‘An Art That Reaches Beyond the World’: Sir Arthur Bliss and Music as Spirituality
The British composer Sir Arthur Bliss laced music with immense value and importance; from his own experiences he learned to see in it the capacity for peace and healing and developed the belief that it was ‘an art that reaches beyond the world.’ (Bliss 1989, p. 278). As can be seen in his artistic creed above, he saw music as something inherently intertwined with emotion and believed in it as a crucial mode of expression, both in its composition and in its auditory experience. Beyond Bliss’s artistic creed, we are lucky to have on record many of his philosophies on music and creativity, and many of his own experiences therewith. Across the years Bliss gave many lectures, such as ‘What Modern Composition is Aiming at?’ and the three lectures on ‘Aspects of Contemporary Music’ from which comes his creed. He took part in several broadcasts during and after his time at the BBC, including two appearances on Desert Island Discs, and wrote multiple accounts of his music and the mind from which it came, including the detailed autobiography, As I Remember (Bliss 1989). These records, written and spoken, provide the Bliss scholar with a wealth of material through which to explore the hows and whys of Bliss’s compositional process and purpose, and yet these creative philosophies seem to remain confined to discussions of particular works and their contexts or contents. These ideas and ideals are worth exploring as a corpus to help us understand the very basis of Bliss’s musical personality, particularly given that Sir Arthur, his wife, and others who knew him write of the particularly personal nature of the man which is contained within his compositional output—in a way, we must extract the person from the music through the lens of Bliss’s understanding of his own artistry.I believe that the foundation of all music is emotion, and that without the capacity for deep and subtle emotion a composer only employs half the resources of his medium. I believe that this emotion should be called into being by the sudden awareness of actual beauty seen, or by the vision of beauty vividly apprehended. I believe that the emotion resulting from apprehended beauty should be solidified and fixed by presenting it in a form absolutely fitting to it, and to it alone. If I were to define my musical goal, it would be to try for an emotion truly and clearly felt, and caught for ever in a formal perfection.
Deliberately avoiding the introduction of ‘ritual’ at this point in order to preserve the theory’s generality, Davies describes these intensification behaviours as ‘the practice of truth’, that is to say our ‘truth’ is embodied and that when we engage with what we believe to be true (at work, at home, in a religious setting) we often do so in ways that intensify the emotion which pervades our values relating to the origin and significance of life itself. To conclude his ponderings, Davies again focuses on the generality of the idea, affixing a caveat that ‘cultural intensification [is] a theoretical construct with potential as a theory for use when discussing religion as one amongst other aspects of life rather than a theory of religion as a distinctive category’ (Davies 2008, p. 17).It is precisely in these activities of meaning-making that hope and creativity become apparent and show how human beings engage practically with their ideas. If left to itself meaning can seem an abstract and very neutral form of knowledge; once it becomes part of a history of a nation, institution, political party or, indeed, of a sports club or of the myth and theology of a group, then it becomes acted upon and acted out. In and through that activity the particular ‘meaning’ takes on new life, it becomes intensified in the lives of those related to it.
Therefore, if spirituality, taken in Davies’ sense, is ‘an emotional and intellectual stream of making sense of life’ which confers ‘a quality of depth to existence’ aligned with ideas of identity and destiny—again carefully noting the generalities which both surround and encompass religion—then the idea-value-belief series and the processes which are used to maintain and develop these levels are useful in uncovering the elements of spirituality which are interwoven into significant aspects of an individual’s life. Finally, these ideas feed back into the genesis of this discussion in Davies’ ‘words against death’ idea. If spirituality can be seen as a form of meaning-making against the framework of the notions series, then the ideas through which it begins and the processes through which they are intensified might be viewed in the broader theoretical understanding of existing as a component of a theory of ‘words against death’—this will briefly be discussed in the conclusion.[The idea of spirituality] also reflects an emotional and intellectual stream of making sense of life and conferring a quality of depth to existence whether approached within the corporate structures of major traditions—religious or secular—or as a more personal dimension beyond institutional control.
