The Bible Through Music

             This exhibit follows the theme of musical settings of biblical texts. By looking at various pieces of classical music based on passages from the Bible, it explores some of the ways the Bible has been interpreted and experienced over the last few hundred years. The exhibit is comprised of musical scores from Indiana University’s Lilly Library and Cook Music Library. Each item is a first, early, or otherwise noteworthy edition. Due to the potential size of such a scope, one could easily get lost in the minute details surrounding hundreds of pieces and still not come close to being comprehensive. For this reason, there are several specific limiters on the criteria for items included here.

            First, all of the pieces come from a limited time period, a restriction that has more to do with musical considerations than with developments in the Bible’s history or methods of book production. This exhibit features items from the Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1820), Romantic (1820-1900), and 20th-Century (1900-2000) periods. In eras earlier than the Baroque, many common musical conventions, such as functional harmony and modern notation, were not yet standardized. The works chosen from this limited span show both how composers wrote music that was unified in these aspects, and also how they reacted to such conventions to create new styles and techniques.

            Second, the exhibit is intended to represent popular names and pieces. In this regard, as well as for the consideration mentioned above, the Baroque period acts as a natural starting point. Although there were certainly masterful composers before this time, most are not commonly known in current culture. By the 18th century, however, musical giants such as Bach and Handel were entering the music scene. In an effort to heighten relevance to a wide variety of potential viewers, the exhibit focuses on the time span when well-known composers were active.

            As a third consideration, this project attempts to provide a picture of the overall biblical narrative and various examples of its interpretation. It does not necessarily represent every book, but rather it highlights a variety of prominent sections in order to cover the entire scope of the Bible. This is accomplished through the exhibit's main sections—Old Testament (Pentateuch, Psalms, Prophecy) and New Testament (Gospels and Revelation).

            Fourth, there are as many points of comparison between works as possible, a difficult consideration alongside the previous limitation. Nevertheless, insightful comparisons are achieved to a small degree with several of the selections. In the Old Testament portion, two pieces deal with the Exodus, namely Israel in Egypt and Moses und Aron, and two works, Symphony of Psalms and Tehillim, relate to the Psalms, both containing movements based on Psalm 150. There are also two different Passions (Bach and Penderecki) and two Requiems (Verdi and Brahms) included in the exhibit’s New Testament portion. These comparisons show a few instances of how similar sections of the Bible can be differently expressed through various types of music.

            As a final limitation, the Protestant Bible is used as a basis for inclusion. This is not meant to indicate any form of preference towards the Protestant rather than the Catholic Bible, or any other canon. It is simply a matter of keeping the choices to a manageable number. Even with all of these limitations, twice as many pieces could have easily been added to the exhibit. The potential for inclusion of the Apocrypha and other versions of the canon leaves room for a more thorough look at this material in the future.