church music

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church music.

1 Music intended for performance as part of services of worship. With few exceptions, music is essential to the ritual of every religion; the singing of prayers and portions of Scripture is part of Judaeo-Christian tradition, and a large number of melodies for specific parts of the liturgy were embodied in the medieval collection of church music called Gregorian chant. Additional musical settings of liturgy from later times to the present have added to the liturgical repertory. Such customary interpolations in the service as the motet, chorale, and hymn have achieved an integral place in many church services. This is also true of the Anglican anthem and was at one time true of the Lutheran cantata. See anthemanthem
[ultimately from antiphon], short nonliturgical choral composition used in Protestant services, usually accompanied and having an English text. The term is used in a broader sense for "national anthems" and for the Latin motets still used occasionally in Anglican services.
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; antiphonantiphon
, in Roman Catholic liturgical music, generally a short text sung before and after a psalm or canticle. The main use is in group singing of the Divine Office in a monastery.
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; cantatacantata
[Ital.,=sung], composite musical form similar to a short unacted opera or brief oratorio, developed in Italy in the baroque period. The term was first used in 1620 to refer to strophic variations in the voice part over a recurrent melody in the bass accompaniment.
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; chantchant,
general name for one-voiced, unaccompanied, liturgical music. Usually it refers to the liturgical melodies of the Byzantine, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches and is analogous to cantillation in Jewish liturgical music, Qur'anic chanting in Islam,
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; choralechorale
, any of the traditional hymns of the German Protestant Church. The form was developed after the Reformation to replace the plainsong of the earlier service and as a means of congregational participation in the liturgy.
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; hymnhymn,
song of praise, devotion, or thanksgiving, especially of a religious character (see also cantata).

Early Christian hymnody consisted mainly of the Psalms and the great canticles Nunc dimittis, Magnificat, and Benedictus
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; MassMass,
religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, which has as its central act the performance of the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is based on the ancient Latin liturgy of the city of Rome, now used in most, but not all, Roman Catholic churches. The term Mass [Lat.
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; motetmotet
, name for the outstanding type of musical composition of the 13th cent. and for a different type that originated in the Renaissance. The 13th-century motet, a creation (c.
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; plainsongplainsong
or plainchant,
the unharmonized chant of the medieval Christian liturgies in Europe and the Middle East; usually synonymous with Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church.
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2 Music intended for performance in a church outside the regular worship service. This may include works taken from the repertory above as well as music of religious content, e.g., oratorios or sacred cantatas and instrumental music that is not specifically secular in nature. See cantatacantata
[Ital.,=sung], composite musical form similar to a short unacted opera or brief oratorio, developed in Italy in the baroque period. The term was first used in 1620 to refer to strophic variations in the voice part over a recurrent melody in the bass accompaniment.
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; carolcarol,
popular hymn, of joyful nature, in celebration of an occasion such as May Day, Easter, or Christmas. The earliest English carols date from the 15th cent. The carol is characterized by simplicity of thought and expression. Many are thought to be adaptations of pagan songs.
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; oratoriooratorio
, musical composition employing chorus, orchestra, and soloists and usually, but not necessarily, a setting of a sacred libretto without stage action or scenery.
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See E. Routley, Twentieth-Century Church Music (1964); E. H. Fellowes, English Cathedral Music (5th ed. 1969); E. Dickinson, Music in the History of the Western Church (1902, repr. 1970); R. C. Von Ende, Church Music: An International Bibliography (1980); C. Page, The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years (2010).

Church Music


music performed during Christian liturgical services. It is a type of religious music, which has been known among all peoples of the world from the most ancient times and which also includes works performed outside the church—in everyday settings and at concerts. The church uses the emotional influence of the musical art to attract people to churches and to inculcate religious ideas and concepts. Each church formulated its own principles of musical form for religious services—Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and other religions. Substantial differences may be found in the church music of various local branches of the same church, for example, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Georgian, Greek, and other Orthodox churches.

Catholic church music is based on Gregorian chant. All Catholic vocal church music was formerly sung in Latin; only in the 1960’s were hymns permitted to be sung in the vernacular. Catholic hymns, monophonic until the ninth century, are now polyphonic. They are sung a capella or accompanied by an organ or orchestra. The most important forms are the Mass, requiem, motet, psalm, Magnificat, Te Deum, and Stabat Mater.

The basic form of Lutheran church music is the Protestant chorale, which is sung in the vernacular by church choirs and by the congregation, accompanied by organ or other musical instruments. The most common forms of Lutheran church music are the passion, the religious oratorio, the religious cantata, the motet, the psalm, and the hymn.

The principal type of ancient Russian church music is znamennyi chant. Singing was originally monophonic, but polyphonic music appeared in the 16th century. Church Slavonic is used without musical accompaniment for the Divine Liturgy, the All-night Vigil, weddings, prayer services, requiems, and other services. On special holy days the Divine Liturgy is sometimes concluded by a concert of religious music.

Church music was long the only type of professional music among many peoples; its development proceeded under the continuous influence of folk and, later, secular music. Thus, as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, the melodies of everyday folk songs were used in many of the Catholic religious works of J. Obrecht, G. Dufay, Josquin des Prez, and other composers. Some of the greatest musical works have been written in the genres of church music, such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B Minor, Mozart’s Requiem, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.


Razumovskii, D. Tserkovnoe penie v Rossii, fascs. 1–3. Moscow, 1867–69.
Rosenshil’d, K. Muzykal’noe iskusstvo i religiia. Moscow, 1964.
Uspenskii, N. Drevnerusskoe pevcheskoe iskusstvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971.
Weinmann, K. Geschichte der Kirchenmusik. Munich, 1925.
Douglas, W. Church Music in History and Practice. London, 1963.
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