2. Beauty Apprehended and Emotion
Bliss’s faith was renewed because of the stark contrast between the realities of life and death which were imposed upon all those who fought at the front and the fear that death was an end, an ‘annihilation of the human soul’, rekindled an existing flame of belief, perhaps one which had previously been extinguished; the use of the phrase ‘stubborn disbelief’ suggests a conscious attempt at spiritual suppression. If the overfamiliar nature of Anglican repetition3 dulled this sense as a young boy, perhaps the smells and bells of a Catholic oratory, its architecture, and its art might be a fitting arena in which his faith could flourish—after all, Bliss admitted in later life to being a fan of ‘pomp and ceremony’, both regarding the church and also the state (Amis 1991).During my first year in France I had been buoyed up by the conviction that, whatever the danger, I myself could not be killed. The bullet that bore my name had not been cast. The sense of my own individuality was too strong to allow the thought that a chance shell could in its haphazard way blot out my existence. The coming return to the same battlefields made my brash confidence waver. […] But now I felt the urgent need for some reassurance that sudden death did not annihilate the human soul: perhaps Faith could prove stronger than stubborn disbelief. In search of a solution I went to a priest at the Brompton Oratory for instruction, and later was received into the Catholic Church.
We see this juxtaposition translated into Bliss’s music, too; Eric Saylor, in discussing the two-part final movement of Morning Heroes, ‘Now, Trumpeter, for Thy Close’, notes the ‘opposing pastoral perspectives inspired by the writings of two different war poets: Wilfred Owens and Robert Nichols’ (Saylor 2017, p. 94). This movement is the only section of the symphony which deals specifically with Bliss’s own experience at war through reference to the Battle of the Somme. Wilfred Owens’ text opens by setting the serene pastoral landscape of a battlefield, pregnant with expectation, but soon descends into horror as the spring offensive begins. The close of Owens’ poem brings the entry of a chorale prelude over which the line ‘Why speak they not of comrades that went under?’ is spoken—Saylor suggests that the depth of grief displayed by the chorale prelude comes in response to this unanswered question (Saylor 2017, p. 95). The passion chorale which follows the prelude sets text by Robert Nichols, a military friend of Bliss, in which the war dead (one presumes of both sides, as per Bliss’s comments on his setting of the Grecian roll-call in the previous movement) are heroised graciously without sentimentality thanks to Bliss’s setting of the text (McCullough 2022, p. 148). Saylor points to two notable adjacent contrasts from Bliss’s setting of these texts. The first is the use of gunfire under the soft pastoral Owens text and the more rhapsodic music which accompanies the Nichols—the pastoral extremes of hard and soft seemingly alter the interpreted tone, or mood, of the texts with subtlety. The second is the use of these contrasts to place and invert the momento mori of Et in Arcadia Ego—‘Death May be in Arcadia, but Arcadia is also found in Death’—a theme which will recur later in this article (Saylor 2017, pp. 96–97).It was like exchanging one planet for another… I found in France, as so many others did, that the appreciation of a moment’s beauty had been greatly intensified by the sordid contrast around: one’s senses were so much more sharply on the alert for sights and sounds that went unnoticed in peacetime because taken so for granted. But a butterfly alighting on a trench parapet, a thrush’s songs at ‘stand to’, a sudden rainbow, became infinitely precious phenomena, and indeed the sheer joy of being alive was the more relished for there being the continual possibility of sudden death.
