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The Impact of the Christian Church on the Development and Preservation of the Western Art Music Canon

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Traditions that are observed in the Western music can be linked to the social and religious developments that occurred in Europe in the Middle Ages. At that time, the early Catholic Church was dominant hence making sacred music highly prevalent between 500 and 1400 A.D. (Burkholder et al. 46). The advancement and preservation of the Western art music canon can be traced back to the days of the Gregorian Chant. The period marked the beginning of the development of sacred music that slowly transformed into organum, a polyphonic music that came into existence in the twelfth century following the performance that was organized at Notre Dame. The period also saw the appearance of secular music through the efforts of the French trouv?res and troubadours (Burkholder et al. 75). Therefore, the Church played a crucial role in the emergence of secular and sacred musical compositions of the original genius of Western music.

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Arguably, Western music was entirely owned by the Catholic Church after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Burkholder et al. (57) note that music is regarded as a key element in the world civilization that was observed with the growth of Christianity that followed the crumble of the Roman Empire. People made efforts in creating musical instruments for centuries as evidenced by the biblical stories, early existence of primitive cave drawings and the Egyptian hieroglyphs. As European societies alongside the predominant Catholic Church, several small kingdoms emerged and were under the leadership of lords who were successful in fighting for the land. Catholic leaders managed to assume power over the feudal lords due to superstitious fear. Dunbar states that the church dictated developments in art with musicians and artists employed by the church in a manner that made music largely associated with the Catholic Church, which was dominant back then (124).

Music was utilized by Christians of the early church, as it may be proved from the existing religious chant by both the Jewish and the Byzantines. Similar to the Western world music to date, plainchant had only one melody hence lacking any accompaniments (Dowley 75). Certain melodies that are characteristic of modern music have their origin linked to the eight Greek modes. The melodies are set in Latin liturgical texts and their spread all over Europe made them develop in several lines in accordance with a variety of sects. Moreover, there is a common belief that the melodies were codified by Pope Gregory who (by doing so) promoted an extensive usage of the melodies in all Western Catholic churches. Nowadays, Pope Gregory's name is still associated to the advancement of music with a reference to the Gregorian Chant that is still regarded as the spiritual music in the Western culture. At present, music remains a special component of the Christian faith that helps Christians connect with God through praises and worship.

The church was the first place where music artists started using multiple melodic lines that are common in contemporary music. According to Dowley , the multiple melodic lines became a widespread way back in the ninth century where religious music theorists resorted to the possibility of simultaneously singing double melodic lines at parallel intervals (98). The attempts resulted in the emergence of organum. Later, more melodic lines were added; they deviated from the original parallel motion and started moving away from each other as it is commonly seen in the present day music.

Great developments in music are attributed to Christian artists whose compositions facilitated the advancement of music. The music sung on tenor notes was popular at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and was referred to as the old art. The old art composition is attributed to Leonin and Perotin who composed organs for more than two voices (Dowley 74). Perotin is acknowledged for his contribution in the development of the early form of polyphony that was later replaced by smoother polyphonic music hence adding to the list of Christian artists whose compositions promoted the progress and preservation of music.

In addition, the development of secular music was influenced by the successful use of music in church although popular music was not prone to limitations by religious traditions. Popular music was hardly recorded in writing until after the tenth century. In most cases, music was performed by bands that appeared in Europe until the 13th century (Omojola 75). The music was live due to the perfect use of monophonic melodies by talented musicians. The songs were mostly based on the theme of love as it may be seen in the creative work of famous Adam de la Halle (Dowley 112). Instruments were played in the process of singing secular music during the Middle Ages but instrumental dance music was not independently evident until the later Renaissance.

In the fourth century, Christians considered music as a medium of spiritual contention to enable them to connect with God. At that time, music was believed to be powerful in reflecting the relationship between humanity and the cosmos. Although some people may attempt to associate music to the material world without acknowledging its significance to Christians, Omojola argues that humans should appreciate music as the best portion of the world that Christians can offer to God like in the early days (76). Music has the power to reveal the harmony of the cosmos to Christians hence enabling them to discover God.

Over centuries, all composers of Western music, other literary works and arts produced artistic works that largely followed Christian themes. The fourth century marked a renaissance of Christian music with new forms of musical expressions spreading from the East, where they emerged, as a response to heretical groups on the fringe of Christianity. Dowley states that music spread to the West as it is evidenced by the efforts of Ambrose at Milan where he innovated worship and hymn writing (74). Music had existed in the Christian faith from the beginning but the fourth century gave room to a new wave of music enthusiasm, particularly for Christian music that was present in all artistic and literary works.

The church sought the skills of various music artists in the early days. One of the famous artists was Guillaume de Machaut, who had a good career in music composition and poetry. The artists' musical composition skills blossomed after joining the Court of King John where he was in the service of the secretary to the King until the monarch died. Prior to the death, Machaut lived in Rheims where he served as canon in the cathedral (Dowley 123). Additionally, his musical composition skills were always appreciated by great patrons that made his poetry popular across Europe. The reasons for which Machaut is remembered include the role he played in the creation of the polyphonic setting of the Catholic mass.

The new style that appeared in the 14thcentury and which was commonly known as the Ars Nova is present in Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame hence showing how music preserved over time. The new polyphonic style was adopted by composers that led to the emergence of the choral music witnessed in the Renaissance. Masse de Notre Dame is the most popular work of Machaut but the poet also composed several secular love songs that were mainly done in new art. The songs gave a reflection of the courtly love that formed the major part of the previous centurys vocal art. The same period saw the outset of secular motets that were revolutionized to lovesick lyricism. Guillaume De Machaut is regarded as the first music composer in the history of Western music. The composer was conscious of the importance of his accomplishments in lyrical composition; hence, he went an extra mile by copying and artfully illustrating his work (Dunbar 143). Therefore, such illustrations are among the first examples of composers that show how music was first preserved for artistic prosperity.

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To conclude, this discussion has given a clear justification of the fact that the Christian Church played a pivotal role in the development and preservation of the Western art music canon. After the fall of Rome as well as the advancement and prosperity of Christianity in Europe, the resultant ideologies that mushroomed in the Western world were deeply rooted in religious faith and Christian practices. As Burkholder et al. observed, the Christian Church served as the chrysalis that was the origin of the Western society, and Christian ideologies made a significant contribution to the development of musical theory. Since the Church was among the first to seek the skills of lyrical composers and the original settings where music was played, it is right to associate Christianity with the blossoming music that is witnessed in the modern era.

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