Opera

   "Dramma per musica," as early practitioners called it, a drama told through music. The invention of opera in Florence at the end of the 16th century is one of the great turning points in the history of Western music because it changed the culture’s conception of music from an art of contemplation, in sacred music, or lyrical expression, as in secular song, to one of drama and dramatic action. The invention affected sacred music in important ways. First, it provided with its new musical syntax a radical alternative to the prevailing sacred style of classical polyphony, thus delimiting the sacred character of the latter as no previous genre had ever done, especially in Catholic countries. After opera, two musical languages, each with its own purpose, divided European composition. Second, it attracted talented composers away from the church and into the theater by offering the first music that could be marketed on a scale suf-ficient to provide an independent living, with artistic challenges and goals on the same level as the grandest liturgy. Third, operatic principles and syntax generated new, para- or extra-liturgical sacred genera such as the oratorio, grand motet, and church cantata, and eventually infected the traditional forms: masses, psalms, responsories, all composed in operatic style.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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