Music employed in connection with Divine service to promote the glorification of God and the edification of the faithful
Music, Ecclesiastical. By this term is meant the music which, by order or with the approbation of ecclesiastical authority, is employed in connection with Divine service to promote the glorification of God and the edification of the faithful.
I. Nature and Significance
Just as St. Philip Neri spontaneously sang the prayers of the last Mass which he celebrated, so is all true religious music but an exalted prayer an exultant expression of religious feeling. Prayer, song, the playing upon instruments, and action, when arranged by authority, constitute the elements of public worship, especially of an official liturgy. This was the case with the pagans, the Jews, and also in the Church from time immemorial. These elements constitute, when combined, an organic unity, in which, however, music forms a part only on solemn occasions, and then only in accordance with the regulations of proper authority. As man owes to God that which is highest and most beautiful, music may employ on these occasions her noblest and most effective means. Church music has in common with secular music the combination of tones in melody and harmony, the division of time in rhythm, measure, and tempo, dynamics, or distribution of power, tone color in voice and instruments, the simpler and more complicated styles of composition. All these, however, must be adapted to the liturgical action, if there be such, to the words uttered in prayer, to the devotion of the heart; they must be calculated to edify the faithful, and in short must serve the purpose for which Divine service is held. Whenever music, instead of assuming a character of independence and mere ornament, acts as an auxiliary to the other means of promoting the worship of God and as an incentive to good, it not only does not interfere with the religious ceremony, but, on the contrary, imparts to it the greatest splendor and effectiveness. Only those who are not responsive to its influence, or stubbornly cultivate other ways of devotion, can imagine that they are distracted in their worship by music. Appropriate music, on the contrary, raises man above common-place everyday thoughts into an ideal and joyous mood, rivets mind and heart on the sacred words and actions, and introduces him into the proper devotional and festive atmosphere. This appropriateness takes into account persons and circumstances, variations being introduced according to the nature and use of the texts, according to the character of the liturgical action, according to the ecclesiastical season, and even according to the various needs of the contemplative orders and the rest of the faithful.
Natural religious instinct urges man to honor God by means of music as well as by the other arts, and to heighten his religious exaltation by joyous singing. This significance of singing in connection with Divine service has never been lost sight of. Under the Old Law the music of the Temple filled, in compliance with the commands of God Himself, a very elaborate role. Songs of victory of a religious nature are mentioned in Ex., xv, and in Judges, v. Often the prophets are elated by sacred music. David beautified religious ceremonies by hymns and the use of instruments (Amos, vi, 5; II Esd., xii, 35; II Par., xxix, 25 sqq.). With him appears Asaph in the role of poet and singer, and the “Sons of Asaph” with other families were, from the days of David, organized into classes (I Par., xxv). The primitive Christian Church was, on account of external circumstances, very much restrained in its religious manifestations, and the adoption of the music of the Temple, in so far as it had survived, would have been difficult on account of the converts from paganism. Furthermore, the practice of religion on the part of the early Christians was of such a purely spiritual nature that any sensuous assistance, such as that of music, could be for the time easily dispensed with. Nevertheless, the words of St. Paul, even if only taken in a spiritual sense, remind one forcibly of the conception of music in the Old Testament: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Eph., v, 19). Tertullian relates that during Divine service Holy Scripture was read and psalms sung, and that even Pliny had ascertained that the Christians honored their Lord before dawn by singing a hymn (Apol., ii). Eusebius, in confirmation “of the regulations heretofore followed by the Church“, quotes the testimony of Philo, who relates that the Therapeutae, during their festive repasts, sang psalms from Holy Writ and other hymns of various kinds in solemn rhythm in monodic style with choral responsories (Hist. eccl., I, xvii). Whatever may have been the nature of the singing of the Therapeutm, Eusebius bears testimony to the traditional custom of the Church. While St. Athanasius restricted the singing of the psalms to a kind of recitation, St. Ambrose introduced in Milan (and the greater part of the Western world) with great success antiphonal singing of the psalms “after the manner of the East”. St. Augustine asks himself whether it would not be more perfect to deny himself the delight derived from singing, but concludes his reflection by concurring with existing practices, and frequently testifies to the customs of his time (cf. Conf., ix, 7; x, 33; In Ps. xxi and xlvi; Retr., ii, 11). St. Jerome, referring to Eph., v, 19, exhorts as follows the young whose duty it is to sing in Church: “Let the servant of God sing in such a manner that the words of the text rather than the voice of the singer cause delight, and that Saul‘s evil spirit may depart from those who are under its dominion, and may not enter into those who make a theatre out of the house of the Lord”. A certain class of liturgical singers are also mentioned in the “Canones apostolorum”. The above mentioned antiphonal and responsorial chant intended for the people shows that the singing was not confined to the choir. St. Augustine wrote a long hymn to be sung by the people in the form of Psalm cxviii not in classic meter, but in popular accented verses with sixteen unaccented syllables and rhyming on the final vowel. Hymnology in classic form goes back to Ambrose and Hilarius. But sufficient has been said to indicate the practice and nature of chant in the early Church, under whose fostering protection it developed so wonderfully later on. History bears the most convincing testimony to the importance which the Church has always attached to music in connection with her worship.
II. Church Regulations
The interest taken by the Church in music is also shown by her numerous enactments and regulations calculated to foster music worthy of Divine service. The right of the Church to determine the matter and manner of what shall be sung in connection with her liturgy is incontestable. Narrow minded musical partisans seem disposed to fear that music as an art does not receive due consideration, if it be not permitted to go its own way uncontrolled. These fears generally have for their basis the theory that art is an end in itself, and should not serve, except indirectly, any end outside of and other than itself. This principle could only have a certain justification, if the external dependency were to hinder the full development of music. But this is not the case. In point of fact, the history of its development shows that ecclesiastical music need fear no comparison between its achievements and those of secular music. Many competent musicians have frankly admitted this in the case of the simple Gregorian chant not only men like Witt and Gevaert, but also Halevy, Mozart, and Berlioz. Halevy considers the chant “the most beautiful religious melody that exists on earth”. Mozart’s statement, “that he would gladly exchange all his music for the fame of having composed the Gregorian Preface“, sounds almost hyperbolic. Berlioz, who himself wrote a grandiose Requiem, declared that “nothing in music could be compared with the effect of the Gregorian Dies irae” (cf. Krutschek, “Kirchenmusik”). Ambros says: “The fundamental power, animating all music which is not made but which grew (as is the case with the folk-music), belongs preeminently to Gregorian chant.” For this reason Gevaert considers the most characteristic quality of the chant to be the fact that it never grows stale, “as though time had no power over it”. Not the most conspicuous, but the most simple artistic means produce the deepest and most lasting impression, when skillfully employed. The first requisite is that the sentiments contained in the text be given true expression, and be not obscured by obtrusive external forms. It must be acknowledged that pieces like the Te Deum, Lauda Sion, the Lamentations, the Requiem Mass, as well as many an introit, gradual, and tract, afford a never failing pleasure, that they employ only the simplest means to express the desired mood, that they are admirably adapted to promote devotion.
