church music from 200 years ago

20 08 2009

I enjoy having discussions about praise and worship, mostly because it’s a topic that I have a burden for, and I’m involved on the praise team so I get to help lead people in worship.   But there’s also a less noble reason — I get to hear all kinds of opinions on what should and shouldn’t be in church music, and it’s kinda amusing to hear people try to justify their position when there’s usually no Scriptural backing for it.  As you might guess, some people claim only hymns should be used (and they usually don’t know where the music for hymns came from), and some people think only modern music like choruses or Hillsongs.

I never hear anyone pushing for a return to classical music in church, which was the standard before hymns were developed.   (Not that classical music should be pushed for — I’m just making a point.)  It seems like only the past two generations worth of music is debated.   It also seems like the two previous generations are the ones that usually “win” (if that is possible).   Most adults would probably say the modern styles of music (beyond what is on K-Love) shouldn’t be in the church.  I’m not going to debate that right now because I have another point to make, but think about it sometime — based on Scripture and not your musical preferences or man-made traditions.

I recently came across this song that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote for a church service, and it’s really neat.  It’s called Laudate Dominum, and it’s from the collection Vesperae Solennes de Confessore (which is K.339).  The singing is so smooth and beautiful and majestic.

I’d like you to listen to it.  If you’re still reading, you probably have some interest, although you might be thinking you won’t like it since it’s probably going to sound “classical”.   But if that’s how you feel about it, please put aside your prejudice and just listen.   (Yes, it’s prejudice to judge a song before hearing it.  Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

The lyrics are in Latin, but the text is from Psalm 117, followed by the Gloria Patri (a doxology), which together say:

Praise the Lord, all nations;
Praise Him, all people.
For He has bestowed
His mercy upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endures forever.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever,
and for generations of generations.
Amen.

Here’s the recording of it.  The video is just pictures, so close your eyes and imagine worshiping to this in church…

If you’re curious about it, here’s some more background info:

Famed for the beauty of its solo soprano aria Laudate Dominum (Psalm 116 [Vulgate numbering]), the Vesperae solennes de confessore is the second of two settings of the early evening Vespers service composed by Mozart for liturgical use in Salzburg Cathedral. Both date from shortly after the composer returned from the abortive trip to Paris which witnessed the death of his mother. … Like its predecessor, K. 339 follows the standard Catholic liturgy in including the Magnificat and the five psalms utilized in the Vespers service. In addition to the concluding Laudate Dominum they are as follows: Dixit Dominus (Ps. 109), Confitebur tibi (Ps. 110), Beatus vir (Ps. 111), and Laudate pueri (Ps. 112). …

Vesperae solennes de Confessore (K.339), or “Solemn Vespers”, was Mozart’s final composition for the Salzburg Cathedral in 1780, before his permanent departure from his hometown in search of greater artistic opportunities of Vienna. One of two settings Mozart made of this service, K.339 was intended for the special celebration of an undisclosed saint’s day (the “confessor” of the title). Its six movements would have been interspersed with readings and other formalities appropriate for a festive religious occasion.

The text consists of five Psalms and the Magnificat canticle which concludes every Vespers service. As required by Mozart’s conservative employer, Archbishop Colloredo, each Psalm is set as a continuous movement, as opposed to being divided into separate arias, ensembles, and choruses in the operatic style invading church music at that time. Except for the radiant soprano aria in the well-known “Laudate Dominum”, the vocal solos also are treated in a more reserved ensemble style.

Despite these restrictions, and in contrast to the rather somber title (which only indicates the high church occasion), Mozart’s music abounds in joyous exuberance. Every movement extols the praise and virtues of God, further emphasized by the doxology (“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”) which concludes each section.

If you want to hear samples of the rest of the songs in the collection, here’s a link to them at eMusic.

So what do you think about it?  What do you suppose the reaction would be if this was played in your church next Sunday?   What do you suppose the reaction should be?

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One response

21 08 2009
Ephraim

That was a very beautiful piece. I spent years in Protestant traditions where the choice of music was a huge controversy. Hymns or contemporary music…

The Classical Christian hymnody, though, even much earlier than Mozart – the Church has hymns that date back to the first or second centruy (“O Gladsome Light” was called “ancient” in the 4th century – it is also, btw, one of the oldest continually sung hymns in the Eastern Church). Early Church hymnody has a depth of spirituality and beauty that still amazes me, yet it is not the music I would have picked as a Protestant.

I am glad you posted something like this…if you are interested, here is another sampling for you from Youtube:

And here is “O Gladsome Light.” The choir is performing here, but in a Service everyone would sing.

In ICXC,

Ephraim

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