Music: Religious Music in the West

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The religious music that is commonly considered Western had its beginnings in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, as did Western religions themselves. As that music developed over the centuries, it shaped and was shaped by a variety of musical cultures, most notably those of Europe and North America. Primarily Jewish or Christian in character, Western religious music has also been influenced at times by Islamic practices.

Different groups of Jews and Christians have been identified in the West partly by the kinds of music they have cultivated or prohibited. Much music, however, has crossed denominational and religious lines. Furthermore secular and sacred styles have been mutually influential, even if sometimes controversially so. Since the late eighteenth century Western music of a religious or spiritual nature has often appeared in a relatively secular guise.

From Temple to Synagogue and Church

Given the importance of the Book of Psalms to both Jewish and Christian worship and in view of references in Psalms to a variety of musical instruments, laments, and songs of praise, one might suppose that in later times Jews and Christians alike would have felt free to make music with virtually every means imaginable. But in the first few centuries of the common era dramatic changes in the context of worship for both groups made that kind of musical license virtually un-thinkable.

In 70 ce the Roman army under Titus destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem; shortly thereafter Jews were deprived of their homeland. Accordingly the center of Jewish worship shifted from the Temple (originally the primary locus of Psalms ) to the synagogue and the home.

Having started out as a Jewish sect, Christians likewise experienced in their first few centuries major, if less traumatic, shifts in the context and content of worship. With the missionary efforts of Paul and others, an ever-increasing percentage of the followers of Jesus were Gentiles. In addition Christians were often, albeit intermittently, targets of Roman persecution and were consequently constrained in their worship. Then in 313 ce the social situation of Christianity changed dramatically with the conversion of Constantine. Christianity became a legal and then privileged religion of the Roman Empire itself.

For both Jews and Christians there was considerable contrast between temple psalmody and their own liturgical practices. It is uncertain when synagogues originated; they may have begun in some form as far back as the exilic period or earlier. In any case, when worship took place in the synagogue, it never entailed sacrifice, as temple worship did. Nor did it make use of priests or a choir or any musical instruments except (later) the shofar, which had always had a limited ritual rolemainly on Roʾsh ha-Shanah. Some scholars believe that, until 70 ce, psalmody itself had no part at all in the synagogue and that psalm singing may not, in fact, have reappeared until around the fourth century ce In any case, the synagogue service was essentially a service of the word, with prayers and readings from Scripture.

Consistent with the principles of rabbinic Judaism, which were to remain normative until the eighteenth century, the musical simplicity of the synagogue apparently derived from three sources: rules (halakhah ) for observing the Sabbath, which would be violated by the tuning and carrying of instruments; mourning over the Temple's destruction, which meant a ban on instrumental music until the coming of the messiah; and concern over the ostensibly sensual qualities of women's voices, with the result that only men were permitted to sing.

None of this is to imply that synagogue worship in its formative stages was unmusical. By the latter part of the first millennium if not before, the synagogue service employed three genres of chant: psalmody (responsorial or antiphonal), cantillation of Scripture, and liturgical chant for prayers. The liturgy in that way was musical through and through.

For their part, Christians during the apostolic age (first century ce) sang "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," as stated in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. While those terms are vague, many scholars believe that the sung texts included the biblical psalms (though that has been disputed), canticles such as those in Exodus 15 and Habakkuk 3, and hymns written by poets and composers who have not been identified. That the terms for the genres are left imprecise is not surprising; the New Testament spells out few details regarding either music or worship. One is told that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn at the conclusion of the last supper, but scholars are left to speculate that the supper may have been a Passover seder and that the hymn may have been the Hallel.

It seems to have been a foregone conclusion among early Christians that instruments had no place in public worship. For their service of the word, Christians were still accustomed to the pattern of the synagogue, the music of which was strictly vocal. Whereas it is no longer assumed that there was an extended period of continuity with synagogue practice, Christians must have continued intoning prayers and chanting Scriptures. How and what Christians sang during the Eucharist (Communion) or at common meals is uncertain. The service of the Eucharist was probably indebted to Jewish and pagan traditions surrounding domestic meals and ritual banquets. None of the music survives, howevernor any other music from late antiquity.

Scholars formerly thought that Christians initially approached matters of music in a puritanical spirit that only gradually relaxed over the next several centuries as Christians became more sophisticated. Closer inspection of texts and dates has shown, however, that, whereas concerns over musical propriety and practice were a minor matter at first, they actually increased in the patristic period (roughly the second through the fifth centuries).

