Influence of 'the Church' Over Music Composition – Historical

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.'

One thought on “Influence of 'the Church' Over Music Composition – Historical

  1. Hi,

    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


    "…be 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

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