Music and the Religious Reformations
of the Sixteenth Century
Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017
Edizione italiana: Claudiana, 2020
About the book
As legend has it, five hundred years ago an Augustinian monk nailed his theological theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. The sound of Luther’s mythical hammer, however, was by no means the only aural manifestation of the religious Reformations of the sixteenth century.
This book will guide the reader in the discovery of the birth of Lutheran Chorales and Calvinist Psalmody; of how music was thought of and practised by Catholic nuns, Lutheran schoolchildren, battling Huguenots, missionaries and martyrs, cardinals at the Council of Trent and heretics in hiding, at a time when Palestrina, Lassus and Tallis were composing their masterpieces and forbidden songs could be concealed, smuggled, sold and sung in taverns and princely courts alike.
Music was the expression of faith and prayer in the emerging worships of the Protestant Churches and in the ancient rites of the Catholic Church; it was the favourite means for spreading new religious beliefs and countering heresy; it was analysed and dissected by humanist theorists and philosophers, and it comforted and consoled miners, housewives and persecuted preachers; it was both the symbol of new, conflicting identities and the only surviving trace of a lost unity of faith.
The music of the Reformations, thus, was at the same time music reformed, music reforming and the reform of music: this book shows what the Reformations sounded like, and how music became one of the protagonists in the religious quests of the sixteenth century.
Reforming Music has been awarded the 2018 RefoRC Book Award, a very prestigious prize for works on early modern Christianity. According to the official motivations, "the RefoRC Board was fully convinced of the quality of [the] book with respect to:
originality of topic and research
methodological and literary quality
presentation of new insights
academic and social relevance
as well as related to interdisciplinarity and interconfessionality".
The Award was handed to Chiara Bertoglio by Herman J. Selderhuis, President of the Board of RefoRC, during the 2018 annual RefoRC conference in Warsaw.
Any reader of this book cannot fail to be immeasurably enriched and pressed to re-think in quite radical ways why music matters, why it is vital that we see it flourish today – and perhaps most especially in the Church.
Professor Jeremy Begbie, Duke University
Even though my experience of these massive historical, cultural and theological convulsions is limited to the local dimension, I feel that the Scottish story of this important time has, in microcosm, huge universal significance – a significance which is explored and revealed with great authority, insight and optimism through Chiara Bertoglio’s meticulous researches.
Sir James MacMillan
This book will form a major contribution to the intellectual history of Europe in the century of the reformations. It is, indeed, a highly original, even magisterial analysis and synthesis of recent music historical research, set in a very convincing interdisciplinary account of history of theology across the historical and confessional divides, and further combined with a deep understanding of the mutual historical involvement of music and theology (and religion).
Professor Nils Holger Petersen, University of Copenhagen
From the Reviews
Bertoglio not only [discusses the ecumenical potential of music to create] a bridge between then and now, but she also seeks the connection between the different churches, especially between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
(Jaco van der Knijff, Reformatorisch Dagblad, March 30th, 2017)
Chiara Bertoglio impresses me especially. Herself an Italian catholic she has brave thoughts on the ecumenical potential of music. In the new book "Reforming music", Bertoglio shows that Luther's idea about how grace is received by God alone and cannot be negotiated by ourselves, gained new grounds in liturgy and in roles for the laity. Bertoglio demonstrates how musical communion preceded theological consensus.
Chiara Bertoglio draws the map of the musical landscape of the entire sixteenth century. She does not content herself, however, with a simplified sketch, but rather she draws a multicoloured map [...]. So, her painting starts with the borders where the society, culture and event of a century are circumscribed, and where the constant questioning about the specificities of sacred music is found, with the related theological appendages (incidentally, Chiara has also a theological education).
[...] It is a documented microcosm, accompanied by an impressive apparatus of glossary, primary and secondary bibliography, indexes of names and topics.
(Gianfranco Ravasi, Il Sole 24 ore, August 2017)
Thanks to Chiara Bertoglio's academic research turned descriptive outline, we have a marvellous exposition of the place of music during the first century of the Reformation, when divisions became established and its role in culture and liturgy went through a significant period of reform, sometimes mirroring, other times leading the different cultural and ecclesiological priorities.
