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Title: "Spirituall musick" : the model of divine harmony in the work of Peter Sterry (1613-1672)
Author: Dixon, Tom
ISNI:       0000 0004 2741 5388
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2005
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Peter Sterry is known as a religious writer, educator and ‘Cambridge Platonist’ theologian-philosopher, and as a figure of some importance in Oliver Cromwell’s religious establishment during the Interregnum. Until now, however, no sustained attention has been given to the presence of musical concepts in his work. Yet his richly imaginative prose is shot through with language evoking the harmony of Creation, the tuning of the soul to the Divine will, the relationship between the complete composition in the mind of God and the single part played by each of His creatures. Furthermore, close attention reveals this ‘musical model’ to be rooted not just in venerable Western traditions of musica universalis, but in some of the specific practices of the musical culture in which he lived. The primary aim of the dissertation is to establish the centrality and significance of musical discourse in Sterry’s work. Rather than treating the musical model as ‘mere metaphor’ or linguistic ornament, subordinate to and separable from the main import of his prose, I foreground it as the medium through which his most profound and urgent ideas are expressed. I propose that, in addition, his expression of these ideas can tell us something worthwhile about the ways in which educated non-specialists thought about music in his time. Since I claim a connection between Sterry’s model and the musical culture that surrounded him, I begin by describing in detail the forms taken by that culture in the environments in which he lived and worked. In particular, the musical genres evoked by the model are located in the contexts of 1630s Cambridge and the London of the Civil War, the Interregnum and the early Restoration. For Sterry, the music at the heart of the model existed both as universal principle and as the means of healing the soul of the individual, and I go on to set these complementary aspects against a background of English and European religious and cultural dimensions, showing where Sterry’s musical concepts agree with or depart from some of the dominant trends of his time. I argue that the most distinctive feature of the model is its implicit elevation of the musical over the verbal, a view at odds with accepted historical and musicological interpretations of the seventeenth-century mindset, and even suggestive of later philosophies of ‘absolute music’. Finally, I identify and describe in detail the relationships between Sterry’s theological and doctrinal positions and their formulation through musical concepts, showing how his overriding belief in the supremacy of the Divine principle of love, and his aspiration toward the resolution of conflict, find their most complete expression through the musical model.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available