It was in response to pagan ritual and entertainment practices, which often combined song, drama, and dance, that church fathers raised objections to licentious singing and the use of instrumentsthe "senseless sounds" of drums and cymbals and the "clamor" of the trumpets. Clement of Alexandria summoned Christians to struggle against the "music of idols," especially instrumental music. He admitted that God permitted the Jews to use instruments in former times but insisted that this indulgence was a temporary concession to their weakness. John Chrysostom and others interpreted the instruments of the psalms allegorically, as symbolic of how harmony is produced in the soul. Tertullian, Augustine, and Chrysostom all said that Christian psalmody should serve as an antidote to sensuous excitement and a positive cure. When done moderately and with understanding, singing was said to lay the passions to rest, to still the body, and to calm and order the soul.

In making those claims about music, Christian pastoral theologians during the patristic era set the tone for the church for centuries to come. Yet doubtless aware of similar criticisms within the educated pagan world itself, they were not only recalling the ancient example of the harpist David playing for the fitful Saul. They were also mirroring and aligning themselves with the views of music held by esteemed pagan philosophers from Plato to Plotinus. According to such philosophy, whereas some instruments and modes of music making feed the passions, earthly music of the right kind reflects a divinely beautiful order. The highest music is intellectual and spiritual: inaudible. Hence the ambivalence of Augustine in a famous passage in Book 10 of the Confessions. There he admits having been moved to tears by psalms sung in church, and he acknowledges the "ardent piety" to which the singing can give rise. But he repents having in former years been moved more by the singing, the "delights of the ear," than by the truth of what was sung. And he wavers even as he consents to psalm singing in church.

When the church sang, the congregation as a whole participated, often responsively, guided by some sort of leader or "cantor." Clement of Alexandria emphasized the unity of many voices, all singing in unison. Women participatedand not in separate choirs, as in pagan rituals. But following a phase in which Christian women were indeed formed into choirs, a reaction set in. In the third and fourth centuries women's voices began to be silenced altogether in churcha practice that, despite the objections of Ambrose in particular, became prevalent.

Medieval Developments

Already by the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, more Jews were living in the Diaspora than in Palestine, with especially large communities to be found in Babylonia and in Alexandria, Egypt. Subsequently the rapid conquests in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula by the armies of Islam (seventh to eighth centuries ce) created the framework for the basically uniform character of medieval Judaism. Regarded by Muslims as a "people of the Book" (as were the Christians), Jews in Muslim lands were permitted to have relative autonomy.

Singing, in the form of chant and cantillation, was vital to synagogue worship as it developed. Scripture, prayer, and words of praise were not merely read but variously intoned or chanted. In synagogues between approximately the seventh and ninth centuries ce, a system of signs (teʾamim ) was created to aid proper accentuation, verse division, and appropriate melodic patterns in chanting the text of Scripture. This process culminated in the Tiberias Massoretic system, the interpretation of which eventually resulted in the eight regional traditions of cantillation that now exist.

As time passed the need for a more or less professional singer, or cantor (hazzan ), became evident. Traveling from one community to another, cantors shaped melodic patterns of prayer that later were regarded as sacred. Those chants came to be known as nusach. Although a lay precentor, then as now, would have presented the chant strictly as preserved and transmitted, the professional cantor rendered the melodic prayer with a greater measure of improvisatory freedom. Thenceforth the singing of the cantor was one of the glories of worship, although also periodically subject to criticisms of excessive virtuosity.

As synagogue services became more standardized from the fifth through the ninth centuries ce, complex poetic additions to, and substitutes for, fixed prayers became popular. Known as piyyutim, these liturgical poems included short refrains for congregational singing as well as more intricate refrains that could be given to a choir. The best known piyyut of all comes from the sixteenth century: Lecha Dodi, "Come, my Beloved, to meet the Bride; let us welcome the Sabbath," by Solomon Alkabetz (1505c. 1572).

Two major branches of Judaism developed in Europe: Ashkenazi and Sefardi. Ashkenazic Jews moved outward from Italy to German-speaking lands, Russia, France, and England. They made use of special tunes, thought to be ancient, which were sung on solemn occasions. Those tunes were called misinai, which means "from Sinai," the most famous being the Alenu and the Kol Nidre.

Sefardic communities thrived in medieval Spain, where, after a golden age under Muslim rulers, they were forced by Muslims and then Christians to retreat to parts of northern Europe or back to North Africa and Palestine. In the Sefardic tradition, cantors paid greater attention to diction than to embellishment. In Spain, Arabic poetry, which was lyrical and characteristically even in meter, influenced both the secular and sacred Hebrew poetry of Yehudah ha-Levi, among others. Sefardic song borrowed Arabic modes and musical phrases, encouraging congregational singing. One form of Andalusian suite called nuba became popular, typically employing instruments except on the Sabbath. During the gradual reconquest of Spain by Christians, leading up to the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Christian and Jewish styles blended, using Ladino dialect. Popular, rhythmic songs were enjoyed at such informal Jewish functions as Sabbath meals. A number of cantica melodies were adapted to hymns such as Adon Olam and Yigdal and even to the Qaddish doxology.

