What is Liturgical Music?

Question: What is Liturgical Music?


Also known as church music, it is music performed during worship or a religious rite. It evolved from the music performed in Jewish synagogues. In its early form, singers were accompanied by an organ, then by the 12th century liturgical music adapted a polyphonic style. Polyphony, also known as counterpoint, refers to music that has two or more independent melodies woven together.

Medieval period composers such as Leonel Power, Guillaume Dufay and John Dunstable wrote liturgical music that was mostly performed in court ceremonies rather than the cathedral.

Vocal soloists were replaced by small choirs accompanied by instruments during the Renaissance. Composers such as Johannes Ockeghem, Jacob Obrecht, Orlando Lassus, Tomas Luis de Victoria and William Byrd contributed to this musical form.

Other forms of liturgical music emerged such as organ music (ex. works by César Franck), motet (ex. works by Johannes Brahms), requiems (ex. works by Giuseppe Verdi ) and masses (ex. works by Franz Schubert).

20th century composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Oliver Messiaen created new forms of liturgical music.