Write an account of the Reformation and its effects on music.
To what extent are these effects still perceivable today?The Reformation was a rebellion against the Roman Church, now known as the Roman Catholic Church, which occurred in the 16th century in the wake of the Renaissance. Music was affected in several ways; some merely adapted tradition, others broke away completely and established new ones in line with their particular theological views.In this essay I want to explain what led to the Reformation, how it affected each movement and what change occurred in the music of that group. I will be focusing on Lutheranism, as I believe Martin Luther to be the most important figure in both the theological and musical changes of Western Europe during the 16th century.The Roman Church was the dominating religion of Western Europe at the end of the renaissance.
It was a very wealthy, very powerful organisation of men who had control over everything. The public were controlled by the Church in every area of their lives by the very powerful notion of original sin, where everybody is born sinned and we must spend our lives trying to make amends. The best way of doing this, of course, was to pay the church vast sums of money. Redemption was also possible in death if one’s relatives were prepared to pay; it was possible to buy oneself or one’s dead relatives out of purgatory, the place where Roman Catholics believe they will spend their time until the Second Coming of Jesus. This was common practice and the Church was specific about how much money would buy how many less days in purgatory and this was open to corruption. There was no public access to the bible; one took what the Priest said and believed without question. This stems from the Roman Catholic belief that Priests are gifted with the grace of God, and one has no access to God except through a Priest.
The bible was only available in Latin at that time, to ensure that only the most educated could read it, and only read the authorised translation.Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an educated man; he had a doctorate and held the Chair of Biblical Theology at Wittenberg University, which he gained after years as a monk, then as a Priest. He abhorred corruption within the Roman Church, fuelled by his visit to Rome in 1510 where he was overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of the Vatican, as their lifestyle did not appear to show any Christian thought, while he spent most of his time trying to live by the rules. This culminated in him writing his 95 theses and nailing them to the door of the Church in Wittenberg on the 31st of October 1517, in which he outlined his ideas for Church reform.
He criticised the current Pope, saying that some of his decisions were wrong, but he did not argue the supremacy of the Pope. He argued that salvation should be one’s own responsibility and the onus should not be on any external mechanism such as the Church and that one’s whole life should be consequent of religion, i.e. it should be there guiding every thought and deed.
Inevitably, a Papal Bull condemned Luther’s writing, by which time it was too late as copies of his writing had been distributed widely, thanks to the recent invention of the Printing Press. He was excommunicated in 1521, but he encouraged the Germans to reform anyway, and so the Lutheran Church was born.Luther had very definite ideas about church music; he considered it “a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching”.
He also thought that “music drives away the Devil and makes people gay”, and “Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honour.”iHe did not change the service form radically from the Roman liturgy, as it was familiar to all and he saw no great flaws in it. There were three main changes; the chants traditionally intoned by the Priest, the Choral choir pieces and the congregational Hymns, all of which he revised personally.The chants sung by the Priest were changed so that everyone could understand them; rules were employed such as only one note per syllable was allowed, the organ should not obscure the words and should only be used antiphonally and conflation of the biblical texts was not allowed. Most important was the purity of the words spoken by Jesus Christ on the cross; they were not to be blended from the four gospels. When singing the Gospels and Epistles, they were to be sung in monotone, except for a lowering of the voice at the end. Each evangelist had a different vocal register and key; the gospels were in the more joyous 6th mode to reflect Christ, and the Epistles were in the 8th mode to reflect Paul’s more sombre nature.The Choir music was very much influenced by Franco-Flemish polyphony, Luther’s favourite style; he particularly admired Josquin des Prez.
This was usually a melody of Gregorian chant as the base, with three or four voices woven around in counterpoint. This music was by nature Catholic, but this did not stop Luther drawing from it.Congregational Song was to change the most out of these three; in the middle ages there was virtually no congregational participation. The celebrant and the choir did most of the singing with a few congregational responses in the local tongue. Luther changed it to be thoroughly democratic so that all worshippers sang together. The Liturgy was turned into two hymns; the Creed and the Sanctus.