Bliss seems to be suggesting that the psychoactive state of hypervigilance which manifests as a symptom of trauma has helped to shape the foremost foundations of, if not, as he says, the artists of a generation, then at least his own creativity. Bliss’s personality, by this point in 1934, had certainly undergone a substantial development—this is perhaps seen most clearly through his music in his move from a revolutionary enfant terrible towards a more conservative grand papa—and yet this focus on the awareness of beauty inspired by the war seems to have remained somewhat of an artistic value for him; something to ‘cling to’ as an affirmation of life. He notes later in Aspects:The impulse to creation is an emotional one, and can be defined as a vivid state of awareness… Artists of my generation had an unparalleled experience—they were suddenly flung into war, and though it undoubtedly destroyed the artist in many, it may have aroused it in others. One cannot for long as a young man face the immediacy of death without becoming filled with excitement for the values of life. The smallest evidences of a positive vitality as opposed to a destructive force became an immense significance. A butterfly in the trench, the swoop and note of a bird, a line of poetry, the shape of Orion became as it were more vividly perceived and actually felt than ever before imagined possible. They were clung to desperately, as it were, because of their intimate contact with the saving power of beauty. One developed a sense of awareness more acute than at any other time in one’s life—one saw objects for the first time, simply because, I imagine, it might also conceivably have been for the last.
As Carl Jung once remarked: ‘It is not that something different is seen, but that one sees differently. It is as though the spatial act of seeing were changed by a new dimension… These differences of degree [of depth of consciousness] are, however, often differences of character, in that they depend completely upon the development of the personality—that is to say, upon the nature of the perceiving subject.’ (Jung 2020, p. 146). The war certainly seems to have brought about a change in Bliss’s view of the world, or perhaps more presently, a development in the depth of his consideration of it in which persistent memento mori have imbued ‘the beauty of things’ with a new sense of meaning; one that suggests both a capturing of the present as a significant reminder of life and being, one which sets life against death, and also one which provides life-values and hope.I have emphasized this personal experience because it is absolutely akin to that of the artist gestating the work. He is filled with this vivid awareness. While at other times he sees an object or grasps a thought with the intensity of two, at the moments of creation he sees and grasps a thought with the intensity of four. This generates a sense of power in him, which impels him to communicate that intensity to others… But whether it is momentary or prolonged it is the essential power from which creation springs. It has been wrapped up in words like inspiration and divine afflatus, it has been termed a kind of madness by those who are only too sane; but whatever the label attached to it, it manifests itself as a definitely higher voltage of living, in which the values of beauty are the more clearly envisaged and its many forms found to be of an absolute necessity for the continuance of existence.
A Colour Symphony
Whilst Scholes is perhaps just as overenthusiastic in his declaration of Bliss as a ‘true’ synesthete as he is with the title’s self-revelation, Bliss does remark on the inspiration for the work in his autobiography:It seems (and it is interesting to hear this) that when composing [Bliss] always experiences a play of colour sensation, that such a play had been vivid in his mind when working at this Symphony, and that the title, “A Colour Symphony,” which at once suggested itself to him, would actually express a conception that had dominated him when at work.
The 1932 edition of the score describes the colour associations of each of the movements and a note for a 1956 recording on the Decca label gives further associations: the first is an ecclesiastical shade of purple indicating a procession [the colour of amethysts, pageantry, royalty, and death]; the second the scarlet of embers [the colour of rubies, wine, revelry, furnaces, courage, and magic]; the third a ‘Picasso blue’ as that of the sky late in the year [the colour of sapphires, deep water, skies, loyalty, and melancholy]; and the fourth a darkening spring green [the colour of emeralds, hope, youth, joy, spring, and victory] (Bliss 1932; Roscow 1991, pp. 227–29). The first movement is Andante Maestoso, keeping with his processional description, and is palindromic with a trio of themes which are displayed in reverse order post-climax. The scherzo, Red, is mostly based on the melodic development of the first theme which contrapuntally concentrates large amounts of energy in the movement. The third movement, Blue, is contemplative and built around the use of chords with added sixths and sevenths, something which was to become a fingerprint of Bliss’s post-armistice music—it is one of the first major demonstrations of extensive fluidity and line which marks an essential turning point towards a more inclusive approach which sees the importance of timbre and texture mixed with less abstract ideas in composition. The final movement, Green, opens with a tonally ambiguous theme presented in the violas which are soon joined by the violins and the flute in fugal entries. The counterpoint brings an unravelling momentum which climaxes with an Elgarian theme played in the strings and brass.For weeks I sat before a blank sheet of manuscript paper trying to make up my mind what shape, what character this new big work should have. And then one day, looking over a friend’s library, I picked up a book on heraldry and started reading about the symbolic meanings associated with the primary colours. At once I saw the possibility of so characterising the four movements of a symphony, that each should express a colour as I personally perceived it... Hence its title Colour Symphony with the sub-titles to the movements of Purple, Red, Blue, Green.
