Archive for April, 2014

History Through Worship: 20th Century

Tonight, April 10, 2014, the NOBTS Church Music Division will present “History through Worship.” The theme for this year’s concert is the “Twentieth Century.” The path of Western music certainly splintered upon its entry into the twentieth century. Within the category of art music two basic philosophies emerged.1 Some composers pursued the path of intellectual possibilities. For example, Shoenberg’s serial approach to pitch was an experiment in structural conception with little concern for the comfort of the listener. Conversely, other composers such as Stravinsky emphasized music that appeals to raw human emotions with works such as Rite of Spring.Eventually, Copeland become the leader of the Stravinsky camp, and the featured piece this evening, Rite of Spring, clearly falls into the Stravinsky/Copeland camp.2

The Requiem is certainly more diatonic than much of art music written in the 20th century. Furthermore, some 20th century composers found more fruitful territory by revisiting salient historical gestures than by experimenting with new sounds or ways of organizing sound. For example, the piece by Duruflécould be described at least in certain sections as Neo-Medieval. Kaye notes the “rhythm and flow” of chant as a primary feature in the overall construction of the piece.3 Yet the piece also has a clear twentieth century sound. For example, a section of the Kyrie is quite chromatic, and other sections include hyper-chromatic tertian harmonies as well as some use of quartel harmonies.4

However, the more important issue is how Duruflé uses these various colors in a relatively palatable manner to communicate hope in the context of a Requiem. Nineteenth-century composers were fascinated with the Requiem as a theological framework begging for weighty artistic material, and this trend continued into the 20th century. Duruflé’s setting, though not as weighty in comparison to other offerings from both the 19th and 20th centuries, carries an intimacy and worshipful atmosphere that is certainly reflective of the appropriate theological range of emotions one would expect for contemplations on death.

Another composer of note in this evening’s program is John Rutter. Rutter is perhaps the most celebrated and performed choral composer of the latter half of the twentieh century. Much of his much music is already considered enduring among the vast amount of choral music written between 1950 and the present.

Finally, the concert will feature a black gospel piece. Among the two general philosophies on twentieth music reviewed above, Duke Ellington’s purported “if it sounds good it is good” clearly fits in the early 20th century Stravinsky camp. And in a parallel sense, many Evangelical churches have adopted a philosophy on musical style that seeks to reflect the community of believers as long as worldly influence is held in check. The NOBTS Church Music Division celebrates both seminal historic works that have defined the musical culture of the church for 2000 years and  incarnational worship that defines our churches in the 21st century: Christocentric praise with cultural considerations.

       1 Tim Koch, Lecture on the evolution of 20th century, (lecture presented at the University of Southern Mississippi in the 1999 summer semester), Hattiesburg, MS.

2  “The Unanswered Question,” YouTube, last modified December 5, 2013, accessed April 9, 2014,; Bernstein offers an expanded review of these basic philosophies in a series of lectures that can be found on Youtube.

       3 Nicholas Kaye, “Durufle, Maurice,” in Oxford Music Online, ed. Deane Root et. al,accessed April 8, 2014,

       4 Luigi Zannenelli, An Introduction to Non-Functional 20th Century Harmony: A Manual, unpublished textbook, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg; this celebrated composer’s unpublished class notes for the class, 20th Century Harmony, included four categories: hyperchromatic tertian, quartal, twelve-tone, and polychordal.