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Document Details :
Title: On Preferring Mozart
Author(s): VAN MAAS, Sander
Volume: 65 Issue: 1 Date: 2004
Recent developments in music as well as in the debate on present-day transformations of religion, call for a renewal of the question of ‘sacred music.’ This article poses the question, and suggests a direction in which theory could move in order to understand the ways in which the ancient idea(l) of sacred music remains important for present-day music and for religious reflection. Starting from the observation that theological thinkers tend to have a preference for the music of Mozart, the question is raised how they theoretically substantiate the theological privilege of a music like Mozart’s. As it turns out, the key figure relating (this) music to the sacred is the figure of form, often exemplified by musical melody. The music theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who has had a significant influence on Jean-Luc Marion, is a case in point. However, as is shown with reference to the musical aesthetics of the early 19th century, this figure is also central to the diametrical opposites of sacred music, being the musically sublime and the ‘religion of music.’ This observation leads to the question how, on a theoretical level, one could distinguish between sacred music and its obverse. As is shown, Marion suggests a new way of understanding the possibility of sacred music, starting from the ideas of the gift and the ‘saturated phenomenon.’ Analysing a key passage from Etant donné, it is argued that the implied shift the from form to the gift does not entirely annul the undecidability of sacred music. But also, it is argues that is does indeed show the importance and challenge that the notion of sacred music implies for both theological-philosophical and musical reflection.