Liturgical music exists in most religious traditions. In the historic Christian liturgical traditions, music whose origins came from ancient Greece and Judaism, gave rise to a body of liturgical music that developed within specific liturgical rites to serve as the vehicle for the prayer and praise being offered to God. In the Western Christian Church the principle liturgical music form is Gregorian chant; in the Eastern Church it is either Byzantine chant or Russian chant/choral music—though there are many other minor chant forms still in use. The Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church have their own liturgical music forms for the Mass and other Divine Offices.
The musical forms of early Christian worship were initially Jewish (for instance, the chanting of Psalms) and as the Gentile missions began, incorporated Greek music forms based on the eight Greek Modes. The language of worship became almost universally Greek (which was the common language of the Roman Empire), more and more Greek music forms and theory came into use in the Church so that within twenty to forty years, the Christian worship service was a composite of Jewish and Greek liturgical music forms, following the basic shape of Jewish Synagogue and Temple worship. Within a hundred years, as the Church spread across the Roman Empire and most of its members were gentiles who spoke Greek and lived in a Greek culture, most of the musical style and theory had become Greek, while retaining some Jewish form and content (such as chanting, particularly of the Psalms). After the legalization of Christianity in the early 4th century, this music form and style developed into Byzantine chant, the Church’s first formal music form, which was very broadly used across the Church through the 7th or 8th centuries.
Greek music was not the only form in use. In Egypt, Georgia, Armenia and other areas that may have been countries or nationalities outside of the Roman Empire, there were decidedly different forms. However, the bulk of the Empire used Greek as its common language, and the early documents we have illustrate that Greek music forms became the basis of what developed into this new form of Christian liturgical music, and in turn became quite normative across the empire and the Church. Other chant forms developed, such as Old Roman chant associated with the liturgical rite of Rome, Armenian and Georgian chant in those countries, etc. However, following the ascendancy of Gregorian chant in the west in the 9th and 10th centuries, the development of uniquely Russian chant and then Russian choral music following the acceptance of Christianity in Rus, and the ascendancy of Byzantine chant in the East, these three forms became the norm for most of historic Christianity.
Following the Reformation, the Protestant churches that emerged either modified the Western liturgical music traditions to suit their own theology and rites, or developed new musical forms to compliment their worship practices.
Liturgica.com offers the following additional content on this subject:
1. Worship in the early church
2. Chant Development: Byzantine Music History
3. Chant Development: Early Orthodox Chant and Music
4. An Outline History of Russian Sacred Music (by Ivan Moody)
5. Early Western Chant
6. Gregorian Reforms
7. Gregorian Chant
8. Development of manuscript notation
The Liturgica.com Web Store offers:
1. Over 500 CDs of Chant spanning all Eastern and Western forms
2. A wide range of books on the development of liturgical worship
3. A selection of books on chant and its development
4. Books on iconography
5. A wide selection of books on Eastern Christian spirituality
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