Stylistic Techniques – Listening Log

Research Point 1.1 : The mass

Music and religion go hand in hand and can be traced as far back as the Gregorian chant at the time of Pope Gregory I (590 – 604). It is this chant which has evolved over the years and which now forms the basis of the Ordinary Mass which is celebrated today, throughout the Roman Catholic Church.

Many religions use music as a way of bringing together their congregations. I am familiar with the workings of the Church of England and the way in which expression of faith is made with music.  When I think more about it, the Muslim call to prayer is music which is expressing a religious meaning and they have their use for melody in their prayers.  Another one I can think of is the Cantor who is present at the Synagogue.  They take on the role of chanting and singing texts from the Torah and also lead the congregation in their prayers and religious ceremonies. Even thinking about other religions I believe that you get a feel for the ceremony by listening to the music and melody in the moment. The tone of the music or chanting, major and minor moments of what is being sung or chanted should be an indication of what is being expressed.  No need to know the language, just the sound to get that emotion. In turn there are some parts of this sacred music which will affect people in different ways, making the whole thing a deeply personal experience.

Sacred texts have become the basis for religious music, across many religions. Music sets the whole atmosphere and music used in a religious setting is an expression of faith, devotion and self identity and means different things to individuals.  

Looking at some of the composers in the middle ages, many wrote masses as a tribute to Pope’s who had become their patrons.  Composers were part of the religious framework and wrote for the time. These have been built upon over the centuries with some composers expanding and writing for choirs and orchestra which as lovely as they are, may not have been suitable for an everyday religious service even if the intentions around the composition were entirely of a religious nature. However in the 20th Century, Pope Pius X reformed music in the Catholic Church by laying down principles of sacred music and what he felt embodied sacred music, which was the Gregorian chant and Classic polyphony.  In essence he was taking it back to the time when sacred music was written and performed solely in a religious setting and not just being written to accompany it. There could even be an argument that to almost secure one’s place in heaven, sacred pieces have been composed and dedicated to Pontiffs or even monarchs, to show and love and dedication to them, especially as monarchs in centuries past were considered anointed by God himself. It is certainly something to think about in the context of religion and music. 

TheEditors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998). Gregorian chant. [Online]. Encycopaedia Britannica. Last Updated: 16th April 2023. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2023].

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