Recently, Chinese-Canadian composer An-Lun Huang gave a lecture on the history of Christian music, sharing the context of music history.
Viewing the history of Christian music from the perspective of the history of music
“Christian faith is the faith with music.” Mr. Huang said. It has been recorded in Scripture that many people sang and danced to praise God in King David’s time. Even the city of Jericho was captured in this way. “The priests’ trumpets sounded, and people shouted, the wall of Jericho collapsed.”
After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, “all kinds of holy music to praise the Lord Jesus have sprung up everywhere.”
Four outstanding composers of sacred music
An-Lun Huang also recommended four outstanding composers of sacred music: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Gustav Mahler.
Bach, a German composer, served in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig for 27 years, which was very hard.
Mr. Huang briefly introduced Bach’s daily life in Leipzig, “For the 27 years, every morning, he had to compose an hour-long chorus of sacred music and write four choruses for his collection of German country hymns to prepare for the coming Sunday worship. Every afternoon, he rehearsed with the church’s choir and orchestra and continue to write. On Sunday worship, in addition to directing the choir for one hour, he also performed the organ for three hours for the congregation. Then, he had to write for next Sunday worship, and so on. This is incredible.”
Moreover, Huang said, “Bach also compiled a collection of 371 chants, all of which are four-part German country hymns collected and compiled by him. The collection was later acknowledged as the foundation of western music. In Bach’s life, he wrote thousands of works, mainly the sacred music and chorus of the church. In the upper left corner of all his works, ‘Glory to the Lord’ is read. Bach dedicated his whole life to God and set the best example for us.”
Handel was also a German composer, but most of his works were written in England. Beethoven was named “the insurmountable peak”. The lyrics of his Ninth Symphony were written by Schiller, a German poet. There is a central idea throughout — You should look for the creator of the heavens and the earth, which is the source of real joy. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is also called Chorus Symphony.
“However, I personally feel that Beethoven is not necessarily an insurmountable peak,” Huang added. “The Austrian composer Mahler is the conductor of the Austrian Opera House and also a composer. He wrote 10 symphonies. The Second Symphony, also known as the Resurrection Symphony, is his comprehension of the true meaning of life and death (written) after his mother died. At the end of the “Resurrection Symphony”, we can hear that under the call of the resurrection trumpet, God’s children will be resurrected and conquer death forever.”
The development of Chinese sacred music is an important task for Chinese Christians
When talking about the development of Chinese sacred music, Huang felt that “the development of Chinese sacred music is the same as that of the West”. From the perspective of ancient musical instruments, the music of the ancient Greek harp and the Chinese guqin is similar, and they both sounded one note after another.
“The Gregorian chant is also connected note by note. Hymns we sing now are very much similar to those at that time,” he added.
“The development of Chinese sacred music follows the same thread as that of the West, and that’s how the West started,” Huang said. “This is an important task for Chinese Christians, that is, to take over the torch of the gospel and let it burn and illuminate all the ends of the earth. At the same time, what is offered to God cannot be just good but the best. We have ten-thousand reasons to inherit the great and splendid sacred music of the West which has developed for thousands of years and add our own Chinese language to enrich the sacred music.
Speaking of this, Mr. Huang asked, “How about the worship song 'Here Is the Presence of God' combined with the western symphony? Will it have better results?”
In the end, he also encouraged Chinese Christians, “Singing new songs to the Lord is the mission of all Christians, and it is also the duty of Chinese Christians. We should study hard and inherit it well, so as to develop Chinese sacred music into a splendid and brilliant result.”
An-Lun Huang is a contemporary Chinese composer living in Canada, born in a Christian musical family. After receiving a master’s degree from Yale University with the “Best Award” in 1986, he declined the full scholarship of the university as a doctoral candidate. He lives in Canada and devotes himself to composing music. He had been re-elected to the Ontario Chinese Music Association in Canada three times until 1996. The sacred music of Christianity occupies a large percentage of Huang’s huge work library.
- Translated by Charlie Li