The West Finds its Voice
The Western musical tradition of trained and professional performers, conductors and composers can trace its origins to the forms of Christian worship that developed in Europe during the first millennium, argues Christopher Page.
When a string quartet gives a recital, perhaps featuring works that many in the audience regard as masterpieces of Western musical art, the sounds are produced with a basic raw material familiar to the Asian nomad. Horsehair momentarily brings the world of skin tents and mares’ milk into conjunction with Beethoven’s sublime late quartets. So, in emphasising the importance of Christian worship to the development of Western music, we are not ignoring the geographical origins of that music’s materials: Christian singing began in Asia after all. Nor are we suggesting that Western music developed in an ethnic or cultural enclosure. However, to place the emphasis on Christian ritual musicianship – which seems to mean singers alone for most of the first millennium – is certainly to suggest that the tradition of Western music, the concept of a composer and indeed the very idea of musicians who deserve esteem for their knowledge and practical skill, is an invention of Christianity in its first thousand years.