(Richard Rouse, Culture e Fede: Journal of the Pontifical Council of Culture, October 2017)
Older surveys often treated the role of music only in the context of a single denomination and tended to be shaped by the author's own denominational orientation. In her monograph Reforming Music, the musicologist and theologian Chiara Bertoglio, by contrast, has opted for a trans-denominatonal and trans-national approach. [...] This volume offers an eminently readable and entertaining account. The author has gathered an impressive amount of material and manages to illustrate the diversity of the subject matter and encourage further research on the cultural effects of the Reformation.
(Andrea Hofmann, Sehepunkte, 17, 11, 2017).
Read the entire review in German (pdf version)
Upon opening the impressive tome of her Reforming Music: Music and the Religious Reformations of the Sixteenth Century, one cannot help but be impressed at the sheer amount of information Bertoglio has compiled and worked through. […] Bertoglio has compiled an almost inestimable resource to assist in engaging the musical development of the sixteenth century for scholars and students. […] Overall, Bertoglio does a thorough job of presenting the overarching scope of musical development occurring in the sixteenth century. […] Bertoglio’s Reforming Music is a massive resource for the musical developments associated with the religious reformations of the sixteenth century.
(Zachary Jones, Southeastern Theological Review, 2018)
Read the entire review
Chiara Bertoglio has attempted to write a comprehensive introduction to sixteenth-century church music without a confessional bias. In this she has largely succeeded. [...]
The level of scholarship is high, and the chapters on Trent and music after Trent are especially fine, as are a survey of sixteenth-century attitudes on singing in churches (134–54) and a summary of the various reformers’ views on the proper use of music (180– 202). Extensive bibliographies of primary and secondary sources are given, and the author seems thoroughly familiar with the latest research. It is easy to use the book as a springboard for research on more specialized topics.
(Joseph Herl, Lutheran Quarterly, Spring 2018)
The review is partly available at
The five hundredth anniversary of the onset of the Lutheran Reformation is naturally a ripe time to assess the state of scholarship concerning music and religious reform in the early modern era. If Martin Luther’s own musical interests and commitments have long been a subject for study and appreciation, there has been rather less emphasis on comparative approaches across confessional boundaries. The latter approach is precisely the greatest strength of Chiara Bertoglio’s Reforming Music, an impressively ambitious attempt to synthesize current knowledge on music and religious culture in the sixteenth century. […] The theme of music as a unifying force is one of Bertoglio’s principal lessons. With respect to the established scholarship – methodically cited in copious footnotes and in the bibliography, which extends to nearly a hundred pages, Bertoglio gives a satisfying synthesis, and gives ample space to some of the more recent directions in the field, including the diversity of post-Tridentine Catholic music (chapter 9), the ways in which music shaped and was reflected by an emerging sense of confessionalization (chapter 10) and indeed the manner in which music expressed a shared devotional culture that defied confessional boundaries (chapter 11). Of special interest will be her discussion of women and their role in religious music of the century (chapter 12), a much-needed and thoughtfully-written riposte to the overwhelmingly patriarchal character of traditional scholarship.
(Alexander J. Fisher, Church History 87/3 (September 2018): 880-881 https://doi.org/10.1017/S0009640718001920)
The review is partly available at this link
This is a much-needed and thorough examination of ideas, genres, developments, and concepts related to music during the sixteenth century. Although the author feels that it is a step towards further studies, she has done an admirable job in the presentation and detail on this understudied and important topic.
(Bradford Lee Eden, The Sixteenth Century Journal XLIX/1 (2018): 316-318).
Chiara Bertoglio reconstructs with a rarely-found completeness the multifaceted among the Christian Churches and their aural habit in the sacred panorama of the sixteenth century.
(Alessandro Beltrami, Avvenire, Feb. 5th, 2021.
This opus magnum written in English by the young Italian Chiara Bertoglio works sovereignly in the musicological, theological, philosophical, and cultural/social historical panorama.
(Konrad Klek,Theologische Literaturzeitung 146 (2021, 1/2): 71-72.
Multimedia and interviews
- Listen to a podcast with Chiara Bertoglio interviewed by Carrie Tipton for Notes on Bach, a series produced by Bach Society Houston:
- Read a series of short articles about Music and the Reformations written by Chiara Bertoglio for MercatorNet:
- Read an article on music and women in the Reformations, by Chiara Bertoglio, on DeGruyter's blog
- Listen to an interview (in Italian) for a national Radio:
- Watch a video (in English or in Italian) with a short presentation of Reforming Music: