The Church’s gifts to civilisation

Music

Angels playing music

Catholic civilisation virtually invented the western musical tradition, drawing on Jewish antecedents in early liturgical music. Monophonic Gregorian chant developed from the sixth century. Methods for recording chant led to the invention of musical notion (staff notation), of incalculable benefit for the recording of music, and the ut-re-mi (“do-re-mi”) mnemonic device of Guido of Arezzo (d 1003). From the 10th century cathedral schools developed polyphonic music, extended later to as many as 40 voices (Tallis, Spem in Alium) and even 60 voices (Striggio, Missa Sopra Ecco).

Musical genres that largely or wholly originated with Catholic civilisation include the hymn, the oratorio and the opera. Haydn (d 1809), a devout Catholic, strongly shaped the development of the symphony and string quartet. Church patronage and liturgical forms shaped many works by Monteverdi (d 1643), Vivaldi (d 1741), Mozart (d 1791) and Beethoven (d 1827). The great Symphony No 8 of Mahler (d 1911) takes as its principal theme the ancient hymn of Pentecost, Veni creator spiritus.

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