Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Music and religion

Hymn singing is probably the most well-known form of music in religion, as hymns are sung in all sorts of contexts. Two of the best examples of group singing are during weddings and funerals, both celebrations of someone’s life or someone’s future life, and two of the most emotional services in the church, which bring communities and families together. Hymns were first introduced in the west in the latter part of the fourth century CE by Saint Ambrose who, by introducing the church to congregational singing, allowed musicians to take greater steps in developing the way in which music is written and perceived. This also allowed for an individual to take part in the musical experience which Ambrose made even more accessible by not defining hymns, but instead making them open to just ‘ celebrating Christian truths or events ’ . This meant that non-Christians could still sing the tunes. We also sing hymns in institutions, such as assemblies in school, in church during services and also at national sporting fixtures. The communal singing of music allows everyone to feel beauty and be a part of the outer-bodily experience without religion necessarily having to be involved. The other important piece of music introduced by Saint Ambrose in the late fourth century CE was the Te Deum , a prayer to God. The Te Deum is now well established in the English church, and some of the most beautiful and emotional music has been composed for those words. The largest musical contribution to the modern-day service was the chorale. Four collections were published in 1523, under the Lutheran church. A chorale is like a hymn, but in this particular age (due to the reformation in Germany by Martin Luther), was changed and at a later time developed with harmony, to become the basis of some of the most emotional church music written. These chorales were taken from many different sources. Some were Gregorian hymns, such as Veni Redemptor Genitum, which became the chorale Num komm’ der Heiden Heiland ; some were mixed Latin-German Christmas hymns such as In Dulci Jubilo , and some were even created by Luther himself, such as the famous Ein Feste Burg , which eventually became one of J.S. Bach’s cantatas. However, this wasn’t the only development in religious music in the sixteenth century. Psalters had also been written. These were collections of psalms, which are ‘ rhymed metrical translations of the Book of Psalms ’ , sung to the same tune each time. The first major Psalter that was published was the French Psalter in 1562; many of the tunes were then used in the English Psalter, which subsequently made their way into the English hymnal that we use today. The hymn tune ‘Old Hundreth’ (All people that on earth do dwell), for example, was originally a tune in the French Psalter (Grout 1981). The biggest impact on English church music came in 1534, due to the Reformation by King Henry VIII. As the Reformation was overtly political, the changes to the church were not immediate and therefore nothing of consequence happened at first to music within the English church. But in 1548, Edward VI made some light demands which changed music to be plainer and simpler. However, these demands were later loosened to allow for more counterpoint within the music. The main changes were that hymns were sung in English and music for specific services was written (Grout 1981). This, along with motets from English composers like Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, initiated anthems and service settings to be composed, and these are still in use and popular today. These give modern church services emotion and atmosphere, and allow for messages and prayers to come alive in an indescribable way. In the eighteenth century, composers used the Lutheran chorales as a basis of their works and began to bring Biblical texts to life; thus the cantata was born (Grout 1981), the greatest exponent of which was J.S. Bach. These cantatas were written for use systematically throughout the liturgical year, and served to introduce the congregation to a new type of worship, a way towards God through music. The cantata


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