Christian chants may have developed relatively independently from Jewish practices, after a period of contact. Chant was particularly important to daily prayer in monastic communities. Even before the fall of Rome in 476 ce, which by convention marks the beginning of the early medieval period, the Christian monastic movement provided an alternative to the more worldly forms of Christianity newly ascendant in the Roman world of the fourth century. The Divine Office made extensive use of chant for reciting psalms and other sacred texts, in accordance with the rule established by Benedict of Nursia (c. 480c. 547). Musically the most important of the eight canonical hours were matins, lauds, and vespers, the last incorporating the Magnificat canticle from Luke 1:4655.

Sunday Eucharist in churches everywhere gave rise to a variety of regional "rites," all of which involved plainchant settings both of the pertinent variable texts (the Proper) for the Mass and invariable, fixed texts (the Ordinary): the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Ite, missa est (often omitted from musical settings). The responsive psalmody and liturgy from Milan, which took the name Ambrosian, persisted after other local variations such as Gallican and Mozarabic had given way to Rome. By the eighth century ce Rome had a Schola cantorum for training church musicians. Tradition has it that Pope Gregory I (c. 540604 ce) regulated and standardized the various liturgical chants, but that was more likely carried out over the next two centuries. The form of chant that eventually prevailed, which came to be called Gregorian, was imported and codified by Charlemagne (742814 ce) in Frankish lands, superceding a form of Roman chant known as Old Roman.

Because plainchant evolved orally, it made considerable use of melodic formulas and simple structures. With quiet beauty, it formed a kind of stream on which to float prayer and praise. It served the word but without dramatic gestures or conspicuous attempts to illustrate the meaning of the texts. Chants employed melodic formulas called psalm tones, one for each of eight church scales, called modes, plus a tonus peregrinus, or "wandering tone." The singing was often antiphonal. Long melodies that were given hymn texts in couplets were known as sequences, two of the most famous being the Dies irae (heard in the Requiem Mass), and Veni Sancte Spiritus. Hildegard of Bingen (10981179) composed notable sequences in addition to antiphons and a musical morality play in plainchant, Ordo virtutum (The virtues).

Chant notation appeared for the first time in the ninth century ce, at which point it indicated only the rise and fall of pitches; in the eleventh century the use of staff lines finally specified pitch exactly. Probably the invention of notation contributed to the rise of multilinear singing, or polyphony, the earliest form of which was organuminitially a simple parallel motion between two or more vocal parts. In the twelfth century at Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, Lenonin and Perotin composed rhythmically complex, multilayered forms of organum, which led shortly to motets that employed different sets of words simultaneously. In the fourteenth century there appears the first polyphonic setting of the entire Ordinary of the Mass by a single composer: the Messe de Notre Dame by the leading composer of the Ars nova in France, Guillaume de Machaut (c. 13001377).

If Gregorian chant by the High Middle Ages comprised the most extensive body of religious music in the West (and possibly anywhere on earth), polyphony was to become, over the next few centuries, one of the most intricately artistic achievements in all of sacred art. In the hands of such composers as John Dunstable (c.13901453), Guillaume Dufay (c. 14001474), Johannes Ockeghem (c. 14201497), and Josquin des Prez (c. 14501521), polyphonic music provided a vertically and horizontally ordered, well proportioned, and harmonious world of sound. Polyphony thus fulfilled venerable ideas of how human music could mirror or imitate the divine order of the cosmosideas that were adumbrated long before by Boethius (c. 480524 ce) and still earlier by Augustine in his incomplete treatise De musica (c. 409 ce). Although music as studied in the medieval universities was essentially a theoretical branch of mathematics linked to astronomy, the making of polyphonic music itself could be regarded as both rational and theological.

In the meantime in Byzantiumthe eastern part of the former Roman Empire that flourished long after the western part of the Empire fellthe plainchant of the liturgy had continued for centuries relatively unchanged. In Constantinople this music was characterized by ancient antiphonal psalmody and by a strophic form of hymnody known as the kontakion, a poetic elaboration on a biblical text. Yet in the last phase of the Byzantine Empire a new style of music emerged, the kalophonic, or "beautiful sounding." Whereas monophonic in the manner of plainchant, it was unusually florid. With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the Middle Ages came to a spectacular close.

Renaissance and Baroque

By the dawn of the European Renaissance (14531600), which was roughly concurrent in time with the Protestant Reformation, Jews had suffered massively from a wave of expulsions, forced conversions, and persecutions, climaxing in their fateful expulsion from Spain in 1492. Although the primary features of rabbinic Judaism remained relatively unchanged until the middle of the eighteenth century, messianic hopes intensified, along with mystical impulses and practices.

