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Research Point 1.1, Part B: Music and Religion

The second part of this research point is to write a brief article of around 500 words (although I went a bit above this threshold, almost 800 words), regarding the connection between music and religion, interlacing my personal position with the material I’ve discovered. Below is my short essay on the topic.

Music and Religion: The Layered Entanglement

From the historical perspective, although far from the contemporary understanding, in a loose manner, the interplays between music and religion may be traced all the way back to the prehistory, when, as Boivin (2004: 48) points out, ‘percussion and/or other sounds contributed to the creation of an appropriate spiritual or emotional state for viewing or creation of rock art in ritual context.’ In a peculiar way, despite the scarce information that is available regarding the music from this period, the rock art might represent the first musical artefacts that visually depict how early the humanity recognized the value of acoustics and sound-production for the mystical act of worship. Along these lines, the primitive societies today retained the force of music as a type of tone-magic in their percussive shamanistic rituals, often accompanied by trance.

The above contrasts the modern frame of reference, where music is seen to interact with religion, now in the institutionalized settings, in the sense of aiding wakeful and calm meditative states of devotion. This association can be observed in many organized religions across the world, and the scholars usually focus on the sacred music from one of the traditions as the area of their investigation, for example, trying to discover how the vocal music became the dominant form in certain religious landscapes, and how some particular sounds became emblematic of a certain tradition, such as om
in Hinduism, throat-singing in Buddhism, certain vocalizations in Islam, shofar in Judaism, and church organ and bell in Christianity. (Hackett, 2012: 17) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part B: Music and Religion”

Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass

Research Point 1.1, Part A3: Post-Renaissance Mass

This is the final section of the first part of the research, the task of which is to write about mass music in its historical, stylistic and other contexts. While the first post was dedicated to the early monophonic mass, and the second to the polyphonic mass, here, I will describe how the Renaissance mass affected the music of subsequent generations, tracing its legacy from Baroque to Modern period. While I followed the chronology rather strictly in the previous two posts, here the ordering will be very loose, due to my predominantly stylistically-driven considerations.

At the beginning 17th century, the music began transitioning from Renaissance to Baroque, and Italy took the lead as the place of both the preservation of the old and the creation of the new practices, with three distinct traditions of mass writing taking hold. (Atlas, 2006: 119) The preservation of old, contrapuntal a capella conventions associated with Palestrina was named stile antico, while the music composed in the new practice was named stile moderno, and this stylistic awareness paved way for the development of the concept of style consciousness, which became a defining premise of Baroque music. (Buelow, 2004: 41)

Stile antico, with its controlled treatment of dissonance, was primarily based in Rome (Fig. 1), the center of musical conservatism, continued by composers such as Bernardi, Draghi and Lotti. (Apel, 1969: 509) However, it still filtered Palestrina’s style through ‘seventeenth-century ears’, where the music now showcased a clearer sense of tonality and cadences, surface and harmonic rhythm. (Atlas, 2006: 119) Not only that, but as Arnold and Harper (2001) stated, although the mass compositions are frequently designated as a cappella, this does not imply unaccompanied performance, but rather, the organ frequently supported the voices, further emphasizing the harmonic elements of the composition.


Fig. 1. View of Rome with Saint Peter’s and the Castel Sant’Angelo Seen from Tiber (Marlow, c. 1721–67) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part A3: Post-Renaissance Mass”

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Research Point 1.1, Part A2: Polyphonic Mass

This is section 2 of the first part of the research point, the brief of which is to write about the mass, its history and musical structure. In the previous section, I traced the early monophonic mass, while in this post I will give an outline of the mass and its form in the development of the polyphonic music.

