Christian Music History

Christian music, just like the religion itself, has a long and rich history dating back at least two thousand years. In today’s guide we shall look at a brief history of Christian music.

The Beginning of Christian Music

The beginning of Christian worship music can be dated back to influences from the Greeks, Syrians and Hebrews. In the beginning the music was primarily monophonic unison melodies with very minimal harmony or counterpoint.

The first sign of hymns were seen in Syrian churches that started using antiphonal singing methods that made the worship music a bit more interesting. Over the years Christian worship music became much more complex and it got to a point where it was hard to understand the words that were being sung.

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Because of this issue the Council of Trent decided to meet with church leaders to address this issue and they decided to make worship music within reasonable bounds in terms of difficulty so that all members of the congregation could participate.

Pope Marcellus asked Palestrina to simplify the music played in church and he did so by simplifying the music but keeping the beauty of the melody. He also limited counterpoint and tried to magnify the text so that it could be more clearly heard and became a much more important part of the music than previously.

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Composers and their part in Christian Music History

Throughout the 1600’s and 1700’s many of the world’s greatest composers started creating Christian music that still stand as some of the best known and loved Christian compositions in the world today.

Bach was one of the first composers to jump on board and he composed Christian Mass songs in all 24 keys. The most famous of his compositions was ‘B-Major Mass’. Shortly after Bach set foot in the scene, Monteverdi soon followed. Monteverdi started using word painting and dissonance to help create emotion relating to the words of the Mass – to great success.

The Cantata – a religious musical that involves five to eight movements with soloists, ensembles and choruses – was first brought about by Scarlatti; shortly followed by Handel who created the oratorio – a religious opera with a narrator. ‘The Messiah’ was one of Handel’s best known compositions and is still one of the most popular classical Christian songs today.

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Mozart, one of history’s most famous composers, created 18 masses – but they were incredibly long so only small portions will usually used within church services. Haydn – another renowned classical composer – wrote very happy and enlightening Christian music that focused on having faith in God.

Later on in the 18th century it became the fashion for composers to literally steal the melodies of popular songs and change the lyrics to be related to Christian worship. During this period is when many popular hymns and choruses came about in the church.

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The Liturgical Movement

The 19th and 20th centuries saw a new freedom of music style called the Liturgical Movement – which involved reforming church worship music to suit the ever-changing tastes of the congregation.

The Liturgical Movement wanted to attract a younger generation of modern church-goers while managing to preserve the beauty of traditional Christian music. This was done by setting religious text to popular folk songs to encourage the congregation to join in singing. One of the most famous hymns created using this method was ‘Amazing Grace’.

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Contemporary Christian Music

The last stage in Christian music history was the birth of contemporary Christian music. This began in the 1950’s and 1960’s and was created to help attract more youths to the church – which was starting to have a stigma of being boring and traditional.

Since the birth of contemporary Christian music a huge range of genres have emerged including Christian rock, pop, rap, country and reggae.

Contemporary Christian music is constantly evolving and is largely similar to the styles that are popular in the non-Christian music world. There are many artists that have become famous for their Christian music and many have gone on to be international artists selling millions of albums around the world.


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