Milton and Music  book cover
1st Edition

Milton and Music

  • Available for pre-order on March 2, 2023. Item will ship after March 23, 2023
ISBN 9781032457215
March 23, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
152 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents


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


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Seth Herbst studies the relation between poetry and music in Milton and Shakespeare and later musical adaptations of their work. Trained in literature and music at Harvard, where he received an undergraduate degree in both disciplines and a Ph D in early modern literature. Formerly a freelance music critic for the Boston Globe, Herbst is assistant professor of English at the United States Military Academy.