The Church, however, does not despise artistic means of a more elaborate nature, as is shown by the long jubili of the traditional chant (as contained in the Vatican edition) and still more by ecclesiastical polyphonic music (Palestrina style). Upon this style modern musicians of the first rank have pronounced favorable judgment. Wagner was an enthusiastic admirer of Palestrina; Mendelssohn made every effort to collect masses, impropreria, psalms, motets of the old masters, which he preferred to all ecclesiastical music by modern writers. There are, indeed, many works by Orlandus de Lassus, Allegri, Vittoria, wherein the most elaborate means of expression are used, but which, nevertheless, conform to every liturgical requirement and are, as it were, spontaneous outpourings of adoring hearts (cf. contrapuntal or polyphonic music). Besides plain chant and the polyphonic style, the Church also admits to her service homophonic or figured compositions with or without instrumental accompaniment, written, not in the old ecclesiastical modes, but in one of the modern major or minor keys. Gregorian chant the Church most warmly recommends, the polyphonic style she expressly praises, and the modern she at least tolerates. According to the “Motu proprio” of Pius X (November 22, 1903), the following are the general guiding principles of the Church: “Sacred music should possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, or more precisely, sanctity and purity of form from which its other character of universality spontaneously springs. It must be holy, and must therefore exclude all profanity, not only from itself but also from the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it. It must be true art, for otherwise it cannot exercise on the minds of the hearers that influence which the Church meditates when she welcomes into her liturgy the art of music. But it must also be universal, in the sense that, while every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of sacred music, that no one of any nation may receive an impression other than good on hearing them.”
Regarding modern music, the “Motu proprio” says: “The Church has always recognized and honored progress in the arts, admitting to the service of religion everything good and beautiful discovered by genius in the course of ages always, however, with due regard to the liturgical laws. Consequently, modern music is also admitted in the Church, since it, too, furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety, and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions. Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, care must be taken that musical compositions in this style admitted to the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of theatrical motives, and be not fashioned, even in their external forms, after the manner of profane pieces.” It is very much to be regretted that the greatest masters of modern times, Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and Beethoven, devoted their wonderful gifts mainly to secular uses, and that their masses are entirely unsuitable for liturgical purposes an unsuitability freely acknowledged by Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Wagner. The reason for their inadmissibility lies in their treatment of the sacred text, the instrumentation, in the fact that they do not conform to the liturgical action, and often in an undue elaboration of form which seriously interferes with the devotion of the faithful. A few compositions by these masters (such as Mozart’s Ave verum) do not deserve this reproach. The mere fact that a Gloria or Credo by Haydn, for instance, delays the progress of the service twenty minutes, while the other parts of these masses are of equally excessive length, is sufficient to render them unsuitable for liturgical use. The following words from the “Motu proprio” are applicable to numberless compositions: “Among the different kinds of modern music, that which appears least suitable for accompanying the functions of public worship is the theatrical style, which was in the greatest vogue, especially in Italy, during the last century. This, of its very nature, is diametrically opposed to the Gregorian chant and classic polyphony, and therefore to the most important law of all good music. Besides the intrinsic structure, the rhythm and what is known as the conventionalism of this style adapt themselves but ill to the requirements of true liturgical music.”
This wish of the Church, so frequently reiterated, should never be ignored by composer or performer. As the sacredness of the liturgy has caused the Church to dictate to the priest, to the smallest detail, what vestments, words, vessels, and actions he should employ in the fulfilment of his duties which regulations he may not disregard without sinning so also the regulations concerning church music are binding on the singers, whether the reasons for these regulations be understood by the individuals or not. It is indeed true that unimportant deviations from the rules are, owing to special circumstances, sometimes excusable. The regulations are contained in the Missal, the “Cwremoniale episcoporum”, and the decrees of councils and of the popes. The universally binding decrees of the Congregation of Rites are collected in “Decreta authentica”, and have been, since 1909, published in the “Acta Apostoliew Sedis”. Purely local directions need no special publication for those immediately concerned. It is in some cases legitimate to assume that, in unessential matters, a given rule has rather a directive than a prescriptive character, provided the wording does not declare the contrary. Decrees called forth by plainly local conditions are binding only in the place to which they have been directed. In some cases it is legitimate to inquire about and remonstrate against a regulation before it becomes binding. Whenever exceptionally serious difficulties stand in the way, positive laws are not binding, unless the lawgiver explicitly insists on their fulfilment. Owing to the difference in local conditions bishops may, in the application of a given law, sometimes use their own discretion. Customs of long standing are to be treated with some leniency, unless ecclesiastical authority explicitly determines the contrary. Answers to inquiries contained in the “Decreta Authentica” or “Acta Apostoliew Sedis” are usually considered as binding, if they are for general and not merely for local application. The degree of binding force depends on the importance of the matter in question, and it may be gathered from the degree of firmness or emphasis with which the lawgiver inculcates a given law. The verbal and musical texts are equally subject to ecclesiastical control. The use of the Vatican edition of the Gregorian chant has been generally binding since September 25, 1905. However, bishops may, owing to local difficulties, defer the execution of the law. (The command is given in mild form: “It is our most keen desire that bishops”, etc.) The “Motu proprio” directs that all other musical performances be watched over by a commission appointed by the ordinary, so that in all places compositions of the proper character and within the capacity of the singers may be performed.
Regulations, so wise as these, compel our obedience. Consequently, the Holy Father has a right to expect that “we obey from the conviction that by so doing we act from reasons which are clear, plain and beyond dispute.” Consideration of the purpose for which music is employed in church, of its close connection with the liturgy, and of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, is sufficient basis for this conviction. No one is bound to admire, as in every particular unsurpassed and unsurpassable, the prescribed chant. It is sufficient to accept the Gregorian chant as the norm and supreme model for all Catholic church music and approve its use. We are not asked to abandon every personal scientific and aesthetic view, or to eschew research and theoretic discussion. If, however, the law-giver does not urge the immediate execution of a law wherever, on account of the difficulties to be overcome, it is more likely to do more harm than good, it must not be understood that by these are meant the ordinary difficulties which had been foreseen, nor may the difference in our own taste be considered an obstacle. The regulations concerning church music are generally binding under pain of sin, and subtle distinctions to escape this responsibility are useless. For the composer of genius these prescriptions are not fetters, but rather serve to show him how to make his work a source at once of artistic delight and of edification. All these remarks apply equally to the singer.
