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Religion's Profound Effect on Musical Development

Essay by review  •  November 11, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  3,724 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,337 Views

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Religion's Profound Effect on Musical Development

Religion has been an important part of man's life. Man has allowed religion to control and influence his life in many different ways, affecting both his behavior and his actions. So its not surprising that music, one of man's earliest expressive forms, has also been influenced by religion. Religion has had an effect on man's music all throughout history, from the early Egyptians to even now. So it is only natural that Western music should also have been affected by religion. Western music, and its development by composers, has been strongly influenced by the Christian religion, especially in the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. The music in these periods laid the foundation for all the different types of music we enjoy today.

During the Medieval period the Catholic Church had an enormous amount of power and control over the people of that time. The Medieval period began with the collapse of the Roman Empire around the year 450. Then with much of Europe in disarray, the Roman Catholic Church, the main unifying force at the time, unified many cultures together. "All segments of society felt the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church. In this age of faith, hell was very real and heresy was the gravest crime" (Kamien 63). The church controlled everything and it was of greatest importance in this period. "Very little non-Christian music from this period survived, due to its suppression by the Church and the absence of music notation..." (History of Music). The enormous Gothic Cathedrals and churches demonstrate how powerful and important the church was. The amount of physical labor put into each one shows the devotion of the people to God and the church in the medieval time period. Life in these times revolved around the church so it makes sense that the music of this time also revolved around it. The composers of this era were often involved with the church. They were usually priests, monks, or nuns. For example Hildegard of Bingen, a nun from Germany, who, wrote many musical pieces and other forms of art.

"For over one thousand years the official music of the Roman Catholic church had been Gregorian Chant, which consists of melody set to sacred Latin texts and sung without accompaniment" (Kamien 67). The credit for developing Gregorian chant music, also known as plainchant, goes to Pope Gregory the first. In reality, Gregorian chant had evolved over many centuries from Jewish synagogues. The Gregorian chant was basically the main type of music in the medieval period. Gregorian chants were monophonic in nature and were used by the Catholic Church to add an otherworldly quality to the mass. "Chant survived and prospered in monasteries and religious centers throughout the chaotic years of the early middle ages, for these were the places of greatest stability and literacy" (Medieval Music).

Gregorian chant was the only type of music that was generally accepted by the church. All instrumental musical pieces were rejected by the church because of its idea that they were more secular in nature. The church had the power to, and usually did, censor secular music that it found to be objectionable. This caused the development of possibly, many other types of music to be hindered.

"At first Gregorian melodies were passed along by oral tradition, but as the number of chants grew to thousands, they were notated to ensure musical uniformity throughout the western church" (Kamien 69). So it was church music that needed a musical notation system. This system is a great advancement in musical development.

For many years the church's music was predominantly monophonic in texture. Eventually the church started to drift away from the monophonic texture of music and added a second voice to its chant. "Monks in monastery choirs began to add a second melodic line to Gregorian chant. In the beginning, this second line was improvised, not written down; it duplicated the chant melody in a different pitch" (Kamien 74). This type of music is called organum and is a drastic change in the music of the Catholic Church. Organum is polyphonic in texture and was more melodic. This was a major change for the church because the music now had more melody and was more attractive than the original chants.

Another cause of the creation of organum is the creation of many schools for polyphonic music. Schools such as the school of Notre Dame of polyphony and St. Martial School of organum were just some of them. These schools, especially the school of Notre Dame, became "the center of musical creative activity throughout the thirteenth century" (Medieval Music). It was here that many great composers learned to compose polyphonic music.

Liturgical drama was also created in the middle ages. Liturgical drama was basically a drama based on liturgical text.

In its original form, it may represent a survival of Roman drama with Christian stories--mainly the Gospel, the Passion, and the lives of the saints--grafted on. Every part of Europe had some sort of tradition of musical or semi-musical drama in the middle ages, involving acting, speaking, singing, and instrumental accompaniment in some combination. Probably these dramas were performed by traveling actors and musicians. (Medieval Music)

After some time however, the church lost a lot of its influence due to unforeseen circumstances. The Hundred Years' War, the bubonic plague, and problems resulting from a time when there was more than one pope had been a blow to the church. This turmoil weakened the church and allowed more secular music to come about in the late middle ages. The weakening of the church is due to a combination of the general moral and atmosphere of the people during these times, the numerous deaths caused by both the Black Death, and the Hundred Years' War, and the confusion of the people, which caused people to lose faith in God and the church. More secular music came about because of the loss of control of the people and not having enough strength to suppress the secular woks.

The composers of the early medieval period were mostly anonymous. This is because the people of the time were expected to worship God in the best way they can. So those who can compose music were expected to compose and not take credit for it, because it was God that allowed them to have the skill. However, there were a few composers that were not anonymous.

Composers such as Guillume de Machaut, one of the best composers of the time, wrote many pieces under the service of royal families. He wrote both secular and sacred music. Machaut's most well known sacred piece the Notre Dame Mass.

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