Moses: The Man and the Myth in Music
Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2014 pp. xi + 300. $80.00
Bible in the Modern World, 61
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Description: Moses has often been thought of more as a myth than as a man. Later retellings of his story—particularly in operas and oratorios—demythologize him, portraying him and all the characters surrounding him on a more human scale. Moses the statue comes down from his pedestal and becomes a living man. For example, in the Bible the primary relationship of Moses is with God; secondarily it is with the people of Israel, rather than with individuals. In opera and the many oratorio settings the figure of Moses is enhanced by his representation as a man with many emotional ties—to Zipporah, Miriam or Aaron, or to all three.
Re-reading and re-telling biblical narratives through musical settings gives voice to often silent biblical characters, offering the reader and listener unexpected ways to hear and understand their story. In Moses: The Man and the Myth in Music, highlighting how Moses was richly imagined in oratorios and operas, Leneman discusses 16 operas and oratorios from the eighteenth to the twentieth century—including works by Handel, Rossini, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Schoenberg and more obscure composers whose music has seldom or never been explored.
Through music, the listener can hear and also feel the suffering of the Israelites; the passion of Moses as leader, liberator, and even lover; the intensity of Miriam’s vision and commitment; and the whole range of emotion experienced by every character that inhabits this story. The music and librettos not only fill in the spaces between the lines, but go beyond the margins of the biblical text to conjure up a multi-dimensional world.
Helen Leneman is an independent scholar, singer and pianist living
Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, History
Review by Siobhan Dowling Long
Citation: Siobhan Dowling Long, review of Helen Leneman, Moses: The Man and the Myth in Music, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2016).
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