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WVU Humanities Center to host lecture on composer Hector Berlioz

Jennifer Walker

The West Virginia University Humanities Center is proud to support a public lecture by 2023-2024 Humanities Center Fellow Jennifer Walker on April 4 from 4:30-6 p.m. in the Evansdale Library, Room 234.

Walker is an assistant professor of musicology in the College of Creative Arts, School of Music. Her current research as a WVU Humanities Center Fellow focuses on Hector Berlioz’s musical setting of the Catholic mass for the dead – his 1837 Requiem (Grande Messe des Morts) and its use in more secular contexts, such as the open sequence of HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones.” Walker will show how her work seeks to move modern hearings and understandings of Berlioz’s Requiem beyond the confines of Gemstone-style dramatics and theatricality.

Walker draws heavily on the Requiem’s nineteenth-century reception to ask what Berlioz’s own listeners found to be notable. More often than not, the work’s so-called “dramatic effects” were less important than its religious ethos, whether that sense of religious sincerity was created through its engagement with the theological sublime or the music’s keen ability to interact symbiotically with the sacred spaces in which it was performed.

“In a broader sense, hearing the Requiem in these new ways also invites a deeper consideration into the numerous ways in which sacred artistic products have been effectively secularized as either broadly spiritual or as outliers in their creators’ overall oeuvres,” Walker said. “There is no doubt that the Requiem is a grand work that was written on a large scale—in fact, a performance that adheres to Berlioz’s exacting instructions requires upwards of three hundred musicians. In the end, my research shows that sacred art is rendered sacred when it is received by an audience as such and not only when produced by an equally ‘sacred’ artist. If Berlioz and the Gemstone family shared complicated relationships with religion, Berlioz, at least, was capable of producing a work of art that was understood by his listeners to be genuinely sacred in its very essence.”

The lecture will be followed by a question and answer session and light refreshments.