The first and most urgent condition which the Church imposes in regard to her music is that it be in conformity with the place, time, and purpose of Divine worship; that it be sacred and not profane, in other words that it be church, and not theatrical, music. Theatrical music is just as much out of place in church, as the performance of a secular drama, the exposition of a battle scene, or even a statue representing a pagan deity. The performance of such music directs the attention not to the altar but to the organ loft. Musicians themselves have frequently failed to recognize clearly the difference between concert and church music. Mozart used parts of his religious compositions in secular cantatas and extracts from his operas for church purposes. A mass has also been compiled from some of Haydn’s profane compositions. The “wassail of notes”, the complete absorption of our consciousness by artistic melodic or harmonic combinations and sensuous melodies, the display of instrumental virtuosity, the joyous rush of tonal masses put to flight all devout recollection of the sacrificial act and all heartfelt prayer. March, dance, and other jerky rhythms, bravura arias, and the crash of instruments affect the senses and nerves, but do not touch the heart. Even a reminiscence of the concert hall is a distraction to those who wish to pray.
Not the least element in the effectiveness of church music is the sacred texts, which inspire composer, singer, and hearer, although in different ways. In the “Motu proprio” we read: “The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen.” Only in this way are the sacredness of the text and the needs of the hearer safe guarded. For all official chants (Mass, Vespers, etc.) the texts are prescribed, and are in the Latin language. On this point the “Motu proprio” says: “It is not lawful to confuse the order or to change the prescribed texts for others selected at will or to omit them either entirely or in part. However, it is permissible according to the custom of the Roman Church, to sing a motet to the Blessed Sacrament after the Benedictus in a solemn mass. It is also permitted, after the Offertory of the mass has been sung, to execute during the time that remains a brief motet to words approved by the Church.” On account of the diversity and changeableness of modern languages, the Church retains for her liturgical functions (even for the simple missy cantata) the Latin language, hallowed by ages of service. Nor does she permit that individual prayers and chants be translated into the vernacular for liturgical purposes. (The most important decision on this point will be found in the “Decreta authentica” under “Cantilena” and “Cantus”.) The “Motu proprio” says: “It is forbidden to sing anything what-ever in the vernacular in solemn liturgical functions; much more to sing in the vernacular the variable or common parts in the Mass and Office.”
To the traditional language of her liturgy the Church joins her own traditional musical form, which characterizes her chant and distinguishes it from the music of concert and opera. The “Motu proprio” says: “The different parts of the Mass and of the Office must retain, even musically, that particular concept and form which ecclesiastical tradition assigned to them, and which is admirably expressed in the Gregorian chant.” By retaining her musical form for her various chants (e.g. for the Sanctus, the hymns, the psalms), or admitting of its modification only within certain limits, the Church protects her own music against the destruction of that character which is proper to it. The relation of church music to the text on the one hand and to instrumental music on the other is what distinguishes it essentially from secular music. The attitude of reserve maintained by the Church on this point is expressed in the “Motu proprio” as follows: “Although the music proper to the Church is purely vocal music, music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted. In some special cases, within due limits and within the proper regards, other instruments may be allowed, but never without the special licence of the ordinary, according to the Cwremoniale episcoporum. As the chant should always have the principal place, the organ or instruments should merely sustain and never suppress it. It is not permitted to have the chant preceded by long preludes or to interrupt it with intermezzo pieces.” The pianoforte and noisy and frivolous instruments (e.g. drums, cymbals, and bells) are absolutely excluded. Wind instruments, by their nature more turbulent and obtrusive, are admissible only as an accompaniment to the singing in processions outside of the church. Within the edifice “it will be permissible only in special cases and with the consent of the ordinary to admit a number of wind instruments, limited, judicious, and proportioned to the size of the place, provided the composition and accompaniment to be executed be written in a grave and suitable style and similar in all respects to that proper to the organ.” The restrictions imposed by the Church in this regard were formerly still greater. Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice. Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments even at Christian banquets (P.G., VIII, 440). St. Chrysostom sharply contrasts the customs of the Christians at the time when they had full freedom with those of the Jews of the Old Testament (ibid., LV, 494-7). Similarly write a series of early ecclesiastical writers down to St. Thomas (Summa, II-II, Q. xci, a. 2).
In Carlovingian times, however, the organ came into use, and was, until the sixteenth century, used solely for the accompaniment of the chant, its independent use developing only gradually (Scarlatti, Couperin, Bach). Perfected organ playing found increasing favor in the eyes of the church authorities, and only occasionally was it found necessary to correct an abuse. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXII) says: “All musical forms, whether for the organ or for voices, which are of a frivolous or sensuous character, should be excluded from the Church.” The nature of the organ is, to a great extent, a protection against its misuse; its power and fullness lend themselves admirably to the majesty of the Divine service, while other instruments more readily serve profane purposes. After the sixteenth century, orchestral instruments found admittance into some churches and court chapels, but restrictive regulations soon followed. While Lasso in Munich, Monteverde in Venice, and Scarlatti in Naples had at their disposal large orchestras, smaller churches with more modest resources satisfied themselves with the use of the trumpet or trombone in addition to the organ. The cultivation of both sacred and profane music by the same musicians proved detrimental to church music, and finally the Church had to wage open war on modern theatrical music in church services. Mozart’s insinuating sweetness, Haydn’s pious hilarity, Beethoven’s violent passionateness, and Cherubini’s dramatic intensity stand in too strong contrast to the lofty religious dignity and gravity of Palestrina. Maurice Brosig, although rather unrestrained and subjective in his own compositions, always excluded their works from church. Concert instruments may, under certain circumstances, produce in church a very brilliant effect and an exalted mood. In general, however, they are rather obtrusive than devotional. Their tendency is to predominate, and they are apt to obscure the declamation of the text.
