History of Christian Music
Christian music consists of genres written and performed to express communal or personal belief in the Christian faith and belief. The themes of this type of music include worship, praise, lament and penitence. The forms of Christian music vary widely across the globe. Just like any other form of music the definition, performance, creation and significance of this type of music vary with social and cultural contexts. The music is used for various purposes including pleasure, aesthetic, entertainment, worship and ceremonial purposes.
Christian music has its roots in the Hebrew culture, which had a well cultivated music culture during the early period of the development of Christianity. The history of Christian music can be traced back to historic and prophetic books, ritualistic music was first performed by King David, and the Larousse encyclopedia of music credits David with the confirmation he made to make the tribe of Levi the psalms are King Davids composition and they have been the basis of Judeo-Christian hymnology.
The earliest form of Christian music was shaped by Hebrew, Syrian and Greek influences (Joseph 14). There are a few existent samples of this music from ancient times and historians have proved confirmed that the music was part and parcel of ancient religious Greek ceremonies. The music was a monophonic melody and had no contrast and harmony. The music allowed the inclusion of accompaniments such as musical instruments. Syrian churches and monasteries were locales within which the use of music as a worship element developed.
Hymns and antiphonal psalmody first developed in Syria and later spread to Milan and to the far west. The psalmody also occurred in the temples of the Jews. In antiphonal psalmody two choruses are sang back and forth in a manner that sounds like an echo. The Jewish psalmody text was derived from Book of praises which belonged to the Hebrew. This was actually the biblical psalms. The singing of Psalms was a daily occurrence in Hebrew temples.
The music was presented in responsorial chant format. The Levite leaders would chant the psalms usually with musical instruments accompaniment. The Levites would chant a line and wait for the congregation to chant the next line in a responsorial format. The chant by the Levites at the altar was known as the verse whereas; the congregations choral response was called the response. Hymns adapted melodies from early chants by following the psalms. The Catholic Church created the Canticle which consisted of lyrical parts derived from the bible.
The Canticles were sung during specified periods within the worship time. These Canticles form part of todays catholic worship. The first recorded chants were attributed to Pope Gregory and are known historically as Gregorian chants. In the Middle Ages Catholic faithful thought of the mass as a very important part of the worship and faith, and the mass was categorized into two; the ordinary and proper mass. According to history the later was a seasonal event and the music performed during the proper mass was chosen according to the event or feast (Wilfred 40).
The movements associated with the music include the Alleluia, Epistle, collect, Introit, gradual, canon, secret, evangelium, post-communion, offertory and communion. On the other hand, the ordinary mass was a common week-to-week occurrence that was not influenced by holy seasons. This service maintained its format and it had five sections of music namely, Kyria, Gloria, Eleison, Agus Dei, Sanctus and Credo. The Gregorian chants were held sacred and thus, they were used most of the early mass sessions.
The primary chant known as the Cantus Firmus was found within the bass line. As time went by musicians changed the chants by creating different voices, rhythms, descants, countermelodies, harmony and imitations, however; the chants never ceased to exist. Various musicians contributed to the developments, and these include Dufay, Machaut, Leonin, Perotin, Ockegheim and Desperez. Leonin made additions of a harmonic portion, while Machaut changed the rhythms. Dufay further re-arranged the mass into four and three sub-sections where all parts sang melodies that differed against each other, but were in chord harmony (Weinmann, 159).
The addition of the descant and countermelody is attributed to Perotin. Ockegheim mastered imitation techniques where the written arrangements of the mass emphasized a single voice but allowed echoing of some other voice in a higher or lower register. He also contributed to harmonies in thirds. Desperez contributed to the introduction of a counterpoint in which two different melodies were played independent of each other and a number of beats apart. Composers continued altering and adding more elements to the Gregorian melody and thus making the music used in the mass more and more complex.
The musics words became hard to understand, and text became hard to pick out. At times the performers even balked out in performances, and as a result; the organist had to improvise the musical theme and this eventually led to the introduction of organ music in the liturgy (Joseph 15). The complex nature of the music was highlighted at the Council of Trent. The church leaders discussed about the varied nature of the music and thereby formulating the first catechism. This catechism decreed that worship music should be restricted to reasonable limits of difficulty in order to enable the congregation to participate.
Pope Marcellus requested Palestrina to make the liturgical music simpler, and he simplified the presentation of the music but retained the melodies. In the 1700s composers such as Bach contributed to the masss music by composing the musicals in 24 keys, the most popular among them being the B-minor. Monteverdi applied dissonance and highlighted emotions within words. The introduction of choruses, ensembles, soloists and musicals 5, 6, 7 or 8 movements is credited to Scarlattis contribution. The creation of the oratorio is credited to Handel, with his most famous being the messiah.
The world renowned Mozart wrote the 18 masses and Haydn wrote the 14 masses (Weinmann 196). The eighteenth century saw further developments and music composers borrowed from secular music and expanded on the religious music genre. The 10th and 19th century experienced what is termed as the Liturgical Movemen. In this period the music underwent various changes to fit into the changing congregation. Liturgies underwent simplification and adaptations to local languages.
Examples of popular hymns transformed into popular religious tunes include the Amazing grace. Further developments have led to the development of contemporary religious music in the church. The adopted forms include rock music from the 70s and rap music in the 21st century. The musical revolution is ongoing and various adaptations are locally customized each day (Joseph 17).
Joseph, P. Swain. Inculturating liturgical music, America Journal, volume number 191, issue number 6, 2004
Weinmann, Karl. History of church music, Greenwood Press, 1979
Wilfred, Mellers. From Ars Antiqua to Ars Nova: The Choir & Organ journal, volume number 8, issue number 3, 2000.
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