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Q: Influence of 'the church' over music composition - historical ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Influence of 'the church' over music composition - historical
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Music
Asked by: nicky3-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 23 Aug 2002 01:23 PDT
Expires: 22 Sep 2002 01:23 PDT
Question ID: 57689
This is a music related question.  Following is an essay topic, for
which I need guidance on specific examples or time periods this
could/should be about?  Any suggestions for relevant sites also
welcome. 'In the course of Western ?European history, there have been
times when composers have come into conflict with the church over
issues of musical style.  Document one such incident as it relates to
an individual composer or group of composers and access the extent to
which composers ecceded to the demands of the church.'
Subject: Re: Influence of 'the church' over music composition - historical
Answered By: grimace-ga on 23 Aug 2002 04:23 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars

This is a very interesting question which, I hope, should make for a
fascinating essay.

Before I address some specific instances of composers, a few general
points. Music has been a central part of Christian worship since its
inception. St Paul mentions its importance for the earliest

" filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the
Lord in your hearts."

(Eph. 5: 18-19)

It has, however, also proved to be problematic. Music is, after all,
associated with earthly pleasures and has been seen as ungodly and
irreligious. St Augustine of Hippo expresses this conflict in his

"For sometimes I feel that I treat [music] with more honor than it
deserves. I realize that when [hymns] are sung these sacred words stir
my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle in me a more ardent
flame of piety than they would if they were not sung....but I ought
not to allow my mind to be paralyzed by the gratification of my
senses, which often leads it astray....Sometimes, too, from
over-anxiety to avoid this particular trap, I make the mistake of
being too strict."

(Augustine of Hippo: Confessions 10:33; tr. Pine-Coffin; Baltimore;
Penguin; 1961)
cited in Marr, 'Music and Liturgy'

There have been many extreme reactions to the use of music in worship.
In the 17th century, the Puritan Protector Oliver Cromwell banned all
music in church (he also, famously, banned Christmas!). Even for more
moderate religious leaders, however, feelings about the kinds and
styles of music suitable for church music are strong.

One composer you might think about researching is Giovanni Palestrina
(1525-1594). Palestrina was a pioneer of polyphony in church music.
However, there were many in the church who believed that polyphonic
style should not be used in church, as it had a tendency to obscure
the words which were being sung.

The Council of Trent (1545-63) was convened to decide what kinds of
music could be permitted in church. After much wrangling, the council
finally ruled that

"polyphonic music was permitted in addition to the use of traditional
chant as long as the texts of polyphonic pieces were not unduly
obscured. Tropes were banned entirely and the sequence was suppressed
except for a handful of favorites."

(from Liturgica.Com )

These reforms had a direct impact on Palestrina's compositions,
obliging him to rein in his excesses somewhat. However, details of the
precise relationship between Palestrina and the Church are shrouded in
legend and confusion. You can find out more about Palestrina here:

Giovanni Palestrina

The Palestrina Legend

Giovanni Palestrina (technical posting on musical changes made by
Palestrina in the light of the Council)

A second composer to look into, as secret901 suggests below, is JS
Bach. The Schrade article secret cites looks invaluable, and you can
read a short extract cited in the following very useful introductory

JS Bach: Rationalist, Pietist, or Both?

You can access the Schrade article in full from the site, although this resource is only accessible
from academic institutions.
Your college or university network should be able to access it.

Bach complained that he had been 'hindered' by the Pietistic Church -
in whose service he began his career as a composer - in his aim of
creating "a well-regulated church music to the glory of God". The
Pietist church was somewhat puritanical in its atitude to music, and
this seems to have meant that Bach was subject to restrictions on his
creative freedoms. Bach resigned from the church and undertook secular

You can read more on Bach's life and relationship with the church

JS Bach: Orthodox Lutheran theologian?

The Johann Sebastian Bach Biography

Hope this is all of interest. Please ask for clarification if anything
is unclear.


Search strategies: composer + church + conflict
                   composer + vatican + conflict
nicky3-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Influence of 'the church' over music composition - historical
From: secret901-ga on 23 Aug 2002 02:21 PDT
Your best bet would be Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).  An
excellent article titled "Bach: The Conflict between the Sacred and
the Secular" by Leo Schrade in the Journal of the History of Ideas,
Volume 7, Issue 2 (April 1946). pp. 151-194 addressed this issue.
Researchers: see forum.

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