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xviii + 300 pp.

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The Man and the Myth in Music
Helen Leneman

With this book, Leneman completes a trilogy on musical interpretations of biblical narratives. Her previous books were Love, Lust, and Lunacy: The Stories of Saul and David in Music (2010) and The Performed Bible: The Story of Ruth in Opera and Oratorio (2007).

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 in Bethesda, Maryland.

Series: Bible in the Modern World, 61
978-1-909697-44-7 hardback
Publication July 2014

1. On Music
2. The Composers and their Works
3. Exodus 1–2: The Beginning of the Story
4. Exodus 3–5: The Burning Bush and Moses’ Return
          to Egypt
5. Exodus 6–12: God Announces his Plans, and Sends
          the Plagues
6. Exodus 14–15: The Exodus, Crossing the Reed Sea,
         Song of Moses and Miriam
7. Exodus 16–17; 19–20; 25: Manna, Water, Amalek,
         the Ten Commandments
8. Exodus 32: The Golden Calf and the Aftermath
9. After Exodus: Numbers and Deuteronomy, the Death
         of Moses

As a scholar of musicology and biblical studies, I respect Leneman’s work, knowing that the musical analysis, including her knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, is 100 percent accurate and reliable. So, when Leneman speaks about the mellow tonality of D Flat major or the bright tonality of B major, there is no question as to the veracity of these statements. The objective of her discussion of the music is to shed light on the biblical narrative in a way that uncovers the pathos of the ancient story … The editors of Sheffield Phoenix are to be congratulated once again for another handsome production, for the fine attention to detail, and for the care given not only to Leneman’s Moses: The Man and the Myth in Music but to every book published by this press. Siobhán Dowling Long, Review of Biblical Literature .

[A]s always, it is a revelation to see quite how many composers wrote oratorios or operas about a given biblical theme. … [B]ringing to light these musical treatments of biblical texts is certainly a worthwhile enterprise in itself. Deborah W. Rooke, Society for Old Testament Study Book List.