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Composers by the grace of God

by Inglis Gundry

1998 Thames Publishing ISBN 0 903413 38 8 £12.50

What part has religion played in the works of the great composers from Bach through to Stravinsky? Inglis Gundty answers that question in this wide-ranging and intriguing survey in which he writes: 'The term "A composer (or artist) by the grace of God" was used by Hans Richter of Dvorak and by Liszt of Smetana. Liszt knew nothing about Smetana's religion. He only intended to say that he thought Smetana a genuine composer of value. It does, however, imply that the person who uses the term of another is himself a believer, because it suggests that this person thinks true composition is a gift of the spirit, like the gift of tongues.

'It is in this sense that the title of this book has been chosen. It does not suggest that all composers, even those greatly worthy of the name, believe in God. They clearly do not. But it seems to me a proof of God's sense of humour that He sometimes gives the gift to people who deny His existence.

'This book is therefore not about church music, though it does include it. Church music has often been written by acknowledged atheists or agnostics, and the reverse might be true, that a genuine believer may only write secular music...

Inglis Gundty was born in 1905 and is of Cornish descent. His first book, a novel entitled 'The Countess's Penny', was published in 1934 and there has been a long list of publications since. He read Greats at Balliol Coilege, Oxford, and became a barrister at law. He then studied composition with Vaughan Williams, orchestration with Gordon Jacob, and 16th-century counterpoint with RO Morris at the Royal College of Music.

During the Second World War he joined the navy, and was on the 'Welshman' for nearly two years. Later he worked at the Admiralty. He was asked to edit the 'Naval Song Book'. He has composed fifteen operas, eight of which have been performed. The most recent opera is 'Galileo', completed in 1996. In 1963 he won the Morley College Opera Competition. In 1960 he formed, with friends, the Sacred Music Drama Society and conducted these mediaeval dramas at Easter and Christmas for 24 years.

For nearly fifty years he has been giving extra-mural lectures in music appreciation for the WEA and for London, Cambridge and Surrey Universities and, more recently, privately. He has done much to preserve folk songs and carols, an example being 'Canow Kernow' - Songs and Dances of Cornwall, now in its third edition.

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