Music and the Spiritual since the French Revolution

Siena, Accademia Musicale Chigiana, 1-3 December 2022

Following the French Revolution, as institutionalized religion generally declined in Europe and beyond, many artists turned away from rigid Christian dogma to explore horizons of spirituality aimed at enhancing the mystical component of religious experience. The last two centuries have seen many different redefinitions of aesthetic concepts binding non-dogmatic spirituality and sound. In the 19th century, the syncretic unity of text, music, and ritual in sacred art gradually weakened, leading to new relationships between aesthetic and religious elements. We find multiple examples of sacred elements in secularized forms and practices, such as allusions to religious or quasi-spiritual elements in secular music. The 20th century witnessed a significant decrease of sacred music dedicated to the rituals of an official religion, a trend that arguably continues today. However, like their nineteenth-century counterparts, many composers continued to forge close interactions with the sphere of spirituality, often concealing these references in the innermost layers of their openly secular and worldly poetic universes. 

The musical outcomes of such complex, subtle engagements between the sacred and secular spheres, have yet to be fully explored. They invite questions about composers’ relationships with tradition and modernity, the idea of progress as a gradual approach towards perfection, the aesthetic tendency towards abstraction, the shaping of musical listening under specific aesthetic tenets, the search for new dimensions of musical temporality, the mixing of religiosity and processes involving national identity, etc. Following these premises, the conference aims to explore the multiple paths – whether involving performance and listening practices or creative works – inspired by ideas of spirituality in 19th-, 20th and 21st-century music cultures.


15.30-16.00 – Welcome and Introductory remarks
Nicola Sani (Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Artistic Director)
Susanna Pasticci (Chigiana. Journal of Musicological Studies, Editor – Università di Cassino)

16.00-17.00 –
Franco Cardini (Professor Emeritus ISUS/SNS)
In conversation with Giancarlo Riccio (writer, journalist and music critic for the Corriere della Sera)
Musica e Storia Sociale dalla Rivoluzione Francese a Oggi

17.20-18.00 –
Keynote 1
Simone Caputo (‘Sapienza’ University of Rome)
La celebrazione funebre tra musica e politica: la Rivoluzione francese e l’idea civile della morte

18.00-19.00 – Session 1: Spiritual Power and Political Action
Nicola Sani (Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Artistic Director)

James Garratt (University of Manchester)
Christ in the Kulturkampf: Competing Truth Regimes in German Religious Art and Music of the 1870s

Melita Milin (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts)
Expressing the Religious and the Spiritual in Art Music under State-Socialism

19.30 – Concert
Siena Cathedral Choir ‘Guido Chigi Saracini’, director Lorenzo Donati




 10.00-13.00 – Session 4: Constructing Spirituality: Metaphysics and Contemplation
CHAIR: Mila De Santis (University of Florence)

Brian Inglis (Middlesex University, London)
‘Dumped Modernism’? The Interplay of Musical Construction and Spiritual Affect in John Tavener and his To a Child Dancing in the Wind

Graziella Seminara (University of Catania)
L’ “interrogazione metafisica” nel teatro musicale italiano contemporaneo. Due casi studio

June Boyce-Tillman (University of Winchester)
Blurring the Boundaries between Concert and Liturgy

Kerry Bunkhall (Cardiff University)
Le Bœuf sur le toit: The Intersection of Francis Poulenc’s ‘Monk’ and ‘Rascal’

Stefano Lombardi Vallauri (IULM University, Milan)
Buddismi oggettivi di John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi, Morton Feldman, Luigi Nono

15.00-15.40 – Keynote 4
Andrew Shenton (Boston University)
Pärt after Pärt: The Composer as Progenitor

15.40-18.00 – Session 5: Embodying the Spiritual: Mysticism and Transcendence
CHAIR: Massimiliano Locanto (University of Salerno)

 Jan Christiaens (University of Leuven)
Tracking Transcendence. Disappearance as Compositional and Eschatological Trace in Organ Works of Olivier Messiaen and Mark Andre

Sonja Wermager (Columbia University)
‘A Sort of Mysticism:’ Re-examining the Reception of Robert Schumann’s Late Sacred Music

Germán Gan-Quesada (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
Murmuring Solitude, Silent Music. The Mystical and Poetic Universe of Saint John of the Cross in Spanish Avant-garde Music

SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE: Philip V. Bohlman, Simone Caputo, Mila De Santis, Roe-Min Kok, Eftychia Papanikolaou, Susanna Pasticci (chair), Andrew Shenton

ORGANIZING COMMITTEE: Antonio Artese, Marica Coppola, Stefano Jacoviello, Anna Passarini, Nicola Sani, Samantha Stout