aspects of each composer that are rarely expounded upon in depth in the other biographies. Kavanaugh's distillations here extract many of the most personal conversations and writings of these composers in an attempt to "reconstruct" their inner, spiritual life. And while some of the common lingo in the letters written in 18th/19th century Europe did indeed contain more neutral and polite "God talk," most of the direct quotes go way beyond that to reveal deeply personal and theological thoughts about what that composer felt about God, faith and the relation to their musical lives. Kavanaugh cites Brahms as a notable example who supposedly revealed very deep theological thoughts and personal beliefs to writer/friend Abell, who published them finally in 1955 after years of avowed silence ("Talks with Great Composers"). Many will also find the author's account of Chopin's last years particular touching as the great poet-pianist embraced the faith within him that had faded to a flicker amidst the hedonistic Parisian lifestyle of the 19th century. Other composers listed here will appear to some readers to be somewhat of a stretch regarding the presence of a genuine faith in God and love of mankind in their lives. But, again, Kavanaugh presents other, more hidden aspects of their lives not common in other biographies that are worth hearing.

However, trying to really understand the inner life and faith of a person - any person then or now - is a tricky proposition.
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Format: Paperback
This was a neat little book for folks that like classical music. It gives us something of the personal and spiritual sides of great composers, as well as short summaries of their musical careers. It was good to know something about them besides their names and music, and to get some nice tips on great music you might not be familiar with.

I found that Mozart was not quite the consummate party animal he is portrayed as in `Amadeus', the movie, at least not for his whole life. The author, Patrick Kavannaugh, asks us how each of us would like to have our lives put into biographies for public consumption. I know I would have to pass on that. I found that Haydn was happy and friendly, just like his music. Bruckner was a little hard too know, but well worth the effort to do so, just like his music. Folks like Beethoven, Wagner, and Liszt were very spiritual, though you don't hear much about that, and would not suspect so.

It was also surprising to me that most of them were Catholic, but I guess that makes sense since the Catholic Church has always been a great patron of the arts. Certainly, Mozart's Requiem and Beethoven's Mass are two of the greatest choral pieces ever written.

The book was a little gem for those of us who like classical music.
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