3. Bliss: A Man in His Music
In many ways, we might see this as being something separate to the emotion inspired by ‘extramusical association’; we might view this more as a sort of deutero-truth of emotion, in much the same way we might view ‘spirituality’ as a deutero-truth.4 Bliss again mentions this in discussing several canonical composers, for example Haydn:[M]usic must convey to me some state of mind, or some emotional or intellectual stimulus. Some part of me must be moved by feeling I’m in contact with a superior mind that wishes to express itself to me… does one need to recognize a distinct musical personality in order to get the uttermost enjoyment? I feel I do.
These two statements, such is their abstraction, might seem wafty and unsustainable, however, in their current role in this thesis they direct the inquisitor towards an important facet of Bliss’s compositional process and what, perhaps, we might see as a core compositional component—musical ’personality’. Quoting Professor Samuel Alexander, Bliss remarks:Of the past we can say, for example, that a quartet of Haydn is greater than a quartet of Dittersdorf, because the amount of human experience ‘felt into and fixed creatively’ in the Haydn is greater than the other… In simple words, given that the artistry in the two works is of the same excellence, taken man for man, Haydn expresses the bigger all-round human personality.
Here we have Beauty, that ideal with which we began this journey, being placed alongside the expression of the artist in music. It might initially seem that the impetus to create, that which is inspired by a vivid apprehended beauty, is somewhat separated from the need for a composer to display, or perhaps as Bliss would put it, communicate an element of his personality, and yet, it is the process of apprehension which, like that of the listener, triggers the qualities personal to him- or herself: ‘Creative effort in any branch of the arts means a lifetime of work. Whether awake or asleep the mind continuously strives to convert experience into sound. Hence the traditional and correct estimate of an artist as someone vague and undependable, someone only half there.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 201). We again begin to observe a plausible connection between creative inspiration and the personal expression of the artist; this quotation suggesting that the artist is always on the edge of an experience in the world around them, one which, when embedded into their art for the listener, communicates something of that particular state of being which could only have been lived by that artist. Bliss notes this phenomenon again when speaking to conductor Vernon Handley about what makes a score ‘come alive’; ‘I demand from music not what I demanded as a young man which was sound and sound only… I now demand something very much better than that. You talk about an enhancement of life: I do demand enhancement of life, by which I mean I want to feel behind this music a great personality telling me something about experience that I haven’t had before. That’s what I want’ (Bliss 1989, p. 286).Professor Alexander says ‘an artist is a good artist in so far as he is a creator of beauty’—but it must be remembered that besides being a creator of beauty, he is bound to show in his work the qualities personal to him as a man, and it is upon the power and breadth of these human qualities that his claim to greatness will ultimately rest.
The composer is a man of two beings—one which perhaps, for self-preservation, he shows the world, the other he keeps hidden and it is only behind the closed door of his workroom that he is really himself, and possibly only his nearest and dearest, in this case my wife, for instance can blend the two. I have indeed written an autobiography detailing my life to the age of 75, but whoever wants to know the real me must listen to my music.
