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Ambrosian Church Music

This style of music owes its origin to Pope Gregory the Great, who ascended the papal chair in 590, and thenceforward devoted his extraordinary abilities and energy to securing the unity and independence of the 7 Church. Here, however, we are only concerned with his influence on Church music. Before his time the Ambrosian style had been widely prevalent through the Western Church. It was founded on the Greek system of music, and was introduced by St. Ambrose, with the assistance of Pope Damasius, into the Great Church of Milan in the year 386. A true instinct taught St. Ambrose to adopt for his hymns the most rhythmical form of Latin verse that was then in use, and for his tunes a popular and congregational style of melody, and thus both spread rapidly through the Western Church, and became a powerful engine for affecting the minds of the people of all classes. In a well-known passage of his "Confessions,"22Library of the Fathers. St. Augustine's "Confessions," p. 166. St. Augustine tells us (he is addressing our Lord):--"How did I weep, in Thy Hymns and Canticles, touched to the quick by the voices of Thy sweet-attuned Church! The voices flowed into my ears, and the Truth distilled into my heart, whence the affections of my devotion overflowed, and tears ran down, and happy was I therein. Not long had the Church of Milan begun to use this kind of consolation and exhortation, the brethren zealously joining with harmony of voice and hearts. For it was a year, or not much more, that Justina, mother to the Emperor Valentinian, a child, persecuted Thy servant, Ambrose, in favour of her heresy, to which she was seduced by the Arians. The devout people kept watch in the Church, ready to die with their bishop, Thy servant. Then it was first instituted that after the manners of the Eastern Churches, hymns and psalms should be sung, lest the people should wax 8 faint through the tediousness of service; and from that day to this the custom is retained, almost all The congregations throughout other parts of the world following herein."

One tune from the Ambrosian period is still preserved in Germany to the present day, in connexion with Luther's German version of St. Ambrose's great hymn, Veni Redemptor gentium. It is a simple, dignified, somewhat quaint melody.33It may be found in German tune-books under the name of "Nun kommt der Geidenheiland," and is No. 72 in the Chorale-Book for England.

In course of time, however, there is no doubt that Church music had become deteriorated by the introduction of a more secular style, and that this was one cause of the reaction under Gregory the Great. Yet another may perhaps be found in the fact that the Ambrosian style was an intrinsically congregational method of singing, which enabled all the people to bear a part, and not a small one, in the service; while the Gregorian, which had less melody and rhythm, and was extremely difficult to acquire, was necessarily restricted to the clergy and the trained choir, and therefore harmonized better with the hierarchical principles of Gregory.

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