Richard Wagner says a vigorous word in favor of purely vocal music in church: “To the human voice, the immediate vehicle of the sacred word, belongs the first place in the churches, and not to instrumental additions or the trivial scraping found in most of the churches pieces today. Catholic Church music can regain its former purity only by a return to the purely vocal style. If an accompaniment is considered absolutely necessary, the genius of Christianity has provided the instrument worthy of such function, the organ” (Gesammelte Werke, II, 337). There is no doubt but that those qualities absolutely necessary to church music, namely modesty, dignity, and soulfulness, are more inherent in the purely vocal style than in any other. Reserve and humble restraint befits the house of God. Sentimental and effeminate melodies are incompatible with the dignified seriousness of the polyphonic a capella style, and a composer’s temptation to indulge in them is more easily counteracted by this style than any other. Like the external attitude of the worshipper in church, the vocally interpreted liturgical word and the organ playing must be respectful and decorous. That vocal music is in general more expressive than the mechanically produced tone of instruments is undeniable. Religious feeling finds its most natural expression in vocal utterance, for the human heart is the source of both devotion and song.
From these considerations it follows that the tone quality, tempo, and rhythm of vocal music accompanied by the organ are more in conformity with the religious mood than is the character of orchestral instruments. The organ can indeed be sweeping and powerful, but its tone volume is always more even, and is not so subject to the arbitrary will of the player as is the orchestra. Orchestral instruments permit of a wide range in the division and subdivision, retarding, and acceleration of time subtleties which are not conducive to the calm necessary for prayer. The same holds good with regard to rhythm. Just as the great flexibility, the frivolous or passionate character of irregular rhythm in general are expressive of a worldly, superficial, and restless mood, so is reposeful and symmetrical rhythm expressive of and conducive to a prayerful mood. A slow and orderly movement is more in keeping with the nature of the organ. It was not by accident that the measured rhythm of Gregorian chant was early abandoned, nor is it desirable to interpret in too mechanical a rhythm even the poly-phonic works of the old masters. The more the purely mechanical element yields to the expression of the religious mood, the more suitable the performance becomes for church. On the other hand, a delicately defined measure is aesthetically preferable to excessive freedom. Another element of the highest importance in church music, which is indeed generally suggested by the text, is the interrelation between the melodic phrases, the rhythmical proportion or symmetry between the various parts of the composition: these seem to conform externally to the breathing of the singers and internally to the emotions of the pious heart, while the measure is solely a means to regulate time.
Finally must be considered, as one of the distinctive attributes of church music, the character of the Gregorian modes. The modes, which have most in common with our modern minor key and contain the interval of the minor third, the symbol of moderation and restraint, greatly predominate in Gregorian chant. Harmonic music has gradually narrowed down to the two modes or keys, major and minor: the major key has freer motion, greater brightness and decision, while the minor scale in its lower portion has a hesitating and mysterious character, and resembles the major only in its upper section. This hesitation and mysteriousness happily express in church music the modesty and humility of the worshipper. Even those Gregorian modes (F and G) which have most resemblance to our major scale lose that character in their upper portion. The major character, as we have it in our C major scale, occurs very seldom in Gregorian chant. The self restraint so delicately conveyed in the church modes completely disappears in the apparently boundless freedom and stormy movement of concert music. The latter makes use of the chromatic element, modulation from one key into another, tone color, the various forms of composition (sonata, etc.), and every other artistic means to carry the hearer from one mood to another and finally to heighten the impression to the degree of passion. As such purposes are foreign to church music, it makes of these means, whenever it employs them, a different use. It will be remembered that the contrapuntal vocal school, at one period in its history, also degenerated into artificality and the cultivation of form for its own sake, but this abuse was not only reproved by the Church, but also remedied by repeated reforms since the Council of Trent.
IV. Various Parts of the Divine Service
The Church has frequently legislated concerning even the smallest details of the liturgy. In connection with the Mass, the center of Catholic worship, the service of various arts are utilized architecture, with its decorative and plastic elaborations, symbolic action at the altar with the accompanying vestments and sacred vessels, the significant liturgical prayers, and finally the chant carried on the waves of the organ. All these, including the music, are regulated by ecclesiastical precepts. The intonations of the celebrant and his ministers, the Orations, Epistle, Gospel, Preface, Pater Noster, Dominus vobiscum, Ite missa est, must be unaccompanied at most the pitch may be given. The reponses of the choir or the people may be accompanied on the organ. The choir sings the Kyrie, Gloria, and Credo. In these as in all liturgical texts, the omission, transposition, alteration, substitution, or awkward combination of the words (even in inserted pieces, e.g. the Ave Maria at the Offertory, after the proper offertory has been recited) is forbidden. On the other hand, the occasional repetition of words, as an artistic necessity, is permitted. It is allowed in most cases for sufficient reason (e.g. fatigue or inability of the singers) to recite in an audible voice certain texts with subdued organ accompaniment, or to alternate recitation with singing. The Credo, however, must be sung always in its entirety, and that in a particularly distinct manner, and the celebrant may not continue the liturgical action during its performance. (Furthermore must be sung the first and last verse of the hymns and everything wherein genuflection is prescribed or which contains an intercession, as is the case with the Dies irae.) The intonations of the priest should never be repeated by the choir. The Kyrie, a cry for mercy, must never degenerate into a brilliant operatic performance, nor should the Credo, an open profession of faith, become an occasion for artistic display; besides being utterly inappropriate, this style tends towards excessive length. In general the Credo, sung to one of the Gregorian melodies, with possibly a harmonized setting of the Et incarnatus est and finale, is decidedly preferable to an exclusively figured composition. In the Gloria the music may show brilliancy, but it must be noted that not only joy, but also deep devotion and humble petition (Qui tollis…) are contained in the text. A very great abuse consists in the endless repetitions, which in some instances consume as much as ten minutes. Of the other invariable parts of the mass, the Sanctus should be of reasonable length, so that the celebrant may have to wait as little as possible. If the organ be played during the Elevation, it must be done softly and in a reverent manner. The Benedictus must breathe the spirit of adoration, while the following Hosanna gives moderate expression to jubilation. In the Agnus Dei the tenderest pleading of the heart must find subdued expression.
The Proper, or variable parts of the Maas, must never be changed by the choir. The recitation of the Introit has never been explicitly allowed: in any event, the Gloria Patri must be sung, on account of the enjoined inclination on the part of the celebrant and people. As in the Gradual with the adjoined parts, the organ prelude and alternation between chanters and choir create an agreeable contrast. In the Tract and Sequence, on account of their great length, the reciting of certain parts is desirable. To omit parts of the text, even in the lengthy Lauda Sion or Dies irae, is forbidden. If the Gradual, Tract, and Sequence be set to figured music, it must be done in accordance with the spirit of the text. The Gregorian melodies to these texts offer to the composer the best possible models for imitation. After the proper offertory text has been sung or recited, a motet to approved words may be sung, provided the celebrant be not too long detained thereby. The same applies to any antiphon or motet in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, which may be sung with the Benedictus after the Elevation. Silence on the part of the organ between the Pater Noster and the following Per omnia is desirable. If Holy Communion be given, a short motet with approved Latin text may be inserted. The chants of the Requiem Mass may be accompanied on the organ in an unobtrusive manner. (The use of the organ is also permitted during Advent and Lent, but only for the accompaniment of the chant. On feast days and on Gaudete and Lietare Sundays, it may be used as usual.)
