The concept of love is a complex one. The early Christian church inherited from the ancient Greeks the dicotomy between eros and agape. Eros signified desire, obsession and yearning and is primarily associated with sexual urge; agape instead meant a benevolent and self-sacrifiying love. Agape (or caritas) was associated with Christian love, whereas eros or amor was more problematic. Still, it was part of tradition through the Song of Songs, a erotic love poem which was reinterpreted as an allegory of the love between the believing soul and Jesus – a love articulated in a vast repertory of religious poems during medieval and early modern time.
In my article I examine a number of settings to Latin devotional poems by Christian Geist (c1650–1711), composed for royal Communion services at the Swedish court during the 1670s. Five central motifs can be discerned in the texts of these works: yearning, desire, sickness and death, lamentation and tears, and finally sweetness. They are all characteristic for the imagery of the Song of Songs, and for the concept of eros.
In his treatise Musurgia universalis (Rome 1650) Athanasius Kircher discussed the musical representation of the passion of love. He made a distinction between the earthly affectus amoris on the one hand, and affectus amoris on the other. The latter is described as more moderate in its expression. Kircher also remarks that love is a complex passion, which can include several sub-passions, such as joy, grief, etc.
This complexity is seen in Christian Geist’s compositions. To be able to express the love for God or Jesus, he employs different means and sub-affects. Some things are difficult, to represent by musical anologies: thus, for motifs such as desire and yeaning he chooses a generally strong and intense musical expression; yearning and longing can however also be illustrated by a streching of musical notes. For the motifs of lamenting and crying, and for the illustration of how the soul is sick of love Geist employs conventional musical schemes such as descending musical lines, cromaticism, and the musical imitation of sighs. In these works one do not find the kind of moderation advocated by Kircher. His representation of love is instead in line with contemporary secular settings of erotical texts.
2007. Vol. specialnummer 2007, 127-141 p.