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The Catholic Church and Western Classical Music

The middle ages were characterized by the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in many religious and social aspects of the community and society. Therefore, many secular elements of culture like the creation and composition of music had their origins in the Roman Catholic Church or were at least influenced by the style and music of the Catholic Church.

Thus, the origins of modern day western music, both religious and nonreligious, can be traced to the developments in medieval Europe. At this historical period, the Catholic Church had a firm grip on nearly all aspects of society. Church traditions and rituals that involved some form of musical content such as the Gregorian chant formed the basis of subsequent musical compositions both within and out of the church.

Great composers and musicians of the middle ages and later eras, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, learned their musical skills in church before later composing secular pieces. JS Bach’s secular composition “Coffee Cantata,” and George Frederic Handel’s religious piece “Messiah,” will subsequently be analyzed.

“Coffee Cantata” by J S Bach is a classical piece that tells the story of a girl who had to give up love for coffee because her dad could not let her get married. The comedic tone of the piece is easily discerned in the piece. The Violin and piano in this polyphonic piece are played in short strokes to bring about a quick if playful, tone to the article.

The choir in this piece also accompanies these instruments in quick and short pronouncements that form a melodious harmony, giving the part a perfect rhythm. The choir and instrumentation in “Coffee Cantata” alternate in the delivery of words and play of the instruments, with each pause acting as a prelude to the next description of the actions of the girl in confrontation with her father.

Handel’s piece Messiah is an oratorio that tells the story of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross. The musical expression in “Messiah” is poignant because the piece combines an orchestra and a choir. How these two parts of the band can mix the messages in the piece with the instrumentation and singing, respectively, aids the listener to follow the Messianic epic from Part I through III.

The listener is, therefore, able to guess or have an idea of the message that is being propagated in the piece even without necessarily hearing the words of the text. The listener is thus able to listen to the song and experience the different moods even before the words and phrases get pronounced.

The musical texture of “Messiah” is ‘thick’ or polyphonic, in many instances of the composition, largely because both the choir and the orchestra are involved in this piece. At various points in “Messiah,” simultaneous singing (recitation) and instrumentation give the piece its polyphonic stance, and particularly the final “Amen” chorus of Part III exemplifies the harmonious nature of the entire article.

In conclusion, the Roman Catholic played a significant role in the early development and composition of music that came to be defined as western classical music. Most composers also learned their trade in churches. Also, any secular arrangements that famous composers such as J S Bach and Frederic Handel produced were ‘nursed’ within church compounds.

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