Passing over various other liturgical functions, we shall say a word about Solemn Vespers and Compline. Nothing may be abbreviated or omitted in the Vespers of the day (or the Votive Vespers, when allowed), and no psalm may be sung otherwise than antiphonally. Falsi-bordoni, alternating with a Gregorian melody, are successfully used in many places. The repetitions of the antiphons and certain verses of the hymn and Magnificat may be recited. The hymn may also be performed in figured settings, but musical forms, differing widely from the general character of the Gregorian chant, are to be avoided in all parts of the liturgy. On these points the “Motu proprio” of Pius X says: “The different parts of the Mass and Office must retain, even musically, that particular concept and form which ecclesiastical tradition has as-signed to them, and which is admirably expressed in Gregorian chant. Different, therefore, must be the method of composing an introit, a gradual, an antiphon, a psalm, a hymn, a Gloria in excelsis.
“In particular the following rules are to be observed:
The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc. of the Mass must preserve the unity of composition proper to their text. It is not lawful, therefore, to compose them in separate pieces in such a way that each of such pieces may form a complete composition in itself, and be capable of being detached from the rest and substituted by another.
In the office of Vespers it should be the rule to follow the `Cwremoniale Episcoporum’, which prescribes the Gregorian chant for the psalmody, and permits figured music for the versicles of the Gloria Patri and the hymn.
“It will, nevertheless, be lawful on the greater solemnities to alternate the Gregorian chant of the choir with the so-called falsi-bordoni or with verses similarly composed in a proper manner.
“It may also be allowed sometimes to render the single psalms in their entirety in music, provided the form proper to psalmody be preserved in such composition, that is to say, provided the singers seem to be psalmodizing among themselves, either with new motifs or with those taken from the Gregorian chant based upon it.
“The psalms known, as di concerto, are therefore for ever excluded and prohibited.
In the hymns of the Church the traditional form of the hymn is preserved. Thus, it is not lawful to compose, for instance, a `Tantum ergo’ in such wise that the first strophe presents a romanza, a cavatina, an adagio, and the `Genitori’ an allegro.
The antiphons of the Vespers must be, as a rule, rendered with the Gregorian melody proper to each. Should they, however, in some special case, be sung in figured music they must never have either the form of a concert melody or the fulness of a motet or a cantata.”
All this shows not only the great solicitude of the Church to foster worthy ecclesiastical music, but also the reasonableness of her regulations on the matter. Greater latitude is given at benediction services. It is lawful to sing hymns in the vernacular before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, but, immediately before the Benediction, the “Tantum ergo” and “Genitori” must be sung in Latin, either to a Gregorian melody or to a devotional figured setting, as a liturgical close. During and after the removal of the Blessed Sacrament, it is permitted to sing in the vernacular. An antiphon or hymn in honor of the Blessed Virgin may also be sung, but only after the reposition. If litanies (sanctioned by the Church or the ordinary) be sung, there must be no omissions, although the invocations may be taken in groups of three, followed by one Ora pro nobis. As in the case of the “Tantum ergo”, all prescribed liturgical chants, like the “Te Deum“, must be sung in Latin: any text chosen on the choir’s own initiative, however, may be sun in the vernacular.
V. Singing by the People
Singing by the people, so widely customary at different devotions (Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, low Mass, etc.), requires special mention. The participation of the people in the singing of the Gregorian chant has been discussed under Congregational Singing. Singing in the vernacular may not be substituted for the latter. This abuse crept in after the Reformation, and flourished in the eighteenth century, particularly in Germany and adjacent countries. The wish of the Church is that this abuse should be everywhere extirpated, while violence to local customs be avoided. But Pius X has expressed himself warmly in favor of singing by the people within proper limits (e.g., in his endorsement of the endeavors of the Society, italiana per la musica populare), and is far from being opposed to such in extra liturgical services. Naturally, it would be undesirable to accustom the people to sing rather than pray, but well ordered singing by the congregation is always edifying and devotional. In his psalm against the Donatists, which he intentionally couched in popular form, St. Augustine had an absolutely practical object. Greek and Latin hymnody is to a certain extent even more specially intended to be sung by the people than the Gregorian chant. Hymns in the vernacular were widely employed (e.g., by the early apostles of Germany) to wean the people from the pagan songs to which they were accustomed, and to initiate them in an agreeable manner into the mysteries of the Faith. The oldest of these hymns are lost to us, but we possess a Latin translation of a ninth-century hymn written in honor of St. Gall by the monk Ratpert and sung in church by the people. Of the “Wessobrunner Gebet” the German text has been preserved; of the “Petruslied” (also ninth-century) we possess the melody, the notation of which, however, is difficult to determine exactly. The frequent pilgrimages and the religious plays subsequently fostered singing among the people, while the invention of printing afforded a means for the universal propagation of popular hymns. Even Luther and Melanchthon testify to the general use of German hymns before their time. The Protestant custom of singing hymns in the vernacular, instead of the liturgical chant, reacted upon Catholics, and found its way even into the missa cantata.
The development of congregational singing is of early origin. St. Augustine tells us (Conf. vii, 9) that St. Ambrose introduced it in his own diocese from the Orient, and that it soon spread throughout the Western Church. Ambrose modified the still classic Latin meter to meet the popular requirements, while Augustine abandoned it altogether, to get, as he said, nearer to the people. So far we have been concerned only with the antiphonal singing of Latin psalms and hymns, although the people sang in addition the short responses to the liturgical intonations of the celebrant in solemn services. From this latter practice it is likely that the congregational song developed, at first by applying to the long neums of the “Kyrie” and the jubilations of the “Alleluia” first Latin texts, then texts in the vernacular, and finally by original compositions in imitation of the hymns and litanies. The later hymns in the vernacular may be defined (cf. Baumker) as strophically arranged sacred songs in the vulgar tongue, which, because of their ecclesiastical character, are suitable to be sung by the whole congregation, and have been either expressly approved for this purpose by ecclesiastical authority, or at least tacitly admitted. The sacred song meditates on truths of religion, gives expression to a lyric religious mood, or rehearses, in the form of a litany, praises or petitions (e.g., pilgrimage of songs). According to Kornmuller, the requisites for a good sacred song are a genuinely ecclesiastical character and doctrine, lyric musical expression, and popular, but at the same time poetic, language. Before the advent of Luther about one hundred church hymns were in general use in Germany. These early hymns are simple, greatly resemble the Gregorian chant in melody, and are grave and noble in expression. The later development (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) was on the whole unpropitious, but in recent years the reform initiated by Meister, Baumker, and Dreves, has been attended with gratifying success.