Qabbalistic mysticism, which had its roots in the Middle Ages, entered a new phase under the inspiration of Isaac Luria (15341572). He taught that the sparks of the godhead had fallen into captivity. Music was one of the spiritual means by which to liberate imprisoned elements of divinity and to contribute to the anticipated reparation, or tikkun, whereby creation could be restored to its intended harmony. An important aspect of tikkun was the practice of taking non-Jewish and secular tunes and transforming them into sacred songs.

In a related development over a century and a half later, eastern European Hasidism, under the leadership of Baʿal Shem Tov (c.17001760), emphasized the importance of joyful worship. Drawing on qabbalistic ideas, Hasidic music theory promoted the concept that even a melody without words, called a niggun, can contain divine sparks. The highest melodies, created by Hasidic saints, or tsaddiqim, were said to be like pure souls, their forms conveying mystical meaning and constituting an elevated form of prayer. The influence of Hasidic music was felt, eventually, in virtually all forms of Judaism. Hasidic-style music, mostly nonliturgical, remains popular in the twenty-first century, as in the central European style known as klezmer (from klezmorim, or "music makers").

Polyphonic art music did not find a home in the synagogue before around 1600. The polyphony introduced by Salomone Rossi (c. 1570c. 1628) and published as The Songs of Solomon in Mantua, Italy, was remarkable but atypical. In Italian synagogues of the seventeenth century one could sometimes hear baroque cantatas on special occasions. In Amsterdam and Prague certain synagogues likewise introduced instrumental music, including the organ.

No such use of instruments was allowed to invade the more traditional synagoguesnor the churches of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. With the fall of Constantinople, Russian Orthodoxy became the main inheritor of the Byzantine tradition. The sung liturgy, while translated into Russian, continued to be exclusively vocal and remains so. While a wide-ranging, melismatic way of chanting arose in the sixteenth century, along with polyphony in two or three voices, the more decisive change came in the mid-1650s, when the patriarchy and the official Russian Church adopted polyphony on a broad scale. Although schismatic groups led by the Old Believers resisted that development as smacking of Roman Catholicism, the exclusive use of monophonic chant faded into a small minority tradition by the eighteenth century. At that time Dimitry Bortnyansky (17511825) set the dominant tone by composing elegant sacred choral concertos.

Within western Europe the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century differed considerably among themselves when it came to music. But for virtually all of them, music was a matter of consequence. It was part of what they thought they needed to reform. By their era the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass had been left to the choir and clergy, congregational response had been sharply curtailed, and morning and evening prayer had become choral as well. Because the choir itself was made up of clergy (often minor orders) and was exclusively male, there was little sense of the whole people's involvement in the liturgy and its music.

Martin Luther (14831546) emphasized vernacular, congregational hymnody not only as a way of retrieving the practice of the early church but also as a corollary to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Luther himself wrote numerous metrical psalms and such hymns as the famous "Ein feste Burg" ("A Mighty Fortress"), for which he may also have composed the melody. Luther and his colleagues translated traditional Latin hymns, supplied sacred words for popular songs (as long as they had not been too intimately connected with brothels and inebriation), and took over popular vernacular hymns. Wanting to employ good and memorable tunes, Luther also took art songs of the day as a model. One of the main achievements of Lutheran music was the strophic, congregational hymn, or chorale, which in subsequent centuries became popular in four-part harmonizations. At the same time Luther had a great fondness for polyphonyespecially that of Josquinand envisioned a place for choral polyphony in the Mass, the liturgy of which he retained in modified form, both in Latin and in German. Convinced that, next to theology, music deserves the "highest honor," Luther considered music a great gift of God to be used as a vehicle of worship, as an aid to piety, and as a means of education.

In contrast to Luther, the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (14841531), although an accomplished musician, banished even congregational singing from the church, arguing that the biblical principle of "making music in your hearts" excluded using the voice itself. In Geneva, John Calvin (15091564) oversaw the production of a complete metrical psalter, edited in large part by Louis Bourgeois. Highly influential, the Genevan Psalter set the pattern for unaccompanied unison singing of metrical psalms in many different lands and was soon arranged in instrumental and polyphonic versions for domestic use.

In sixteenth-century England the book of metrical psalms compiled by Thomas Sternhold, and subsequently edited and supplemented by John Hopkins, provided the official basis for Anglican hymnody until the early nineteenth century. In the seventeenth century it was supplemented by Anglican chant, which called for singing psalm tones in harmony. In America the New England Puritans used the Scottish Psalms of David in Meter (1650) and, to a lesser extent, the Bay Psalm Book (1640).