The wording of the Creed was also changed from “I believe in the Father…” to “We believe in the Father..
.”, a more brotherly united idea. The creation in 1524 of a hymnbook containing 23 hymns, 12 free paraphrases from the Latin hymnody and 6 psalms encouraged congregational singing, and churches ran midweek practices to teach the congregation to sing.The most distinctive and important Lutheran feature was the Chorale. Most of us today know them as four part harmonised settings, but in the 16th century they were like plainsong; they only had the melody and the words. It was common for the choir to sing alternate lines with the congregation in unison without accompaniment, but over time evolved into have the congregation singing the melody while the other parts were played on the organ, a practice prevalent in churches today. The usage varied, and large churches with good choirs kept most of the Latin liturgy and polyphony.Small congregations had an adapted German mass, in which the Gloria was omitted, the recitation was adapted for German, the Proper was condensed or removed, and the remaining sections of the Proper and most of the Ordinary were replaced by German hymns.
Lutheran church music of the 17th and 18th century grew from the chorale. Polyphonic chorale settings soon followed, and Johann Walter, Luther’s musical colleague, published his collection of 38 chorales in 1524. This was followed by Georg Rhau’s compilation book in 1544 containing works by Ludwig Senfl, Thomas Stoltzer, Benedictus Ducis, Sixtus Dietrich, Arnold von Bruck and Lupus Hellinck who were all leading polyphonic chorale composers of the time.At the same time, there were other developments such as Calvinism and the Counter-Reformation. Calvinism was a Protestant movement led by John Calvin, who taught John Knox, the man who brought the Protestant religion to Scotland.
Calvinist music was puritanical; use of text not from the bible was prohibited, and sung liturgy was virtually abandoned. Sung worship consisted of psalm tunes that began as unison and unaccompanied but were expanded into four-part harmony for home worship, which led to the creation of the Psalter, a volume still used today. This movement influenced many countries, including Scotland, France, Holland, and parts of Germany and the Moravian Brethren, some of the first Christians to go to the USA, were also Calvinist, and spread their faith throughout America.The Counter-Reformation was the Roman Church’s realisation that they were losing their power and popularity, and in an attempt to remedy this, the Council of Trent was formed in 1545 to fix the problems within the church, including that of sacred music. They were mostly concerned with complicated polyphony obscuring words, which were often badly pronounced anyway, and the profanity of using secular music with the Divine words of the mass.
Everything considered profane was removed from the liturgy, and only “hymns and divine praises”ii were to be sungMost important now is how the effects of these reforms are visible to us today. The parish tradition within the Church of Scotland is quite Calvinist; there are strophic hymns sung during the service, some simple organ preludes before and after, but most activity is focused on the spoken word and the reading of the bible. Hymns consist of simple melodies harmonised in four parts and are sung by the congregation, usually in unison with organ accompaniment. Choral pieces are usually presented as the introit and anthem, the former being at the start of the service, and the anthem being prior to the hymn before the sermon. Most repertoire is simple; the current trend of declining church attendance has partly contributed to that due to lack of numbers in choirs and the very Calvinist view of choral repertoire.The Catholic Church now performs its mass in the vernacular as opposed to the Latin, and has more congregational participation.
The basic format of the service, however, is similar to the 16th century form.In conclusion, the Reformation revolutionised church music, especially Martin Luther. He removed elitism, which was his aim from the outset.
He achieved this in several important theological and musical ways, the most important of these being the free access to the bible in native tongues and the introduction of hymn singing. The legacy of communal hymn singing still survives today in churches around the world, including our own country and is a very important part of worship to many who attend church.None of this would have occurred without the Reformation, due to the Roman church’s policy of control and ignorance, and had it not been for Martin Luther, we would all still be attending church and listening to a Latin mass we did not understand and did not participate in. We would not have the vast hymnal and choral repertoire that has been written since the Reformation by and for Protestant organisations. I think the loss of works such as the Bach Passions, the Mozart Requiem, the Brahms Requiem and many others besides, would be a great loss to us and because of this, I am in no doubt that the Reformation had a lasting and positive effect on sacred music.