Listening to Sacred Classical Music

Kate Rockstrom talks about the pleasures of listening to sacred music, presenting a sample of some wonderful recordings.


Music written for the use in church services can be some of the most powerful music ever written. While most of the music written in the Western Art Music tradition is for different types of Christian services, you don’t have be a church goer to appreciate the majesty of this style of repertoire.

After more than 400 years of writing music for church services, there is so much music you might not know where to start. Of course many of the works that have survived are considered quite antiquated. However if you have a listen to some of the recordings I’ve recommended you’ll realise very quickly that today’s interpretations can bring this dusty music back to life and as fresh as the day it was written.

andreasOf course the best place to start is with the undisputed father of Western Art Music, Johann Sebastian Bach. Andreas Scholl is a German countertenor and this award winning recording of Cantatas is a terrific introduction to some fantastic choral music.

jarousskyHot on the heels of Scholl is Philippe Jaroussky, this time a countertenor from France. The recent discovery of Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus, a setting of psalms is a great vehicle for Jaroussky’s soaring vocal lines.

byrdWilliam Byrd was a English composer in the Renaissance era and with this 2011 Gramophone award winning recording from the Cardinall’s Musick and Andrew Carwood there is no better way to immerse yourself in this delightful music.

pergolesiA hundred years later there’s Pergolesi who’s greatest work is considered to be his Stabat Mater from 1736. A fabulous work, it’s a must for anyone interested in sacred choral music.

sacred-music-nwlstOf course we’d be particularly forgetful if we left off Hildegard of Bingen. Abbess of a German Benedictine Abbey, she is one of the few composers who’s works have survived from the 1100s. Emma Kirby is a world renowned early music specialist and there’s a very good reason that this recording is never out of print. If you want the best rendition of Hildegard’s amazing music, this is the recording to listen to.

These works are considered staples of the repertoire and anyone who is interested in sacred music probably already has copies of them. However this particular recordings listed are some of the best currently available and even if you do have recordings I highly recommend listening to these.

kate-rockstrom-pic Kate Rockstromis a Classical Specialist at Readings Carlton. She regularly performs as a flautist as well as writing about music and books, follow her at