Title

Music, Morality and Sympathy in the Eighteenth-Century English Sermon

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

3-1-2020

Publication Title

Eighteenth-Century Music

Volume

17

Issue

1

First page number:

9

Last page number:

35

Abstract

While the furrows of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religious writing on music have been deeply ploughed, eighteenth-century English sermons about music have received relatively slight scholarly attention. This article demonstrates that the ideas of sympathy and sensibility characteristic of so much eighteenth-century thought are vital to understanding these sermons. There is an evolution in this literature of the notion of sympathy and its link to musical morality, a development in the attitude towards music among clergy, with this art of sympathetic vibrations receiving ever higher approbation during the century's middle decades. By the time that Adam Smith was articulating his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and Handel's oratorios stood as a fixture of English musical life, religious thinkers had cast off old concerns about music's sensuality. They came to embrace a philosophy that accepted music as moral simply because it made humankind feel, and in turn accepted feeling as the root of all sociable experience. This understanding places the music sermon of the eighteenth century within the context of some of the most discussed philosophical, social, literary, musical and moral-aesthetic concepts of the time.

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities | Music | Musicology

Language

English

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