Many composers through the centuries have integrated their faith into their classical work. Stephanie Bunbury speaks to two of them.
For centuries, classical music and religion were inextricably entwined practices. From the earliest Gregorian chants through to the height of Christianity, the church provided patronage, venues and a readymade audience for the best and most ambitious composers of the day.
In fact, it was Bach, one of the great composers of the time, who said, “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music”, a reflection of how his spiritual beliefs influenced his music.
For Mary Finsterer, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s 2023 Composer in Residence, she senses something similar in her own creative drive. Her three faith-based pieces to be performed by the MSO this year culminate in a new setting of the Stabat Mater, a 13th-century text that evokes Jesus’ mother’s suffering as she watches her son die on the Cross.
“Even to write music is in itself an expression of what my faith is,” says Finsterer. “Whether it has a religious theme or not.” Studying at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, her compositional training was predominantly in 20th-century technique, particularly serialism. At the same time, she was fascinated by the early history of western polyphonic music, with its echoes of the chants she had heard in church as a child.