Music was an important part of European traditions. Much of the music written for centuries was commissioned by the Catholic Church. Composers would become prominent for their works that helped people understand major themes the Church wanted them to hear. This music was played in as many churches as possible. Music during services was very popular with the people. It gave them a feeling of belonging to a greater community.
Before the music world defined popular music, many people had only the church as their place to hear it. They would attend services and learn the melodic line. Many people hummed church music throughout the day. It helped them get through long hours of difficult work. Much of the music written at that time was to please the people and brighten their lives. If a composer's music was rejected by parishioners, he was often dropped from composition duties by the church.
Religious themes abounded, and it was often a composer's work to create musical themes that fit the religious needs of the church. Uplifting music was used to celebrate important church events such as the birth or resurrection of Christ. For those who liked to compose darker or heavier music, there were plenty of Biblical themes. While many composers might have opted for the uplifting music, their choices were limited by the church. The local priest often had the final say as to what music would be composed and used each week.
Once the break occurred between commissioned music from the church and popular music, composers were hard put. They had to make a choice between continuing to work for the church exclusively or strike out on their own. As the years passed, it became easier to create and write popular music. Churches eventually stopped having works created exclusively for their services.