VI. Women in Church Choirs
In connection with singing in the vernacular it is necessary to advert briefly to the question of women’s participation in choirs. As the injunction of the Apostle that woman keep silence in church was never made applicable in the matter of her participation in the singing of the congregation, and as in religious communities of women the liturgical chant has to be performed by women, we may take it for granted that in our ordinary lay choirs, representing the congregation, the participation of women is not forbidden. The following words from the “Motu proprio” have, however, caused a great deal of uncertainty: “With the exception of the melodies proper to the celebrant at the altar and to his ministers, which must always be sung only in Gregorian chant and without the accompaniment of the organ, all the rest of the liturgical chant belongs to the choir of levites; therefore, singers in church, even when they are laymen, are really taking the place of the ecclesiastical choir.” “On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that, therefore, women, as being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir or of the musical chapel. Whenever, then, it is desired to employ the acute voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church.” But the Holy Father speaks here (as in the beginning) of the choir of levites, among whom lay men may be included, and declares soon after these quoted words that it is becoming for them to wear the ecclesiastical habit and surplice. But our ordinary lay choir represents not only the congregation, but also the official choir, without wishing to play the role of “levites”; for this reason it is not stationed in the sanctuary, and no one would think of proposing that its members, like acolytes, should wear the ecclesiastical habit. The lay choir is simply a substitute for the absent chorus cantorum, in the liturgical sense, as is the nun for the absent acolyte when she supplies from a distance the responses to the celebrant during the celebration of Mass.
Consequently, the presence of women in choirs is excusable under certain circumstances, although choirs composed of men and boys are for many reasons preferable. It is true that an inquiry about this point received an apparently negative answer on December 18, 1908, but this was in regard to the conditions described in the inquiry (prout exponitur), and it is added that the Decree is to be understood in the sense that the women must be kept entirely separate from the men, and every precaution taken to render impossible all conduct unbecoming to the sacred edifice. From these clauses it appears that, in principle, choirs composed of men and women are not inadmissible; however, the desirability of banishing every possible occasion of indecorousness from the church renders it preferable to employ boys, rather than women, in choirs. The employment of women as soloists is all the more questionable, since solos in church are admissible only within certain limits (Motu proprio). A choir composed of women only is not forbidden (Decree of January 17, 1908). To employ non-Catholics in church as singers and organists is only tolerated in case of urgent necessity, because they neither believe nor feel the words which they sing.
VII. Reform in Practice
The decadence of the Gregorian chant is to be ascribed primarily to the development of and preference given to polyphony. To this cause is due the disappearance from the chant of its original rhythm and the serious neglect of its simpler form. Even before the Council of Trent, ecclesiastical authority had repeatedly raised its voice against the abuses which had crept into polyphonic music. The Gregorian melodies, however, even in the hands of the contrapuntists, retained their character in a wonderful manner. Nevertheless, the contrast between the two kinds of music led, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, to an abbreviation of the long melismatic passages, to a different application of the text, and to many less important modifications (Graduale Medicaeum). Many other editions, edited according to the same principle, followed until the revised “Medicaea” (printed in Ratisbon) became in 1878 the official chant book of the Church (cf. Decreta auth., n. 3830). Meanwhile, the liturgical researches of the Benedictines of Solesmes had led (since 1903-4) to the general restoration, in the Vatican edition, of the chant from the manuscripts of the twelfth century. Endeavors to restore the earlier neumed texts (tenth-century), mainly on account of the primitive rhythm, have so far met with little success.
The “Motu proprio” of Pius X had for its main purpose the reform of church music in general, and covers about the same ground as the “Regolamento per la musica sacra”, which the Congregation of Sacred Rites issued under Leo XIII, but which applied more particularly to Italy (Deer. auth., loc. cit.). On the basis of these regulations, with which the earlier precepts and the modern decrees are in entire agreement, composers, singers, critics, and theorists are to carry on their work of reform. They constitute the principle which the Cacilienverein (Cecilian Society) has long endeavored to put into practice in Germany, Italy, North America, and elsewhere. Dr. F. X. Witt, burning with zeal for the cause of reform, founded this society in 1868, and, shortly after its papal approbation, became its first president. The object of the society is to cultivate the chant, polyphony, hymns in the vernacular, organ playing, and orchestral music in conformity with the regulations of the Church. The reform endeavors were by no means confined to Germany, but extended to Holland, Italy, the United States, etc. The introduction of the Vatican edition of the chant has been, since the decree of Pius X, the main object of the society’s activity. In the restoration and worthy performance of the traditional chant, the Benedictines have, even before the publication of Dom Pothier’s work (Les melodies gregoriennes, 1880), displayed the greatest zeal. Thus, the fathers of Solesmes in France, Beuron in Germany, St. Anselm in Rome, Maredsous in Belgium, Prague and Seckau in Austria, cooperate with the Cecilians of every part of the world in carrying out the wishes of the Holy Father and the bishops in regard to the reform of church music. Every one is under obligation to do what he can in his own particular field.
It is well to state briefly in didactic form what the Church really means by progressive reform. A first requisite is the recognition that the chant, as the true music of the Church, must be studied and performed with the greatest care. Whenever difficulties stand in the way of the introduction of the Vatican edition, the bishops will take such measures as are in conformity with the will of the pope. Schools for church music are to be founded and fostered. The “Motu proprio” (viii, 27, 28) says: “Let care be taken to restore, at least in the principal churches, the ancient schola cantorum, as has been done with excellent fruit in many places. It is not difficult for a zealous clergy to institute such scholce, even in the minor and country churches nay, in them they will find a very easy means for gathering around them both the children and the adults to their own profit and the edification of the people. Let efforts be made to support and promote in the best way possible the higher schools of sacred music where these already exist, and to help in founding them where they do not. It is of the utmost importance for the Church herself to provide for the instruction of its masters, organists, and singers according to the true principles of sacred art.” In a similar sense it is the will of the Holy Father that in the study of liturgy attention should be directed to the principles governing liturgical music, and that aesthetic appreciation should be fostered. Singers must ever be humbly submissive to their pastor, and especially to the episcopal commission, and may never entertain the notion that the chant can be sung with out due preparation, as though it were a question of merely singing the notes. Courses in the chant are given in various centers, and excellent books of instruction exist in great numbers (e.g., Singenberger’s “Guide to Church Music”). To mention only one point, it is important to master, in accordance with the instructions of the Benedictines, the proper rhythmical divisions of periods and phrases as well as the legato delivery of the long jubilations.
In general, it is now a days impossible to do entirely without polyphonic music. It constitutes a welcome means of giving splendor to feast days, but is a source of danger if over indulged in. The works of some of the best masters of polyphony have been made accessible for study and execution by excellent editions (e.g., the works of Palestrina in Haberl’s edition). There is certainly no dearth of compositions in the modern homophonic style; we have but to consult the catalogue of the Cecilian Society or the above named “Guide”. It is better to produce repeatedly a few compositions within the capacity of the choir than to introduce new works frequently, without completely mastering them. Critics who write on church music, composers, and choir directors, should familiarize themselves with the spirit and regulations of the Church in regard to music by means of the numerous theoretical manuals. It is the spirit which vivifies; the form serves merely to give it expression. Without studying the liturgy (at least, that part of it directly connected with the music) and the texts in the original or an easily procured translation, it is impossible to penetrate into this spirit. The Church may claim our ready allegiance and respect for the laws and regulations which she, for grave reasons and to deal with existing conditions, has enacted.
In theoretical and artistic questions, however, everyone enjoys freedom. Thus the Congregation of Rites has declared in regard to the official chant (and this declaration is of course still in force): “While students of the chant always have enjoyed full freedom, a privilege which they will not be deprived of in the future, to ascertain by scientific research what was the primitive form of the chant, and what modifications it has undergone in subsequent periods (a very laudable inquiry analogous to that being prosecuted by learned scholars into the primitive rites and other departments of the liturgy), only that form of the chant which His Holiness has proposed to us, and which has been approved by the Congregation of Sacred Rites, may today be considered as authoritative and legitimate” (Deer. auth., n. 3830). As for composers, they should never try to foist upon the faithful productions which do not conform to the intentions of the Church, even if the music in itself be beautiful, nor should they aim at a mere display of their own powers thereby to gain fame and merely delight their hearers. They should, on the contrary, endeavor to imitate in their compositions the simplicity and objectivity of the chant, and learn from it to accommodate themselves to the capacity of ordinary choirs. With these considerations before him, the choir director has to choose his music, penetrate into its spirit so that he may be able to impart the same to his singers, who must sing not only correctly but also with devotion. Order and discipline among the performers are important factors in obtaining the desired results. According to the “Motu proprio”, “only those are to be admitted to form part of the musical chapel of a church who are men of known purity and probity of life, and these should by their modest and devout bearing during the liturgical functions show that they are worthy of the holy office they exercise.” Inasmuch as the impression produced by a performance depends greatly on the interpretation, it is incumbent upon the choir master to insist upon distinct pronunciation of the words, a noble tone quality, and a simple expression of the mood. Church music should be free from exaggerated and extravagant expression of joy or sorrow, sentimental yearning, and theatrical effects of every kind; it should be the utterance of fervent prayer springing from faith and charity. The good intention of the singers will not only find its eternal reward, it will also evoke gratitude and respect.
The twofold aspect of the principle laid down by the Sacred Congregation for our guidance in the matter of singing in the vernacular is expressed as follows: “The Congregation urgently admonishes that hymns in the vernacular no matter of what character, should gradually and unostentatiously be eliminated from liturgical functions. On the other hand, pious hymns to approved texts, which are extensively employed, particularly in Germany, during different devotions and before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, are by no means prohibited” (April 3, 1883; Krutscheck, 3rd ed., pp. 151, 177). Songs in the vernacular, alternating with prayer, are suitable during low Mass (within narrow limits, however), benediction, but especially during processions outside of the church. An excellent means for fostering this desirable practice is the careful training of the school children, whose singing need not, however, be confined to hymns in unison, and who also may be allowed to perform occasionally more elaborate compositions in two or more parts. The singing, however, should not be permitted to gain precedence over prayer. The hymnbook should at the same time be a prayerbook, and praying aloud should alternate with the singing. It is important that the sense and spirit of the hymns be carefully explained to the children. The performance should be free from dragging and slurring, faults which should be strongly discouraged by the organist. Arbitrary, unindicated pauses should be avoided. The children, especially, should be taught to respond to the celebrant at the altar; this is the only way to educate the congregation gradually to do the same thing. No one exercises a greater influence in the reform of church music than the organist, provided he be animated by the spirit of the Church. His playing should be, like the chant of the Church, simple and grave, devotional and objective. Song preludes and intermezzi during liturgical functions are forbidden. The organ must be subordinate to the singing, must support and not drown it. The purely vocal style is the ideal of the Church. The papal choir, the Sistine, has always excluded instrumental music. The more humble and subordinate the role of the organist, the more faithful and conscientious he should be in filling it. He should never occupy the front of the stage, scandalize the faithful by trashy improvizations, or keep the celebrant waiting. In extra liturgical functions, however, he may move somewhat freely. It is decidedly preferable to play the works of good masters than to improvize. In preparing for a great liturgical function, he should aim at giving suitable and full expression to the spirit of the day, the feast, and circumstance. Unceasing practice is indispensable, especially to the musician of mediocre talent, even though he always keep the text before him. He must be able to perform this with absolute sureness, mastery, and freedom. He must know how to modulate from one key into another, how to proceed from one number to another, what key to choose for the hymns sung by the congregation, how to transpose the chant from one key into another, how to combine the organ stops, and (to a certain extent at least) how to improvize and to harmonize at sight. Under no circumstances must he permit himself to carry reminiscences of the concert and opera into the church.
