30 May 2011

Pope Benedict, and St Bernard, on Sacred Music

I came across this section of a speech Pope Benedict made on September 12, 2008 at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris.

"For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required. Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the ‘Gloria,’ which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the ‘Sanctus,’ which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God. Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination.[...] From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the ‘regio dissimilitudinis,’ the ‘zone of dissimilarity [...], into a remoteness from God, in which man no longer reflects Him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of Him with words He Himself has given, [texts of Sacred Scripture] is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private ‘creativity’, in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the ‘ears of the heart’ the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.”

It is an internal quotation from an article discussed by Fr John Zuhlsdorf, which notes, alas, that the Holy Father has not, so far, done much in the musical field as Pope, despite his evident interest in the matter and the powerful things he has said about it.

09 May 2011

Colin Mawby on censorship of music for the new Missal translation

This is part of the talk he gave at the Gregorian Chant Network weekend course, 9th April this year.

07 May 2011

Report on Spanish Place workshop

I was able to attend the 'advanced' parts of two days of the three-day workshop in St James' Spanish Place in London, led by Dom Yves-Marie Lelièvre, Choirmaster at the Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, France.
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A group of about 20 singers attended all or part of the advanced singers' sessions with Dom Lelièvre, in which he introduced propers for the Masses and Vespers which were to be sung. He approached it from the Graduale Triplex, but showed us photocopies of the manuscripts upon which the Triplex is based. He also discussed the history of the modern chant editions: the 1908 Vatican edition of the Graduale Romanum, and the Antiphonales of 1912 and 1932. New editions, based on the research which has built up over the last century, are now finally appearing.
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But above all we sang the pieces. Dom Lelièvre is an engaging teacher, with a complete mastery of the Gregorian canon and great sensitivity to its interpretation. His approach places the text first: he urged us to understand the text and pray it from our hearts as we sang. The melodies serve the text, and not the other way round. His interpretation was the opposite of mechanical and rigid; some issues simply depend on the accoustics of the church, for example. We had to watch his marvellously expressive hands while we sang - ideally, he said, we should know the piece by heart.
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Not only was it a very interesting two days from a musical point of view, but it was a great gathering of singers from all over the South East of England and even overseas. It was organised with great efficiency by Candy Bartoldus who directs the choir at Spanish Place.
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See more photos here.

03 May 2011

Canterbury Chant workshop

See www.gregoriansociety.org or email contact@gregoriansociety.org

1. Saturday 21st May: 12.00 St Dunstan's Church, St Dunstan's Street, Canterbury CT2 8LS
'The Angelus, the Ave and the Salve' for St. Dunstan. rehearse in the church at 11.30, sing at 12.00. The service lasts about 10 minutes. Cost: free

2. Saturday 28th May: Workshop day with Philip Duffy (Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge) on the First Vespers for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary from English sources the 13th century Worcester Antiphoner and the Hereford Breviary. 10-5.30 at St. Thomas's Church, Burgate, Canterbury CT1 2HJ; includes a visit to Canterbury Cathedral Archives for a talk on mediaeval music manuscripts and a small exhibition of documents.

We will sing the Vespers in St. Thomas's Church at 5pm.

Cost members £15, non-members £30.

Further information on website www.gregoriansociety.org. or email contact@gregoriansociety.org