Prior to c. 1250, the Gregorian chants that were being used as the basis for early polyphonic music were frequently the Mass Proper items (Apel, 1969: 508), especially the elaborate responsorial forms, which were considered the highest musical points of the mass. The earliest form of polyphony is the note-against-note organum – parallel and oblique, which I wrote about in this research for composing music 1 unit. The sequences of the responsorial Proper chants – Gradual and Alleluia (or Tract which is used instead of Alleluia during Lent and Requiem Mass) were the first to serve as the melodic material for organum. The sequences arose from the enthusiasm of Frankish composers for writing melismas, who tended towards replacing the repeat of the Alleluia and its jubilus (melisma on final a of the word) with an even more extended melisma called sequentia. The sequence evolved further, increasing in size, sometimes ten times as long as Alleluia and its jubilus, thus becoming more than a simple extension of the Alleluia melisma. With the addition of text, called prosa, the sequence was established as a separate musical form, whose syllabic structure (due to the added text, but ironic in a sense, since it developed from melismas) and clear melodic phrasing allowed for polyphonic treatment. Next to Alleluia, it was also placed after the Gradual. This is not the least surprising, since the sequence became a unique musical form of the Franks that could finally rival the expressiveness and artistry of the melismatic Graduals of the old Gregorian composers. (Crocker, 1986: 34-35)

For the early organum forms based on the sequences, the polyphony meant singing the same melody, only 4th or 5th below. However, by the 11th century, not only was the organal voice now above the main melody, but the parallel and oblique motions combined with the new contrary motion in the free organum, and the melody now differed between the voices. As the polyphony was developing, largely in the Aquitanian region, the main drive at the time were the poetic experimentations of the versus – the rhyming, scanning, strophic chants of the 1000s, which provided polyphony their ingratiating melodies, such as at St. Martial (Fig. 1). (Crocker, 1986: 63)

Fig. 1. Illustrations of Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges, left (1594) and right (1901) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part A2: Polyphonic Mass”

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Research Point 1.1, Part A1: Early Monophonic Mass

The first part of this research point is learning more about the mass, its history and musical structure. It is a very exciting topic for me, since I could link in my old research posts from composing music 1 unit, which allowed me to go over this extensive subject in much detail. As such, due to the depth of my research, I will divide this point into several posts. In this section, I will talk about the early monophonic mass, with a particular focus on the Gregorian chant.

Mass is the celebration and commemoration of the Last Supper, also called Eucharist. The name is derived from the Latin words ‘Ite, missa est’, translated as ‘Depart, the congregation is dismissed’, which appears at the end of the service as the dismissal of the assembly. However, there are some debates over the semantics of this vesicle and whether it simply designates the dismissal of the congregation or indicates a deeper meaning, as Pope Benedict XVI and the catechism referred to it in connection to the word missio – the mission. (Suerte Felipe, 2010: 90-93) In this regard, the vesicle is understood as the missionary nature of Christianity, denoting that the faithful are sent to put into practice what they have learned, and use the graces they have received during the liturgy in their daily lives.

Whichever the case, the origins of the mass is in the evening ceremonial meals, called agape or love feast. (Fig. 1) I wrote about this topic in a research for composing music 1 unit here. As I have indicated there, this type of meal was usually accompanied by singing, however, not only related to the Jewish ceremonial meals, but was also prevalent in the overall cultural context of the time, in other words, present in other religious settings, such as pagan cults. Due to some abuses described by Paul at Corinth, however, the Eucharist divorced from the evening meal, becoming a Sunday morning celebration.


Fig. 1. Fresco of Agape feast (2006) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part A1: Early Monophonic Mass”

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Exercise 1.1

This exercise is about listening to Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis and noting different occurrences listed by the brief within the score of the piece.

Below are the photos of the score I marked.



The main thing I found problematic with this exercise is that all the brief points appear often in Kyrie, being characteristic of Palestrina’s style in general. The first point already reflects this. It is about annotating a place where the entry of each vocal part is in imitation. As can be seen from the marked score, each section of Kyrie starts with imitation – purple lines in the photos. While the first (bb. 1-19) and second (bb. 20-37) sections consist of imitation of the theme that begins with longer note values (breve and semibreve), thus making the imitative polyphony longer; in the third (bb. 38-58), the note values are slightly shorter (semibreve and minims) so that the entrance of the voices in imitation is more successive and closer. Another thing that can be noticed is that in the Continue reading “Exercise 1.1”