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xii + 399 pp.

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Love, Lust, and Lunacy
The Stories of Saul and David in Music
Helen Leneman

This is Leneman’s second foray into the interdisciplinary study of the Bible and music, following her The Performed Bible: The Story of Ruth in Opera and Oratorio (2007).

In Love, Lust, and Lunacy she shows how these themes have captured the imagination of librettists and composers of many eras to set the narratives of the books of Samuel to music. Leneman convincingly illustrates music’s ability to suggest emotions and character traits that can only be read between the lines of a text, through an in-depth discussion of 16 operas and oratorios from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century—including works of Handel, Nielsen, Parry, Honegger, Milhaud and lesser-known composers. The musical analyses can be understood on different levels by both specialists and non-specialists, providing a new perspective for biblical scholars along with a new appreciation of the biblical texts for musicians and music lovers.

Librettists and composers working with the Saul and David stories were alert to the complexity and ambivalence of the biblical portraits, and filled in the blanks left by the biblical writer in stirring and compelling ways. Their gap-filling may sometimes contradict traditional versions or interpretations of the biblical text, but their musical creativity often makes the words and actions of the biblical characters more convincing and compelling. In the musical works reviewed here there are portrayed three-dimensional figures—not only David and Saul, but also Samuel, Michal, Bathsheba, the Woman of Endor and others, personages barely glimpsed between the lines of the biblical text but imagined in different ways by readers in every generation.

Helen Leneman is an independent scholar, singer and pianist living in Bethesda, Maryland.

Series: Bible in the Modern World, 29
978-1-907534-06-5 hardback
Publication October 2010

1 On Music and Literary Analysis
2 The Composers and the Works
3 Saul’s Youth, before David (1 Samuel 8–15)
4 Saul’s and David’s Stories Overlap, Part I (1 Samuel 16–17)
5 Saul’s and David’s Stories Overlap, Part II (1 Samuel 18–22)
6 Saul’s and David’s Stories Overlap, Part III (1 Samuel 24–26)
7 Saul Visits the Necromancer of Endor (1 Samuel 28)
8 Deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and David’s Rise to Power (1 Samuel 31,
2 Samuel 1)
9 David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11–12)
10 David’s Later Story: Tamar, Absalom, and the Death of David (2 Samuel 13–19, 1 Kings 1–2)

Her attention to detail enables the reader to hear the text, hear the music, and brings a new element to biblical interpretation. … [H]er analysis of the relationship between composers, their works, and the biblical texts … shows how music encompasses more than a retelling of the text, but involves the whole person, including both intellect and emotion. … Leneman …provide[s] us with a depth of knowledge that at times seems inexhaustible. Karen Langton, Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception.