Music in Classical Antiquity

The Early Christian Period
Roots of Western musical
practice —
to ca. 800 CE
Old Testament ideas about music
Singing and dance as responses to God’s goodness
Music and poetry as prayer — Psalms
Music as special gift — King David
Musical powers
– Joshua at Jericho (Joshua 6)
– David and King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14–23)
Music in Jewish worship
• Temple ritual —music important, but not retained in
• Synagogue — cantillation of scripture; Psalms and canticles
with genuine melody
• Passover meal (seder) — included singing (Hallel,
Psalms 113–118)
Some elements of synagogue worship
• Reading, prayer
• Presentation of gifts
• Scriptural songs — psalms and canticles (with refrains
— amen, alleluia)
• Hymns — simple, strophic, personal expression
Musical notations (te’amim) for
chanting Jewish sacred music
Christian Church — dominated in
Europe from about 300 CE to 1000 CE
• Knowledge — literacy tied to religion because
of reliance on scripture
• Culture — worship only cultural activity to
survive, music as medium for worship (cf.
architecture, visual arts)
Musical practices in the early church
• Night services
• Prayer in Jerusalem, ca. 400 CE — daily services from Psalm
singing of monks
– morning, evening worship — early fourth century
– third, sixth, ninth hours — later fourth century
• Mass
– teaching service — reading of Epistle and Gospel framed by
– Eucharist (Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper)
• Eucharistic prayers, fourth century
• Communion Psalm established, fourth century
Aspects of early Christian musical style
• Some melodies probably borrowed from Jewish music
• Local influences
• “Composition” from scratch unlikely in modal music
Breakup of the Roman empire
• Empire split by Valerian, 254; division codified by Diocletian, 293
• Constantinople established as capital, 325
• Fifth-century invasions from north
– 410 — Visigoths sack Rome
– 429 — Vandals
– 452 — Attila (d. 453)
– 476 — fall of Rome
• Sixth century — end of Roman imperial era
– Justinian (r. 527–565) asserts control of whole empire — Code of
Justinian, Hagia Sophia
– rise of Franks
– Lombards in northern Italy
– Gregory I (r. 590-604) establishes independent power of papacy
• Seventh century — spread of Muslim power
– Muhammad (570/571–632)
– Koran written in final form in 651–652
– conquest of Middle East, northern Africa, Iberian peninsula, to western
Divergent musical traditions in the West
• “Roman-African” group
– especially Roman (“Old Roman”)
– related repertoires in
• Ravenna
• Aquileia
• Benevento
• “Gallican” group
– Ambrosian — Milan
– Celtic — Ireland
– Mozarabic — Spain
– Gallican, or Frankish — France
The music of Eastern Christianity —
Byzantine style and practice
• Based in Byzantium (Constantinople, now Istanbul),
imperial capital from 330 and seat of Eastern Church
• Ekphonetic recitation — formulas for scripture readings
• Elaborate, extended musical compositions — two
important types
– kontakion — elaborate, multistrophe hymn
– kanon — series of odes based on a canticle
• Theory (influence of Jewish practice rather than Greek)
– system based on practice and melodic units rather than
– eight echoi, or classes of formulas, in two sets of four,
centering on D E F G
Europe ca. 600
Music in the Western church
• All elements previously mentioned as deriving from
Jewish tradition
– readings and prayers
– psalms and canticles
– hymns
• Plus independent Christian chants originally associated
with psalms — antiphons
Questions for discussion
• How did/does the Judeo-Christian tradition
justify theologically the importance of music in
its worship?
• How did the texts that were sung in Jewish and
early Christian worship reflect the needs of an
unnotated musical tradition?