Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mr. Ray Holcomb

Second Advisor

Dr. William Trantham

Third Advisor

Dr. James C. Berryman


The purpose of this study was to discover Benjamin Britten's contributions to church music in his sacred music written during the period 1943-1963.

First, a study was made of his personal philosophy from all available literature on the subject; next, a study was made of his choice of texts, from the same sources; finally, a study was made of the music to which he had set these texts, from the scores and from recordings.

These studied revealed that his personal philosophy was one of moral concern for fellow human beings, and that he believed in communication and involvement between composer, performer, and listener. This philosophy, along with a discriminating literary taste, was a definite influence on his choice of texts. He found the beauties in both ancient and modern poetry as well as Biblical and liturgical texts. The music to which he set these texts was discovered to have a distinctively twentieth century sound in its new uses of harmony, tonality, melody and rhythm; yet it was music the average amateur could appreciate and/or sing.

The background of this study showed the general decline of church music following the Reformation as it came to seem less important than secular music. There was a wide gap between sacred and secular music by the beginning of the twentieth century, with the best composers turning their efforts to secular music. Britten was influential in bringing sacred music back into the mainstream of music by his use of contemporary musical idioms. He had awakened a new interest no only in church music but in the church itself.

His personal philosophy combined with his choice of texts that have literary merit and his contemporary musical settings have made a vital impact on church music. They provide a contemporary religious experience for both performer and listener.



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