Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Pope. - New Music?

Music for Roman church use was once the main occupation of composers who, at the behest of the clergy turned out myriads of masses, chants, motets, and organ compositions. Protestantism dampened the output somewhat, but music for concerts significantly changed things. The best of composers wrote for concert hall performance. The texts remained the same but the intent had changed from the sacred to the profane.

The Church, with some exceptions, seemed not too concerned, for it possessed and used its wealth of historical music. It became militant only when the concert type of religious music wormed its way into the liturgy. Then various pronouncements ordered that profane music was unacceptable. For example, before Vatican II, church musicians were instructed that the famous Ave Marias of Schubert and Bach-Gonoud were theatre, not church music and should not be permitted during liturgical functions. Similarly, it admonished the performance of the famous wedding musics of Mendelssohn and Wagner. They were done anyway.

Church composers at that time had to submit their manuscripts to a liturgical commission who ruled on the permissibility of the composition for use in the liturgy and thereby qualified it to be performed and published. Composers found that such commissions were frequently made up of non-musicians or musicians with little competence to judge, particularly if the music were in a non-traditional style. All this promoted mediocrity as evidenced by the mountains of Caecilian type music ground out by hacks, as well as the absence of meritorious works by good composers.

Vatican II, the “breath of fresh air” was hailed by some composers as a new opportunity for their creative efforts. Alas, they were buried by bland psalm compositions, trite pieces with guitar, folk and ethnic masses, folk arrangements, etc. that were seen by publishers to be much more profitable. Many hailed all this, waving their banner of “the past is prologue” – usually by amateurs who did not know the past. English was in, Latin was out. Choirs were out, congregational singing was in. Palestrina was out, Gelineau was in. Professional choir directors and organists were out and amps found their way into the sanctuary along with guitars and bad folk singing.

After almost 40 years of this renewed liturgy, some clergy questioned these practices and wondered if there wasn’t something better and began to seek professional competence. In America and in many other countries the euphoria of the liturgical movement had been replaced by disillusionment. The members of the clergy often tried to attract the interest of a bored generation with entertaining initiatives. New pap was still being promoted by publishers and with the advent of inter-denominational worship, it was further diluted by the use of contemporary “Christian” cocktail lounge music that was, and still is, popular with church goers. The ancient rites and liturgy that had been accompanied by music from the greatest musical minds of a millennium had become hollow tombs and the rites themselves had been blended and diluted into ceremonies not unlike bland Protestant services.

Of course there were bastions and citadels. Some cathedrals and monasteries and a few die-hard conservative Roman Catholic parishes in America and elsewhere continued using Gregorian chant, Latin masses and motets, as well as traditional rites that had faded elsewhere. Msgr. Richard J. Schuler and the Church Music Association of America, among others, including Cardinal Ratzinger, assiduously fought for the Motu Proprio of Pius X, and also for what they believe was the true intent of Vatican II.

Now comes Benedict XVI who has professed an interest in music and specifically, music in the church (see his bibliography below). In his book Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), then-Cardinal Ratzinger reflects on the atmosphere surrounding discussion of the sacred liturgy during Vatican Council II, and, like Msgr. Schuler, deplores the subsequent developments which distorted the Council Fathers' intentions. In the Cardinal’s view, classical music is an “elitist ghetto” for specialists; pop music is the “cult of the banal”; and rock music is the “expression of elemental passions” that opposes Christian worship. (His stand on birth control, pedophilia, women, homosexuality, theology and liturgy, and politics in the Church is equally archconservative.) If so, then of what should the music of the church consist? If church music has been so wrong since Pope John, whither the path? Back to the Caecilians, Gregorian chant, the canticles, the psalms?

Alex Ross may have been joking but he was nevertheless correct in his post Paging Palestrina (www.therestisnoise.com April 20) suggesting that Adorno and Benedict were cut from the same cloth, so to speak. They were post WWII German thinkers on art and society and they complement each other relative to culture industries, commodity fetishism, false individualism and standardization of music products. Later, maybe pulling our leg again, Ross hopes the new pope might commission new works that will combine classical and popular elements. That’s not likely since, in Benedict’s mind, both are unacceptable as liturgical expressions. Benedict writes that music must enhance the word (there goes instrumental music) and properly begins with the psalms. Oddly, that is precisely where the Vatican II flag-wavers began their overhaul of liturgical music forty years ago.

