Milton and Music
Milton and Music is the first study to juxtapose John Milton’s poetry on music with later musical adaptations of his work. In Part I: Milton on Music, Seth Herbst shows that writing about music galvanized Milton’s intellectual development towards animist materialism, the belief that everything in the universe—even the human soul—is made of matter. The Milton who emerges is a forward-thinking visionary who leaped past his contemporaries in conceiving music as a material phenomenon that exists simultaneously as sound and metaphor. Part II: Milton in Music follows two daring composers in investigating whether Milton’s visionary concept of music can be realized in actual musical sound. In Samson, an oratorio adaptation of Milton’s Samson Agonistes, Handel resists Miltonic music theory, suggesting that music struggles to function as both sound and metaphor. By contrast, the twentieth-century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki composes an iconoclastic opera of Paradise Lost that develops a soundworld of fractured dissonance in which music acts as both sound and metaphor. Recovering Milton’s own high estimation of music from a critical tradition that has subordinated it to the poet’s political and religious convictions, Herbst reveals Milton as an interdisciplinary thinker and overlooked figure in the study of words and music. Driven by bold claims about the comparative treatment of literature and music, Milton and Music revises our understanding of what makes this canonical poet an intellectual revolutionary.
Part I: Milton on Music
1 Music as Matter
2 "Pure Concent": Music as Sound and Metaphor
Part II: Milton in Music
3 Handel’s Cacophony: Samson, Noise, and the Right to Music
4 Making a Hell of Heaven and Earth: Music as Sound and Metaphor in Penderecki’s Paradise Lost
Works Cited and Consulted
"Starting with the basic question of why music mattered so much to Milton, Seth Herbst penetrates deeply into Milton's personal life, his theology, and his aesthetics. Herbst’s insights not only advance our understanding of the great poet and his seventeenth-century context, but also illuminate the nature of acoustic experience in modern and contemporary music. This broader reach is what makes the unusual structure of Herbst’s Milton and Music – half on Milton, half on musical settings by Handel and Pederecki -- so innovative and valuable."
--Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University