Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Christian West and Its Singers

The usual thing is to acquire a new book and read it and then review it. I wanted to do this with Christopher Page's mighty achievement The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years.

I'm not doing that here for several reasons. First, I want to let others know about it now. Second, this book is huge (my arm is sore from lugging it around), something I'll be reading in and on for a very long time, perhaps years. Third, it is clearly the product of a lifetime of research. Anything I write to summarize his contribution would be unfair. Fourth, , I'm not competent to flip through it and make a snap judgment to see what he has done as compared with other writings. I will have to leave that to the scholars.

But I will say this. This book is an absolute inspiration. I feel profound gratitude to the author. It is readable and not merely an academic work. The prose is elegant and warm. The "apparatus" in the back is just about beyond belief. It is filled with color illustrations. It's beyond me how Yale University can make this book available for only $35 or so. My quick glance through it (I've spent several hours) reveals so much fascinating information. I had not known just how much Christian chant owes to Jewish temple worship. I had not understood how much Gregorian chant owes to Rome. I had not seen how much influence trade and commerce had to do with spreading the chant. I had not entirely understood the driving force behind the 9th century attempts to notate the chants. It's obvious to me that this is just the beginning. There are worlds of information in this 700-page treatise. Oh, and the pages are oversized too.

So rather than a review, I say to you, this book exists. Perhaps it has opened a new chapter in history of the study of Christian music. I do not yet know. I look forward to evaluations and reviews from people who have mastered it and are more competent than I to take account of its contribution.

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