Benedict once wistfully wrote that true reform will "flourish in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council-reform that is not discontinuity and destruction but purification and growth to a new maturation and a new fullness". (That should give everyone pause.)

However, it is more likely that nothing much different will occur in today’s church music simply because the institution has a new musically interested pope. Pop and rock music in churches will not be replaced by male chanting from the Liber Usualis, or a polyphonic choir singing Nanino, however uplifting and gratifying that may be. If I can chant my own mantra: change is not necessarily progress but it is inevitable. Nostalgia is not change. Music and the Vatican, just as its human members and fellow travelers, is moving on a long, winding, scenic, but sometimes difficult road to an undefined and unknown destination. A pope can take a different road but cannot change the terminus.


Joseph Ratzinger on The Theology of Worship and of its Music. A brief bibliography

The basic starting point is H. HOEPFL, Bibliographie Kardinal Joseph Ratzinger : W. BAIER et al (edd.), Weisheit Gottes - Weisheit der Welt = FS Ratzinger (St Ottilien 1987) 2/1*-77*

A. Independent PublicationsJ.R. (tr. G. HARRISON), The Feast of Faith. Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (San Francisco 1986)

  • J.R. - V. MESSORI (tr. S. ATTANASIO-G. HARRISON), The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco 1985) 119/34, esp. 127/30
    J.R. (tr. Sr M.F.McCARTHY), Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco 1987) 367/93

  • J.R. (tr. M. MATESICH), A New Song for the Lord. Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today (New York 1996)

B. Articles in Journals and collective Works

  • 5) J.R., Zur theologischen Grundlegung der Kirchenmusik, in F. FLECKEN-STEIN (ed.), Gloria Deo - Pax Hominibus. FS Kirchenmusikschule Regensburg= ACV Schriftenreihe 9 (Bonn 1974) 39/62 English in 1) above, pp. 97/126
  • J.R., Kirchenmusikberuf als liturgischer und pastoraler Dienst : F. FLECKENSTEIN (ed.), Kirchenmusik im Gespraech. Ansprachen, Reden, Gruszworte, Diskussionsbeitraege zur 100-Jahrfeier der Kirchenmusikschule Regensburg vom 21.-27.5.1975 = ACV Schriftenreihe 12 (Bonn 1976) 24/7
  • J.R., Theologische Probleme der Kirchenmusik = Kirchenmusik eine
    geistig-geistliche Disziplin 1 (Stuttgart 1978) English = Theological Problems of Church Music, in R. SKERIS (ed.), Crux et Cithara - MuSaMel 2 (Altoetting 1983) 214/22
  • J.R., Liturgie und Kirchenmusik : Musices Aptatio Yearbook 1986
    (Roma 1986) 60/74 English = Liturgy and Church Music, in R. SKERIS, Divini Cultus Studium - MuSaMel 3 (Altoetting 1990) 185/97; Sacred Music 112 (1985) 13/22; Homiletic & Pastoral Review 86 (1986) 10/22. Also in "New Song," no. 4 above, under a new title (invented by the translator ? the editor ?), pp. 111/27.
  • J.R., Biblische Vorgaben fuer die Kirchenmusik : J. KNAPP (ed.), Brixener Initiative Musik u. Kirche : 3. Symposion 'Choral und Mehr-stimmigkeit' (Brixen 1990) 9/21 English = New Song, no. 4 above, pp. 94/110
  • J.R., In der Spannung zwischen Regensburger Tradition und nachkonziliarer Reform : Musica sacra CVO 114 (1994) 379/89 Eglish = Church Music in the Cathedral of Regensburg 1964/94: Betwixt and Between the Regensburg Tradition and Post-conciliar reform : Sacred Music 122/2 (Summer 1995) 5/17; also in "New Song," number 4 above, pp. 128/46 under the new title "In the Presence of the Angels I Will Sing Your Praise" : The Regensburg Tradition and the Reform of the Liturgy."
  • J.R., The Theology of the Liturgy : A. REID (ed.), Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy. Proceedings of the Fontgombault Liturgical Conference 22/24 July 2001 (Farnborough 2003) 18/31
  • J.R., Assessment and Future Prospects : Looking Again, number 11 above, pp. 145/53.

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