In the eighteenth century Dissenters in England established an alternative hymnody that, besides making use of paraphrases of Scripture, incorporated songs of "human composure." Isaac Watts (16741748) showed the way with hymns such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," followed by the Charles Wesley (17071788), whose five thousand hymns, including "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," not only were intended to be a musical practical theology but also an emotional inspiration. Soon those hymns were a beloved feature not only of Methodist hymnody but of Protestant and evangelical hymnody in general.

Whereas hymn singing could claim roots in New Testament practice (without anyone knowing exactly what that had sounded like), other forms of church music during the Renaissance and baroque eras were far removed from anything early Christians would have recognized. In England choral music within a Catholic orbit often employed a rich texture of five or six voices. Thomas Tallis (c. 15051585) went so far as to compose an elaborate motet with forty independent parts, Spem in alium. Various European Catholic composers of polyphony, such as Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 15481611) and Orlando di Lasso (15321594), treated texts in a highly expressive, even passionate, manner.

Whether polyphonic textures could render sacred texts in a sufficiently intelligible fashion had long been an issue, however, and became so again. Many centuries earlier church leaders such as Pope John XXII (13161334) and John of Salisbury (11201180) had already complained not only about ostentatious singing but also about the incomprehensibility of texts when sung in multiple, overlapping lines of music, "some taking high and others low parts, some singing in advance, some following in the rear, others with pauses and interludes," all sounding like a "concert of sirens." The Protestants of the Reformation era definitely gave priority to the word, both spoken and sung. Thus King Edward VI of England in 1548 prescribed music that, in setting a text, would provide a "playn and distincte note, for every sillable one." Partly in response to such Protestant attempts at directness and simplicity, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, promoted by the Council of Trent, likewise criticized complicated polyphony for obscuring sacred texts, although the main concern was to discourage everything "impure or lascivious." Legend has it that the Italian Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 15251594) saved the future of polyphonic church music by composing his Missa Papae Marcelli in such a way as to demonstrate that restrained polyphony could indeed support the sacred word.

Nevertheless during the following eracommonly known as the baroque (roughly 16001750)church music could be quite theatrical and exuberant. That is immediately apparent from the splendid variety of the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610), composed by Claudio Monteverdi (15671643), which opens with instrumental fanfares drawn from his opera L'Orfeo. Yet the baroque, which saw the beginnings of opera, had its own ways of honoring the text. According to Monteverdi, music in the predominant modern style was meant, in fact, to serve the text. That modern style employed expressive dissonances, angular melodic lines, and rhythmic drive and freedom to dramatize the meaning of the words. It thus appealed directly to the "affections." Indeed the baroque anticipated the emphasis on the expressive function of music that later pervaded romanticism in a more personal way. Music of the baroque also included new forms of counterpoint, anchored in dramatic and often fast-moving chord progressions.

Church music of the baroque era made much use of newly evolved instruments: strings, woodwinds, trumpets, timpani, and certainly the organ. The organ up until then had mostly been employed modestly. Between the ninth and the twelfth centuries small organs (portative and positive) had migrated into the church from secular settings, along with a few large and unwieldy ones. Organs during the Reformation period were used extensively to introduce hymns and to alternate withand eventually to accompanycongregational song as well as to provide preludes and postludes or Communion music. In the baroque era organs became much more complex mechanically and far grander and more versatile, especially in German-speaking lands. By the time of J. S. Bach (16851750) organ music included toccatas and fantasies, lengthy preludes and fugues, and numerous other forms that appear to have been designed primarily for concerts or instruction, although influencing sacred style as well.

Musical settings of the Mass grew increasingly varied. In France especially the organ sometimes took for itself parts of the Mass that might otherwise have been sung, elaborating on the pertinent chant tunes. In the Venetian-Viennese tradition of the Mass, instrumental figurations and sectional contrasts became a prominent feature, along with passages for solo voice. Late in this same period the concerted Mass in the so-called Neapolitan style unfolded on a larger scale than ever before, each of the parts of the Ordinary being subdivided into separate movements. Such Masses reflected a strong influence from opera, both in their emotional character and in their musical forms, such as duets and arias. At the same time Palestrina's works were preserved and imitated as classic models.

New forms of sacred music were born during the baroque: the sacred concerto, which Heinrich Schütz (15851672) raised to a high level, and more importantly the oratorio, the cantata, and the passion. Oratorio began in a Catholic place of prayerthe Oratory of Philip Neri in late-sixteenth-century Rome. Soon it became a religious counterpart to opera, adopted widely by Catholics in Italy and by Protestants in Germany, allowing them to present biblical stories in concert form, rather than being staged. Oratorio was particularly popular during Lent, when opera houses were closed. George Frideric Handel (16851759) brought oratorio to England, where its combination of narratives (recitatives), solos, and choruses became immensely popular. In England, however, oratorio was usually kept out of church, due to puritanical opposition to anything smacking of the theater. Thus Handel's many oratorios, including Samson, Jephtha, and the atypical but extraordinarily popular Messiah, were presented mainly in theaters and concert halls.

