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date: 24 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

From the seventeenth century onward, atheism has played important though seldom acknowledged roles in Western art music. Several factors nonetheless impeded conveying atheistic sentiments in music: early atheist musicians faced arrest and imprisonment; musical allegories characterized atheists as immoral or seditious; and atheist composers were sometimes disparagingly regarded as incapable of writing ‘sincere’ religious music. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, however, prominent composers who divulged outspoken atheism in letters and interviews also achieved atheistic musical expression through various approaches to texts: choosing overtly atheistic poetry; emphasizing particularly atheistic portions of longer texts by adopting certain techniques of text setting; shaping opera plots; altering sacred texts; subordinating religious sentiments to the exigencies of musical drama; subverting religious subjects and religious musical idioms to promote nationalism; and purposely avoiding religious music altogether. Similar prejudices and musical strategies are likewise evident in brief considerations of popular and ethnographic music.

Keywords: atheist, composers, musicians, poetry, musical allegories, nationalism, opera plots, sacred texts, religious music, text setting

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