The Spiritual Lives Of The Great Composers (Patrick Kavanaugh)

In the book, The Spiritual Lives Of The Great Composers Patrick Kavanaugh shows the strong belief many of the great composers had in God.


Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Messiaen . . . Men of genius as different as their music – but all inspired by deep spiritual convictions. Patrick Kavanaugh uncovers the spirituality of twenty of music’s timeless giants, revealing legacies of the soul as diverse as the masterpieces they created. Warmly written, beautifully illustrated, and complete with listening recommendations for each composer, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers is a fascinating look at the inner flame that lit the works of these masters.

Some quotes from the book…

George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)

A servant of Handel swings the door open to Handel’s room. The startled composer, tears streaming down his face, turns to his servant and cries out, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” Handel had just finished writing a movement, which would take its place in history as the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)

“Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”

Bach frequently initialled his blank manuscript pages with the marking, ‘J.J.’ (‘Help me, Jesus’) or I.N.J. (‘In the name of Jesus’).

At the manuscript end, Bach routinely initialled the letters S.D.G. (‘To God alone, the glory’).

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)

“Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully.”

“I prayed … that an infinite God would surely have mercy on His finite creature, pardoning dust for being dust. These thoughts cheered me up. I experienced a sure joy so confident that as I wished to express the words of the prayer, I could not express my joy, but gave vent to my happy spirits and wrote the above Miserere, Allegro.”

Once, late in life, when Haydn met a devotee who heaped praise upon him, Haydn cut him off. “Do not speak so to me. You see only a man granted talent and a good heart.”

Haydn said; “Never was I so devout as when I composed ‘The Creation’. I knelt down each day to pray to God to give me strength for my work.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

“God is ever before my eyes. I realise His omnipotence and I fear His anger; but I also recognise His compassion and His tenderness towards His creatures.”

“Let us put our trust in God and console ourselves with the thought that all is well, if it is in accordance with the will of the Almightly, as He knows best what is profitable and beneficial to our temporal happiness and our eternal salvation.”

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 -1827)

“I will place all my confidence in your eternal goodness, O God! My soul shall rejoice in Thee, immutable Being. Be my rock, my light, forever my trust.”

“Nothing higher exists than to approach God more than other people and from that to extend His glory among humanity.”

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

“Pray to God that He may create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us.”

A friend entered Mendelssohn’s study and sees his friends engrossed in the Bible. Mendelssohn glances up at his visitor, showing no signs of surprise and offering no greeting. “Listen” he says, and excitedly begins to read aloud: “And behold, the Lord passed by …” he reads on and on, his voice rising in pitch as the drama of the passage overwhelms him. The visitor recognises the story of Elijah, when suddenly the reading stops. “Would not that be splendid for an oratorio?” asked Felix Mendelssohn, setting the Bible on his desk and searching his friend’s face for a reaction. Thus the greatest oratorio of the nineteenth century was conceived.

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

“I pray to God that He may powerfully illumine your heart through His faith and His love. You may scoff at this feeling as bitterly as you like. I cannot fail to see and desire in it the only salvation. Through Christ alone … salvation and rescue come to us.” Music’s purpose is “to ennoble, to comfort, to purify man, to bless and praise God.”

Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)

“The more one separates one from the canons of the Christian church, the further one distances oneself from the truth.”

From the book The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh, Sparrow Press, USA, 1992.