As to the use of instruments, other than the organ, we should remember that the special permission of the ordinary is necessary, and that their nature must always be in keeping with the occasion and the place. The employment of a full orchestra forms an exception (cf. Motu proprio, cited above). The wisdom of these restrictions has been cheerfully recognized by such unprejudiced authorities as Wagner and Beethoven a fact which cannot be too often stated. The former maintained that “genuine church music should be produced only by voices, except a `Gloria’ or similar text.” As early in his career as 1848 this master ascribed the decadence of church music to the use of instruments. “The first step toward the decadence of genuine Catholic church music was the introduction of orchestra instruments. Their character and independent use have imparted to religious expression a sensuous charm, which has proved very detrimental, and has affected unfavorably the art of singing itself. The virtuosity of instrumentalists provoked imitation on the part of singers, and soon a worldly and operatic taste held full sway in church. Certain parts of the sacred text, e.g. the ` Kyrie Eleison‘, became a vehicle for operatic arias, and singers trained for Italian opera were engaged as church singers” (Gesammelte Werke, II, 335). Every reform has, in accordance with tho will of the Church, to be carried out in such a manner that a greater evil may not result that is, gradually and without causing unnecessary friction (sensim sine but yet with firmness, regardless of one’s personal views. Moral necessity alone dispenses from a command of the Church. It must be considered as progress when features either forbidden or discouraged by the Church (e.g., hymns in the vernacular during liturgical functions, the use of orchestral instruments, women in choirs) are no longer fostered, and when one abuse after another is gradually reduced to a minimum. Those in charge should not cater to the false ideas of the people, but should make every effort by the performance of better compositions to ennoble popular taste. Offense is perhaps most easily given, when old and favorite hymns, though of an inferior quality, are withdrawn: modern hymnbooks, however, contain such an abundance of excellent melodies that many an undesirable hymn is discarded without difficulty. The fundamental conditions for success are a good choir of men and boys, a capable organist, and a judicious choice of masses and other compositions by the choir-director.
The Vatican chant, however, presents difficulties of a special nature. It is true that mere recitation on a straight tone may in some cases be resorted to. It has also been customary from time immemorial to as-sign to a few chosen singers the more difficult passages. In regard to the rhythm, accent, and other points we now know the precise intentions of the Holy See. The “Acts Apostolicae Sedis” (1910, pp. 145 sq.) contains a letter from the Prefect of the Congregation of Rites to the president of the German Cacilienverein, which by this publication becomes binding on all. In this letter the direction is given that the rhythmical interpretation of the Vatican edition is to be in accordance with the rules laid down in the preface to the Graduale. The wish is also expressed that no contrary methods should be advocated in the press, as they would only cause confusion and retard the progress of music reform. Theoretic discussions seem not to have been prohibited, except in so far as they might interfere with the introduction of the Vatican edition (cf. the decree of the Congregation of Rites quoted above, which was issued under similar conditions Deer. auth., n. 3830). A considerable latitude is allowed in the interpretation of the document. The attempts, disapproved of by the Holy Father, are characterized in a rather mild manner; critics are asked to abstain from attempting that which, in the present state of archaeological studies, can have no other result than to spread confusion and divert attention from the real work of restoring the Gregorian chant to its rightful place. In spite of the many differences of opinion, we should make every effort to introduce the Vatican edition in conformity with the will of the pope. By studying the symmetrical construction of the melodies in the light of the explanations of the Benedictines, which are undoubtedly of high aesthetic value, the execution becomes not only much easier but the profound beauty of the chant is revealed to us.
VIII. Religious Music
Finally that class of religious music which may not be placed in the same category with real church music, must be mentioned. The masses by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven have already been spoken of. The musical interpretation of the text and their operatic form render them little suited to the church. We must also name the older Protestant masters, John Sebastian Bach and G. F. Handel, whose works for Protestant services undoubtedly deserve to be studied by the church musician. The greater latitude accorded to organ playing in the Protestant cult has given occasion to the highest productions of contrapuntal and harmonic art. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that the predominance in their works of the instrumental element, with its obtrusive arias, duets, and choruses, is in opposition to the spirit of the Catholic liturgy, which finds a more suitable medium of expression in the purely vocal style. John Sebastian Bach (b. at Eisenach, 1685; d. at Leipzig, 1750) has also set Catholic liturgical texts to music. His mass in B minor is considered one of his greatest works, among which his oratorio, the “Passion according to St. Matthew”, must be also included. Among his other compositions for Sundays and festivals, preludes and fugues hold a prominent place. He was also distinguished in the field of chamber music. George Frederick Handel (b. at Halle, 1685; d. at London, 1759) devoted his powers first to the opera and later to the oratorio. He also wrote “Te Deums”, psalms, fugues, and concerti for the organ, which, like Bach’s sacred works, suggest the lofty purpose of the older masters, but do not fulfill the requirements of the Church. The musical fame of these masters is thereby in nowise diminished. The church hymn or chorale, which, with the cantata and oratorio, is essential to the Protestant cult, is a development in popular form of the singing of the Gregorian chant by the congregation.
The oratorio, which Handel brought to the highest degree of perfection (Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, Israel in Egypt, etc.), stands midway between secular and liturgical music. Originally intended as an ethical-religious reaction against the Florentine opera, it treats Biblical and legendary themes in a lyric dramatic form, but without dramatic action. It consists of recitations, arias (duets, trios, quartets), and choruses with a brilliant orchestral accompaniment. On account of its semi operatic form the oratorio is not available for church purposes, although it was customary in former times to perform settings of the Passion in church on Good Friday. The cantata (perfected by Bach) is more lyric and less epic in style with a somewhat more modest instrumentation. The cantata and oratorio are both developments from the antiphonal sacred chants and the mystery plays of the Middle Ages. Side by side with polyphony existed the folk song in the vernacular and also more pretentious compositions, such as the lays of the troubadours, minnesingers, and mastersingers, and the madrigal. The folk song of olden times, springing directly from and resembling the music of the Church, was often employed as motif or cantus firmus in masses and other liturgical compositions, a proceeding which would not be allowed now a days. Christian pilgrims were wont to sing antiphonally hymns having for their burthen the life and death of our Savior and similar subjects. The dramatic element inherent in these subjects was contained in the liturgy itself. It had only to be brought into conjunction with epical recitation or narrative and song in order to develop into the mystery plays, which had their secular counterparts. As far back as the eleventh century these mystery plays on feast days served to present to the people in dramatic form the Passion, Resurrection, and Last Judgment. Their original home was the church and the monastery, from which they had later to be banished. The secular and semi ecclesiastical or simply religious music of the Middle Ages had a decisive influence in the transformation of polyphonic music into the harmonic or homophonic, and a comparison between the various styles is a great aid in determining the character of genuine church music.
It is as important today as ever that we carefully distinguish between simply religious music be it never so beautiful, artistic, and conducive to private devotion and that kind of music which the Church requires for her services. Outside of the Church each one may sing such melodies to religious texts as best satisfy his own pious mood; he may even indulge his aesthetic predilections in choosing his hymns. The house of God, however, demands an entirely different attitude; we must realize that we are there to pray, that we may not force our personal mood on our fellow Christians, but that, on the contrary, we must follow with devout attention and pious song, according to the will and in the spirit of the Church, the liturgical action at the altar. And, in according to the Church our filial obedience, we need entertain no fear that she, the venerable mother and protector of the arts, will assign to music a function unworthy of its powers.