Although many Protestant composers tried their hands at cantatas or passions, the spiritual depth, intellectual craft, and sheer artistry of the many settings by J. S. Bach were beyond compare. Such cantatas, which were sometimes criticized for sounding too secular, borrowed stylistic features from Italian opera as they offered a musical commentary on the Gospel lesson for a given Sunday. The passion music that Bach composed for Good Friday services was far more extended in scale, lasting between two and three hours compared with the typical twenty minutes of a cantata. The Saint Matthew Passion together with Bach's lengthy Mass in B Minor a kind of summa of the genrecan be counted among the greatest classics of Western religious music.

Enlightenment Era to the Twenty-First Century

For Jewish composers since the European Enlightenment period of the late seventeenth century and eighteenth century (overlapping the artistic baroque), the most salient feature of modernity was the struggle for emancipation and the concomitant question of assimilationfirst in German-speaking countries of central Europe and then, a century later, in eastern Europe. In Westphalia, Berlin, and Hamburg in the early nineteenth century the aesthetic norms that guided Reform synagogue worship as it attempted to conform to a predominantly Christian culture were derived from Protestant Christianity: the reading of the Bible, rather than chanting, and the use of organs and Gentile-style hymns. In Vienna the cantor Salomon Sulzer (18041890) took a less-extreme approach. He purified the chant of the excess operatic embellishments that had accrued, and he made use of a choir of a dozen voices of men and boys, to the acclaim of visitors such as Franz Liszt and the critic Eduard Hanslick. Sulzer's contemporary Louis Lewandowski (18231894) composed and arranged simpler music for congregational singing in smaller synagogues. Choirs were also introduced in eastern Europe but only rarely included mixed voices at a time when men and women in the synagogue were still almost always seated separately. Organs remained controversial, yet many were installed in synagogues by midcentury, sometimes with the stipulation that they could be played only by Gentiles.

In the United States, Reform synagogues made decisive changes in liturgy and music, minimizing the role of the cantor and of chant. The music of the Union Hymnal of 1897 was more Protestant in style than identifiably Jewishalbeit intended for use by a professional choir and rabbi rather than the congregation. The 1932 edition, by contrast, reflected a desire to recover a distinctly Jewish sound, as Reform Jews had become more comfortable with their Jewish identity in the American context. By 1950s the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements had all established schools of sacred music to train cantors. Yet the following decades, in which Sefardic Hebrew replaced Ashkenazic as the dominant dialect in liturgy, also saw a more populist and eclectic approach to liturgical music, tapping into the idioms of folk music and dance. Subsequently, within Reform Judaism itself, there has been a call for greater attention to traditional forms as well.

During the modern era numerous "classical" composers produced works of distinctly Jewish provenance whose primary context was intended to be the concert hall. These include such figures as Arnold Schoenberg (18741951), Ernest Bloch (18801959), Samuel Adler (b. 1928), Alexander Goehr (b. 1932), Leonard Bernstein (19181990), and Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960).

Russian Orthodox composers in the previous century were similarly active in the secular music world. Some of them, such as Mikhail Glinka (18041857), also wrote liturgical music, but there they faced the added challenge that the Russian Church repertoire remained exclusively vocal. Glinka himself, for instance, turned to modal harmonies and simple chordal structures when writing for the liturgy. Pieter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (18401893) and Sergei Rachmaninov (18731943) made more distinctive contributions, the latter with his choral Vespers (properly an "All Night Vigil"), which disturbed traditional church leaders at the time but is often regarded as the apogee of modern Russian liturgical music.

The center of musical life in the modern era clearly moved from liturgical settings (of whatever sort) to secular venues. Accordingly much of the development in Roman Catholic and Protestant music also became a story of interaction with, or reaction to, secular styles. The operatic influence that had been audible even in the case of Bach's cantatas became unmistakable, for example, in the Masses of Franz Joseph Haydn (17321809) and of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (17561791). Haydn's oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, while incorporating scriptural and religious themes, had a largely genial and buoyant manner, wearing their religious garb lightly. The high seriousness of Ludwig van Beethoven (17701827) in his Missa Solemnis could not be doubted. But that long and involving work was liturgically impractical, and the music became a virtual Mass in itself.

The trend continued with the gigantic Requiem Masses of Hector Berlioz (18031869) and Giuseppe Verdi (18131901), two composers who were by no means known as devout Catholics. The works themselves used theatrical means to convey powerful visions of eschatological hopes and fears. Richard Wagner (18131883) mined Christian myth in his opera Parsifal but without embracing Christian doctrine. Similarly Gustav Mahler (18601911) in his Resurrection Symphony (Second Symphony) and Symphony of a Thousand (Eighth Symphony) evidently found it spiritually empowering not to be restricted, textually, to any one specific religion. The same could be said earlier of the more conservative Johannes Brahms (18331897), whose German Requiem was essentially a concert work that avoided specifically Christian language while using biblical texts compiled by Brahms himself.