Here, Bliss firstly directs us towards his Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and the aforementioned Morning Heroes as works which embody the ‘real Bliss’; secondly, he notes his wife, Trudy, as one of a select few capable of understanding those elements of latent personality in his music. It is interesting, then, to note that Lady Bliss wrote an appendix to a posthumously revised edition of Bliss’s autobiography, As I Remember, in which she notes:You remember that Elgar wrote on the score of the Dream of Gerontius ‘This is the best of me’, by which I think he meant, “This is the real me”. I have... chosen as a portrait a characteristic work of mine written at the age of 64. It is music that I should wish to have survived me. In Elgar’s sense I can write in this work, Meditations on a Theme by John Blow, and in my choral symphony Morning Heroes—‘this is the best of me’.
The public Arthur Bliss has been there for all to see: the President, the Chairman, the excellent conductor, the proud and conscientious Master of the Queen’s Music. However, for those that know where to look, or rather should I say listen to his music, there will be no difficulty in finding another Arthur Bliss, one of the ‘inspired madmen’ from the Phaedrus.
And so, having already discussed Morning Heroes I now take a work in which Bliss has claimed to pledge his true self and one in which his wife notes an element of the same—a work which, written at the end of his life, perhaps accumulates that depth of experience and finessed expression for which Bliss so aimed—the Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (1955) and Shield of Faith (1975) provide a point of departure with an ‘authentic’ seal of approval.It is Shield of Faith, which he did not live to hear performed, that makes a fitting envoi.
3.1. Meditations on a Theme by John Blow
Bliss, as well as taking Blow’s theme, also adopts the text of Psalm 23 in his titling of each of the movements, or meditations. It is interesting that the descriptions (verses) appear out of the order originally set by the psalmist, marking well Bliss’s dwelling on the ‘varied imagery’ and his free approach to the composition. Instead of running the psalm chronologically, Bliss has taken his inspiration and moulded the work based on the moods which spoke to him in each of the verses (and, in parallel, one only hears a full, unfragmented restatement of Blow’s theme at the very end of the work). He opens the Meditations with the eponymous verse, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, in which Bliss presents a melodic Pastoral depicting two contrasting moods: ‘one of comfort and reassurance, the presence of the Shepherd, and the other of peril and lurking evil.’ (Roscow 1991, pp. 223–25). The second meditation, ‘Thy rod and staff they comfort me’, express ‘confidence and pride’ (Roscow 1991, p. 225). The fourth meditation, ‘he restoreth my soul’, is described as joyful and confident, and the fifth meditation, ‘In green pastures’, reintroduces the soft melodic material from the opening pastoral using an arpeggiated harp to imply flowing streams and lush, green fields. This is again interrupted by the lurking of peril and evil which brings the programmed text of ‘Through the valley of the shadow of death’ as an Interlude. As the metaphorical figure (perhaps the shepherd) moves through the valley, they reach, in the Finale, two full statements of Blow’s theme before a coda returns to the pastoral of the introduction; there is ‘one more premonition of peril, but the final chord brings complete reassurance.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 227).I felt a signal omen had been granted me, and it was accordingly on this theme that I began to build my new work. I have used the title ‘Meditations’ in spite of the energetic, almost violent character of some of the music, because I have been aware of dwelling in thought on the varied imagery used in this psalm and of allowing myself to compose freely on different fragments of Blow’s melody.
