Thursday, February 23, 2012

Married Medievalists Try to Persuade Catholic Church to Make Beautiful Music

Nearly all would agree that an unintended legacy of Vatican II was the loss of a whole history of church music.  The “spirit of Vatican II” caused a significant decline, or even abandonment, of a liturgical music rich in theological content and beauty -- one conversant with the past as well as consonant with the present. The mediocre liturgical music which has become the norm in Roman Catholic parishes since Vatican II, whether poor in content or execution, is a persistent and significant problem.  Two Notre Dame profs have focused their attention on this need.
Roman Catholics know the modern music of Haugen and Haas but do not know the music of Palestrina or Josquin des Prez.  They have memorized the words to Eagle's Wings but do not recognize Ave Verum.  They dance to "I Am the Lord of the Dance" but stare blankly at the sound of Gregorian chant.  Check out the hymnals and missalettes of the last generation or two and you will find that much if not most of the music is twentieth century in origin.

But Roman Catholics are not the only ones.  Check out the ELCA's Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal published in 2006 and you will look in vain for many of the great Lutheran chorales or the familiar strains of Scandinavian hymnody.  In place of these, you find a very large number of twentieth century music (and not a little Haugen and Haas).  Fortunately the Lutheran Service Book has even increased the number of Lutheran chorales and great hymns from our past -- but not without complaint among some.

What was thought to be a relatively benign introduction of more "up beat" sounds and modern lyrics has proven to be a radical disconnect with a whole tradition.  One wag (HT to Touchstone) has taken the Dies Irae and adapted it to lament the state of church music in Roman Catholic Churches today.  BTW the original was in TLH, adapted translation of Irons, number 607.


Terry Maher said...

The fact is, nothing of the sort can be found in sacrosanctum concilium. In fact what can be found are quite clear words that Gregorian chant remains the central but not exclusive music of the (Roman) church and that care be taken that the people be able to speak the Mass texts that are theirs in Latin.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened (except in the isolated pockets the "tide is turning" set has been pointing to for nearly half a century now).

Something to remember here is that the novus ordo is not a conciliar document: it was promulgated after, not during Vatican II. So, the whole state of affairs, including the novus ordo itself, is open to whether it does or does not fulfill what the actual documents of the council say. And of course, all sides say their side does and the others don't.

The problem isn't Haagen-Dazs (as I like to call Haugen/Haas), the St Louis Jesuits or any of them. The fact is Palestrina, des Prez, etc were not the usual parish fare any time. Hymns have no integral place in the Mass, whereas chant does, being chanted text.

For example, for me growing up we schoolkids were the "choir" for funerals since they were held during the day (great when there's a funeral, time out of school!) and the Dies irae was sung (by us) every time. But get to music school and take up say the Symphonie fantastique and you'll have to explain what the Dies irae is to Catholics and Protestants alike -- nobody has heard it, nobody has heard of it, and poor old Berlioz might as well have raided Buddhist chant for his opium dream settings.

The entire liturgical shift was a move away from tradition, from what was. The argument is over not that, but how much and how far and to what extent previous work is still to be used.

Anonymous said...

Hymns have no integral place in the Mass, whereas chant does, being chanted text.

Exactly right, and which is why many Catholics refuse to sing them no matter how hard the bishops push. The restoration of chant to the Mass should be the top priority.

The music of Palestrina, Victoria, etc. is much too difficult for the average parishioner to sing and was never meant to be employed that way. I have some wonderful CD's at home of sacred polyphony sung by professional scholas. Big difference.

Lutheran norms really don't apply here.


Anonymous said...

And to give an example, at the local Cathedral on Good Friday when the Passion is read the Cathedral choir sings some of the responses via sacred polyphony. It is awesome.


Joanne said...

Have you heard any of Heinrich Schutz' reditions of the Passions? They really do make Bach sound like opera music.

Terry Maher said...

Schuetz's Passions are from late in his career. His style had evolved considerably from his earlier days, when he introduced the Italian style, principally from Gabrieli, to German music, which in turn passed on to Bach. His later style is quite sparse compared to the earlier one which became his legacy, and that accounts for the difference. Bach et al. are nor drawing from the late Schuetz.

Some of it was practical too. The Thirty Years War (really the first world war, Winston Churchill used to say, as our French and Indian War and the later American Revolution are rooted in it, with related wars in other continents too) pretty well decimated Germany and it was just no longer possible to write music for performances like those of his younger days.

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