Certain classical composers nonetheless worked for the renewal of church music as such and of music related directly to the church. These included Franz Liszt (18111886), whose poetic oratorio Christus remains an unduly neglected masterpiece, and Felix Mendelssohn (18091847), who revived Bach's music and gathered a popular following with his own oratorios Saint Paul and Elijah. Anton Bruckner (18241896) wrote Masses and motets in addition to his monumental symphonies.

It was also in the nineteenth century, in a movement centered in Germany, that Catholic clergy and musicians promoted a new Cecilian Society, which was dedicated to reviving Gregorian chant and polyphony in the style of Palestrina. Other Catholics, led by the Benedictines at Solesmes, France, made efforts to restore the truer and more ancient forms of Gregorian chant. In England the Oxford Movement (18331845), emphasizing the broadly Catholic origins of the Church of England, recovered patristic hymnody and revived the medium of chant, usually in the English language.

Such endeavors anticipated the wider liturgical movement of the next century, in which various Roman Catholics and Protestants alike sought to renew worship by attending to its early paradigms as well as by emphasizing greater lay participation. The Second Vatican Council (19621965) ratified many of those themes, with the result that much of the music for the Ordinary of the Mass was returned to the congregation, Catholic hymnody came to life, and soon virtually everything was sung in the vernacular. The ensuing outburst of liturgical music in a wide array of popular guises brought both excitement and dismay. The music of the church became diverse and inclusive, yet the quality was uneven. Meanwhile much of the vast treasury of historical sacred music was orphaned, at least for the time being.

Congregational song had already expanded considerably in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, even as mixed choirs and paid quartets became popular. The Church of England was enriched by two hymnals in particular, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and The English Hymnal (1906), both of which have contemporary successors. Protestants in nineteenth-century America not only produced indigenous hymnbooks, such as the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony, they later thrived on popular urban gospel songs, such as the hymns of Fanny Crosby (18201915), and on revival music that entered the evangelical mainstream.

African Americans at first adopted the hymns of the European-American churches. But by the middle of the nineteenth century, after emancipation, they produced their own hymnals. Long before then they had created their own tradition of shouts, spirituals, and "sorrow songs," often employing call-and-response patterns hearkening back to African idioms. Blending those traditions with many others, black gospel songs later in the century could be either jubilant or prayerfully protractedas in "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Thomas A. Dorsey (18991993). The music of African American worshippers has since exhibited, by and large, great improvisatory freedom and rhythmic vitality. Inspired in part by Pentecostal movements, many African American churches have welcomed a variety of instruments, including percussion, and have made special use of the expressive possibilities of the Hammond organ. Whereas African American church music has often existed in tension with the more "worldly" styles of jazz and blues, the interaction between church and secular styles has been conspicuous. Duke Ellington (18991974) and John Coltrane (19261967) were able to infuse jazz with religious meaning. And contemporary gospel styles have absorbed elements of rock and rap.

In the last decades of the twentieth century Christian denominations produced an unprecedented number of new hymnals, drawing on music in a wide array of styles and from the worldwide Christian community. Some committees were guided specifically by concerns for social justice and inclusive language. Other groups, exploring alternative worship patterns, abandoned hymnals altogether in favor of projecting onto a screen the words of praise and worship choruses and contemporary Christian music. In the Catholic tradition the Saint Louis Jesuits led the way in the 1970s by providing scripturally based and accessible worship music. Ecumenically the music of the Taizé community in France, composed by Jacques Berthier (19231994), spread abroad a more meditative spirituality.

In relation specifically to modern classical music, churches utilized the works of a small number of recognized composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams (18721958), Randall Thompson (18991984), and John Rutter (b. 1945). Unbeknownst to most churchgoers, many other modern composersincluding Igor Stravinsky (18821971), Francis Poulenc (18991963), Frank Martin (18901974), Benjamin Britten (19131976), and Olivier Messiaen (19081992)continued to produce major religious works. Such music typically made exceptional demands on both listener and performer, however. A large gap widened between modernist works, which often bristled with difficulties, and the sensibilities of most churchgoers. That gap only increased as churches turned more and more to the idioms of popular culture and began mixing styles in "blended worship." With spiritually attuned listeners also being drawn to New Age and world music, the classical establishment often seemed remote.

