Saturday, July 22, 2006

I Had a Dream: The Music of Palestrina and St Gregory the Great Had Come Back

Sandro Magister who writes a very important column for the Italian magazine L'Espresso and who is considered to be the supreme external authority on All Things Vatican has a column this week featuring an interview with Father Domenico Bartolucci.

Father Bartolucci, 88, was formerly head of the Sistine Chapel Choir for 50 years but was sent into exile and just now with our new Pope has resurfaced.

Father Bartolucci is no shrinking violet. If you know something about liturgical music, you must read this interview.

Q: Maestro Bartolucci, no fewer than six popes have attended your concerts. In which of them did you see the most musical expertise?

A: In the most recent one, Benedict XVI. He plays the piano, has a profound understanding of Mozart, loves the Church’s liturgy, and in consequence he places great emphasis on music. Pius XII also greatly loved music, and played the violin frequently. The Sistine Chapel owes a great deal to John XXIII. In 1959 he gave me permission to restore the Sistine which, unfortunately, was in bad shape, partly because of the illness of its previous director, Lorenzo Perosi. It no longer had a stable membership, a musical archive, or an office. So an office was obtained, the falsettos were dismissed, and the composition of the choir and the compensation for its members were determined, and finally it was possible to form the children’s choir as well. Then came Paul VI, but he
was tone deaf, and I don’t know how much of an appreciation he had for music.
Q: Do you think that the assembly of the faithful should participate in singing the Gregorian chant during liturgical celebrations?

A: We must make distinctions in the performance of Gregorian chant. Part of the repertoire, for example the Introits or the Offertories, requires an extremely refined level of artistry and can be interpreted properly only by real artists. Then there is a part of the repertoire that is sung by the people: I think of the Mass “of the Angels,” the processional music, the hymns. It was once very moving to hear the assembly sing the Te Deum, the Magnificat, the litanies, music that the people had assimilated and made their own – but today very little is left even of this. And furthermore, Gregorian chant has been distorted by the rhythmic and aesthetic theories of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day.
Q: Was John Paul II somewhat accommodating in these matters?

A: In spite of a number of appeals, the liturgical crisis became more deeply entrenched during his pontificate. Sometimes it was the papal celebrations themselves that contributed to this new tendency with dancing and drums. Once I left, saying, “Call me back when the show is over!”
Q: In effect, Mozart’s letters don’t convey any great religious sentiment. And yet, in the “et incarnatus est” of his Mass in C minor, that soprano phrase from the wind instruments perfectly explains to us the mystery of the incarnation...

A: Don’t forget that Mozart’s father was a Chapel Master. And so, whether he wanted to or not, he breathed deeply of the air of the Church. There is always something very concrete, especially in a man’s childhood, that explains such spiritual depth. Think of Verdi, who as a child had a priest as his first music instructor, and played the organ at Mass.

Q: But in Leipzig, at the church of Saint Thomas, there is the sixteenth Kantor since the time of Bach...

A: In Germany, in the Protestant arena, the children of the composer of the Brandenburg concerti jealously safeguard their identity. Verdi rightly said that the Germans are the faithful children of Bach, while we Italians are the degenerate children of Palestrina.
Q: And do you like Mahler?

A: He’s like Bruckner – some beautiful moments, but rather repetitive. One would like to shout at him at a certain point: knock it off, we get it!

Q: For the philosopher Schopenhauer, music is the summit of all the arts, the immediate objectification of the Will. For Catholics, can it be defined as the direct expression of God, as the Word?

A: Music is Art with a capital “A.” Sculpture has marble, and architecture has the edifice. You see music only with the eyes of the spirit; it enters within you. And the Church has the merit of having cultivated it in its cantories, of having given it its grammar and syntax. Music is the soul of the word that becomes art. It most definitely disposes you to discovering and welcoming the beauty of God. For this reason, now more than ever the Church must learn to recover it.
[snip] Read It All

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