Tracing the history of Western music in the church, one quickly realizes how muchchange sacred music has undertaken fromthe Old Testament to the Baroque Era. Yet throughout the history, Christian music always seems to return to one thing. Wewill see this music used in thanksgiving, inworship, and in prayer and with all its uses, the one thing it all comes back to is glorifying God.
The full history of the origins of music in the Church, "Nevertheless it is clear that although medieval theoreticians accepted some of the theoretical bases of ancient Greek musicaltheory, the practice of music wasfar more heavily indebted to the traditions of Jewish music."
Early on in the Bible, evidence of Jewish music and instruments isfound. We find a wonderful exampleof the Israelites using instruments topraise and thank God for parting the Red Sea. Exodus 15:20 says "Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister ofAaron, took the timbrel in her hand;and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances."
However, a more detailed description of the style of music in Israel is found in the book of Psalms. "Certain headings to the psalms would seem to suggest that the use of modes, one of the most marked characteristics of all Middle Eastern music, was well known to the Levites." These Hebrew psalms later became significant in Christian liturgy under the name of "responsorial psalmody".
In the early church, sacred music had chiefly a utilitarian purpose. "It was found that an excellent method of assisting worshippers to pray together was to base the prayer on a very simple chant, very much in the nature of a recitation designed on simple rhythmic and melodic lines.
At first, a soloist sang the melody, but some psalms ended with an alleluia or some short refrain that was easily remembered, and it soon became ordinary for this to be sung in unison. The pinnacle of reform for the liturgy and the chant appears to have been largely due to Gregory I (The Great), Pope from 590 to 604. As Pope for just fourteen years, his accomplishments were amazing.
"He recodified the liturgy andreorganized the Schola Cantorum; he assigned particular items of the liturgy to the various services throughout the year in an order thatremained essentially untouched until the sixteenth century; he gave impulse to the movement whicheventually led to the establishment of a uniform repertoire of chant for use throughout the Church in all countries."
That is why this entire body of music is called the Gregorian Chant. Three main types of chants existed, the reciting formulas, the melismatic songs, and the refrains sung by the choir or congregation. The melodies of these were constructed according to Jewish fashion and the traditional standard melodic method within a given mode.
Gregorian chants were the inspiration behind much of Western music up to the sixteenth century. Continuing on in the Dark Ages, we find the development of polyphony, "the simultaneous sounding of two or more melodic lines." In the eleventh century, an Italian monk and musical theorist named Guido of Arezzo wrote the "Micrologus", which was crucial to the development of polyphony.
Also, he revolutionized the meaning of pitch by notation when he used horizontal lines to show the relative pitch of particular notes. Early in the twelfth century, the center of musical liveliness moved to the church of Notre-Dame in Paris until the fourteenth century when it moved to Florence, Italy. Perhaps the greatest achievement of church music in the fourteenth century was Machauts "Notre-Dame" mass for four voices.
Entering into the Renaissance Period, we find that while secular music takes on as many new ideas as possible, the Church attempts to remain as conservative as possible. "Liturgical practice dictated that the mass and the motet remain the chief forms of sacred vocal music. Compared with secular music, their style was conservative, but inevitably some of the newer secular techniques crept in and figured effectively in the music of the Counter- Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church.
." With the outbreak in the churchcaused by the Reformation, many new forms of sacred music appeared in Protestant worship services. The German Lutheran worshipped with hymn tunes arranged from plainsong or a secular melody. The AnglicanChurch had its own form of the motet, and the Calvinist played psalm tunes.
Into this environment, the Baroque era begins, and with it two of the most influential composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. These two men received an incredible gift from God and they used it to glorify him. Both were raised in the Lutheran Church, but because of different musical training, Handel was primarily a dramatic composer, writing opera, oratorio, and secular cantatas while Bach works included Passions, cantatas for church services, liturgical organ pieces, and harpsichord compositions. Their music impacted the church so much that several of their songs appear today in hymnals.
Throughout history, the wonder and beauty of sacred music appears. Yetfrom the psalms of the Old Testament and the Gregorian Chants, to the oratorios, Passions, and hymns of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the beauty of sacred musicis that it can mold to the preference of the time and still be used to glorify God.