3.2. Shield of Faith
The first text, by William Dunbar, tells of Christ’s victory over death and the devil. The chorus sing the text against the back of a virtuosic organ fanfare which converges with the voices at ‘Surrexit Christus Dominus’ before Bliss engages the two soloists to proclaim ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’. The second poem, George Herbert’s ‘Love’, in which the guilty are pardoned and invited to share in the sacrament, provides a rather stark contrast to the fourth movement, a setting of an extract from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man. Despite not living to hear the work performed Bliss did write a set of programme notes for the cantata before his passing; of the Essay Bliss notes that ‘Pope gives a scathing account of man’s life; there is no “shield of faith” here, only the cold comfort that God is wiser than we are.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 281). Such a reading from ‘the region of scepticism’ provides an ease into Tennyson’s In Memoriam where ‘we seem to glimpse “the dark night of the soul”.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 281). The choice of Tennyson by Canon Verney was prompted by Bliss’s request for something more ‘agnostic’—Verney appears to have been successful as Bliss notes that Tennyson ‘hopes for reassurance… but the whole excerpt seems to suggest that the hope is in vain.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 281). The fifth text comes from ‘Little Gidding’, the final of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. This text held a personal significance for Bliss who had visited the chapel of Nicholas Ferrar’s religious community in Little Gidding ten years prior to setting the words; ‘an aroma of sanctity still clings to it.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 281). Bliss ends his programme notes with an assertion about the Quartets which we may take as the overarching conclusion to the Shield of Faith: ‘I do not presume fully to have their meaning, but [the Quartets’] magnificence expresses itself in a rapturous acceptance of belief, ending in the Dantesque vision of the union of divine and human love.’ (Roscow 1991, p. 281).Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.(Ephesians 6: 13–17 King James Version)
3.3. Music, Identity, and Belief
4. Music as Spirituality
There is also a strong pillar to support happiness. The spiritual world abhors a vacuum. Everyone instinctively feels the need to believe in something, not necessarily for some, perhaps, in a formal religion, beautiful as they are in their pure essence, but in something that can relate him or her to the vast starry spaces around. After all we are only a speck of dust on a minor planet. It may be presumptuous of me, a musician, to probe into philosophical questions, but music is an art which reaches beyond the world. It is one of the great sources of happiness. Endless draughts of peace and healing can be drawn from its mysterious depths…
Here we have a full declaration on Bliss’s belief in music as something which ‘reaches beyond the world’. It holds in many forms, both in his own music and in that of others, a sense and reaffirmation of his personal values, identity, and beliefs, but more than that—it gives him a sense of his own destiny. Whilst it initially may seem that the ‘idea’ of music is somewhat separated from destiny in the transformation to religious belief, we only need to look towards the intertwining of music as a belief and religious belief for Bliss, and as something which holds his identity. To use Bliss’s ‘A Testament’ as an example: ‘I think most people like to feel like they leave behind them a remembrance of a definite personality… the poet his verses, the sculptor his works of art, the painter his canvases, the musician his scores’ (Roscow 1991, p. 281). More powerfully perhaps, in an answer to the question of ‘Do you think composing is a full-time job?’, Bliss answered: ‘composing is not a job at all. It is a function, one for which certain human beings are designed. You might as well ask “Has a lighthouse a full-time job, or should it be doing something else during its daylight hours?”’ (Roscow 1991, p. 200) Music not only provided Bliss with a sense of his own identity but his own destiny. It was a medium through which he could project something of the nature of himself into the future and for posterity. Music was something which became a strategy of meaning-making in many ways—I have previously noted the act of artistic creativity as an intensification behaviour and, whilst only briefly raised earlier, it becomes clear that the very act of listening to music is just as much of a practice of truth. Bliss remarks on this as early as the 1920s:When I took part in [Desert Island Discs] I chose for my first record the Credo from Bach’s B Minor Mass, because when I listen to this I am filled with such a positive affirmation of belief, belief in something much greater than the small self, that even in moments of dark depression it is difficult to admit to doubt… perhaps truth should be added to beauty as a source of happiness.