It is thus noteworthy from a religious perspective that, in the present era, or postmodernity, the differences between Eastern and Western music and between "elite" and "popular" have begun to erode, even in the concert hall. Some of the finest recordings of Bach cantatas have been originating in Japan. And among the latest classical styles are a spiritually centered minimalism and a tonally based (and often multicultural) eclecticism that have both shown considerable "crossover" potential. Works by composers such as Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), John Tavener (b. 1944), James MacMillan (b. 1959), John Adams (b. 1947), Tan Dun (b. 1957), and Osvoldo Golijov (b. 1960) appear to hold out promise for new kinds of artfully wrought religious music that might grow alongside, and interact with, the burgeoning indigenous and popular traditions.

See Also

Chanting; Christianity, overview article; Islam, overview article; Judaism, overview article.


There is as of 2004 no truly encompassing survey of Western religious music. A comprehensive and virtually indispensable resource is Stanley Sadie and John Tyrell, eds., New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2d ed., 29 vols. (New York, 2001), also available online. More succinct articles representing the new socially and culturally informed musicology are in Alison Latham, ed., Oxford Companion to Music (Oxford, U.K., 2002). Useful at a general level are Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (New York, 1941); and the more up-to-date Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 6th ed. (New York, 2000). The eight volumes of the series Music and Society (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 19861999), Stanley Sadie, general ed., are exceptionally good resources. Two anthologies of readings are pertinent: W. Oliver Strunk's Source Readings in Music History, rev. ed., edited by Leo Treitler (New York, 1998); and Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin, eds., Music in the Western World: A History in Documents (New York, 1984).

A volume that represents both Jewish and Christian perspectives is Lawrence A. Hoffman and Janet R. Walton, eds., Sacred Sound and Social Change: Liturgical Music in Jewish and Christian Experience (Notre Dame, Ind., 1992), which has been an important resource for this entry. Eric Werner's The Sacred Bridge: The Interdependence of Liturgy and Music in Synagogue and Church during the First Millennium, 2 vols. (New York, 1959), is a classic discussion of the liturgical and musical relations between synagogue and church, though often debatable in its conclusions. Uniquely valuable but also dated is Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, Jewish Music in Its Historical Development (New York, 1929). On the cantorial tradition, two works stand out: Eric Werner, A Voice Still Heard: The Sacred Songs of the Ashkenazic Jews (University Park, Pa., 1976); and Mark Slobin, Chosen Voices: The Story of the American Cantorate (Urbana, Ill., 1989). Jeffrey A. Summit provides a rich ethnographic study in The Lord's Song in a Strange Land: Music and Identity in Contemporary Jewish Worship (New York, 2000).

For early Christian ideas and uses of music, see Johannes Quasten, Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity, translated by Boniface Ramsey (Washington, D.C., 1983); and James McKinnon, ed., Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge, U.K., 1987). A valuable resource for later viewpoints on Catholic Christian music is Robert F. Hayburn, ed., Papal Legislation on Sacred Music, 95 A.D. to 1977 A.D. (Collegeville, Minn., 1979). Christian theologies of music are well presented in Quentin Faulkner, Wiser than Despair: The Evolution of Ideas in the Relationship of Music and the Christian Church (Westport, Conn., 1996); Joyce L. Irwin, Neither Voice nor Heart Alone: German Lutheran Theology of Music in the Age of the Baroque (New York, 1993); Albert L. Blackwell, The Sacred in Music (Louisville, Ky., 1999); and Jeremy Begbie, Theology, Music, and Time (Cambridge, U.K., 2000).

Karl Gustav Fellerer gives a good account of Catholic music in The History of Catholic Church Music, translated by Francis A. Brunner (Baltimore, Md., 1961). A detailed survey of Protestant music is Friedrich Blume, Protestant Church Music: A History (New York, 1974). Paul Westermeyer's Te Deum: The Church and Music (Minneapolis, Minn., 1998) emphasizes vocal and specifically congregational music. On hymnody, a useful resource is David W. Music, ed., Hymnology: A Collection of Source Readings (Lanham, Md., 1996). Richard Arnold's The English Hymn: Studies in a Genre (New York, 1995) is unsurpassed. African American hymnody and religious music is treated in Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, 3d ed. (New York, 1997); Jon Michael Spencer, Protest and Praise: Sacred Music of Black Religion (Minneapolis, Minn., 1990); and Jon Michael Spencer, Black Hymnody: A Hymnological History of the African American Church (Knoxville, Tenn., 1992). For religious music in the United States generally, see Stephen A. Marini, Sacred Song in America: Religion, Music, and Public Culture (Urbana, Ill., 2003). The articles in Edward Foley, ed., Worship Music: A Concise Dictionary (Collegeville, Minn., 2000), are brief but wide-ranging and reliable. Edward Foley's Ritual Music: Studies in Liturgical Musicology (Beltsville, Md., 1995) contains a detailed bibliographical essay on music and liturgy.

Frank Burch Brown (2005)

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