It seems that it is not just music in the abstract which displays an importance for Bliss’s values and beliefs, but also music as an auditory and sensory experience; again, we might look to this as the next most important intensification behaviour—whilst creativity and composition intensify values to connect Bliss’s identity to his music, listening to music, be it his own or otherwise, connects Bliss to his destiny and his spirituality. There can be no stronger argument for this than in the speech above: ‘when I listen to [the ‘Credo’ from Bach’s B Minor Mass] I am filled with such a positive affirmation of belief, belief in something much greater than the small self, that even in moments of dark depression it is difficult to admit to doubt’ (Bliss 1989, p. 278). We may then, through Davies, view the act of listening (perhaps with the caveat of ‘to specific pieces’) as another intensification behaviour, one which heightens Bliss’s belief in the idea of music as something intertwined with his identity to the level of a religious belief as something which ‘comes to frame [his] sense of destiny.’ (Davies 2017, p. 6) This herein exemplifies the ways in which this approach of intensification speaks to the individual nature of our psychological states whilst addressing the sociological values and beliefs of a broader group; two Christians may share some beliefs and religious beliefs but they may (or may not) reach the various levels through differing intensification behaviours. Again, this religious comparison is helpful in understanding the importance of this approach for music as spirituality in a non-traditional and non-religious setting; it was the regularity of religious services which dulled Bliss’s initial Christian beliefs (see note 3) and so in music he found a spiritual means of approaching the ‘quality of depth to existence’ (as in (Davies 2015, pp. 4–5)) or the ‘higher voltage of living’ (as in Bliss; (Roscow 1991, p. 99)). This broad comparison is not only made here by the author, but by Bliss himself:What is the use of sitting on a chair over a score and pretending that because you can inwardly hear the tune and general harmonic basis of it, being, thank God, an educated musician, you are realising the composer’s intention and extracting a more pleasurable excitement thereby than if you sit in the concert hall and actually drink in the resulting sound with your ears? […] We are entering an age where emotion in music will be studied by the purely musical.
Music [from Beethoven to Wagner] was no longer an exquisite entertainment for aristocratic patrons, and no longer a beautiful but humble handmaid for the service of the church. It had become a proud religion itself, and its large public already revered it as a form of free religious worship, ‘experiencing and stimulating mystical experiences for temperaments, which could no longer be satisfied by dogmatic theology.’
Music against Death
Conflicts of Interest
In a reply to a discussion paper in 1941 by B.E Nicholls, Controller of Programmes at the BBC, Bliss writes of ‘the threefold function of broadcast music’: to ‘expand the principle value of great music as an ultimate value, indeed a justification for life’; to enrich leisure hours; and to ‘stimulate tired bodies and worn nerves’; he also notes ‘[i]t betrays its trust if it debases the spiritual value of music, acts as a narcotic or drug, or bores by sheer inanity.’
A ‘deutero-truth’ is a term that is ‘immediately recognised and understood at an ordinary level of conversation but [is] extremely hard to define if pressed for a higher (or second = deutero) level of precise meaning’ (Davies 2017, p. 22). See also (Rappaport 1999).
Throughout his writings, and indeed his public life, Bliss seldom references his religious beliefs. In his autobiography Bliss notes that his family ‘never held [any] deep religious convictions’ when he was growing up and that, given his father’s ‘stern new England consciousness’ of a moral compass, any ostentation or outward observance was unnecessary (Bliss 1989, p. 48). Despite this, he does mention a ‘spiritual quickening’ around the age of his confirmation; this, presumably would have been at one of Bliss’s boarding schools—either at Bilton Grange or at Rugby, both affiliated with the Church of England—but it was not to last long as the regularity of religious services became nothing more than habit and any element of ‘the spiritual’ soon faded away.
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McCullough, M. ‘An Art That Reaches Beyond the World’: Sir Arthur Bliss and Music as Spirituality. Religions 2022, 13, 1186. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13121186
McCullough M. ‘An Art That Reaches Beyond the World’: Sir Arthur Bliss and Music as Spirituality. Religions. 2022; 13(12):1186. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13121186Chicago/Turabian Style
McCullough, Matthew. 2022. "‘An Art That Reaches Beyond the World’: Sir Arthur Bliss and Music as Spirituality" Religions 13, no. 12: 1186. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13121186