Last Friday, the Ordinary celebrated Mass according to the Book of Divine Worship at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. Here is a short clip from the Introit:
Recent discussion of the music used in the closing ceremonies of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin has raised the blood pressure of more than a few. Part of my current work as Communications Officer means that I have to read through a number of weekly publications, and certainly there have been some fairly robust responses to criticisms voiced by Mgr Andrew Wadsworth, the Executive Director of ICEL, not least in The Tablet and also on the blog, Pray Tell.
Whenever we speak of liturgical ‘preference’ we naturally find ourselves falling into a polemic about cultural context, or tradition, or appropriateness. The beauty of the Sacred Liturgy is that whilst there is some room for pastoral decisions to be made, essentially the structure and the content of the celebration is a ‘given’; it cannot be altered or changed and, if it is, it ceases to be the authentic prayer of the Church.
Not only does this manipulation of the Sacred Rites lead to a human-focussed celebration, but it also adds an unhealthy clericalism or pseudo-clericalism – whether it is the priest or a committee that has decided on the alteration – removing, as it does, the right of the plebs sancta Dei to participate in the liturgy as the Church intends. Ironically – given the language often employed in these discussions – it is a strict adherence to the texts that brings about a liberation borne of submission to the will of the Church, expressed gently but firmly by the magisterium.
Pope Benedict’s own interjection at the IEC is helpful in this regard, and Mgr Wadsworth draws our attention to it in his paper, which is reproduced below. In this, the Holy Father makes clear that whilst ‘a great deal has been achieved’ by the reforms of the second Vatican Council – ‘the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known’ – there are, he goes on to say, ‘many misunderstandings and irregularities’ which still pervade the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, and which show that ‘much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal’.
It seems that, in this, the Holy Father is not seeking to undermine the reforms of the second Vatican Council – far from it! – but rather suggesting that the reforms did not go far enough, at least in their subsequent interpretation and implementation.
I hope to make some further remarks about Mgr Wadsworth’s comments on the closing ceremony of the IEC particularly, but for now will leave readers with his impressive and interesting paper. It bears reading, and whilst I imagine that most readers will find themselves nodding and agreeing with much (if not all) of what is said, this is even more of a reason to be well-versed in the reasoning he puts forward, and sentiments expressed by him and others.
On Ash Wednesday this year I was in Rome with pilgrims from the Ordinariate. At the last minute I got a ticket to the Papal Mass at S. Sabina, and so was able to hear the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir. We are spoiled in England by having so many fantastic church choirs, and I’m glad to say that the state of music in Catholic churches and cathedrals seems to be constantly improving. But to hear the Sistine choir singing this particular motet, which was written for them in the early 17th century, was a profound moment.
The Allegri has a bizarre and convoluted history which I am afraid I can’t quite follow. Basically, though, what we hear sung across the world is not what Allegri wrote, but rather what Mozart and Liszt and Mendelssohn remembered and transcribed from memory after hearing performances. These performances, though, included the embellishments added by the virtuosic musicians of the day: the famous top C is probably not original. If you want to get something of an idea of what it may have sounded like, you can listen to the excellent 2001 Ensemble William Byrd recording – but be warned that every performance you hear after it will be grey, and dull, and flat.
Why mention this in the midst of the Easter season? Because tonight I hope to go to Westminster Cathedral to hear the Sistine Chapel Choir in concert – a very rare occasion, and their first ever concert in Britain. The concert is free and, whatever the repertoire ends up being (I have to say I have no idea), it will be a little piece of musical history, and a good reminder of the continuing importance of music in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.
I have a secret hope (well, it was secret) that one day there’ll be a Choir School for the Principal Church of the Ordinariate – but, well, we’ll just have to wait and see…
I’ve finally got round to unwrapping my latest purchase from the simply excellent La Venexiana – the ninth recording of theirs I own – and I’m certainly not bored yet. Once again, performing some of the most exquisite songs of the Italian baroque, this group pulls off a performance which demands listening to over and over – equally enjoyed by listening to every perfectly formed technical intricacy or (and this I’m waiting to test) sitting in the May sunshine with a glass of perfectly chilled Vermentino and the iPod playing in background.
This disc – a recording made up of songs from Claudio Monteverdi’s 1632 Scherzi Musicali – is a showcase for the enchanting voice of Italian soprano Emanuela Galli, who holds together an intensity found in Renée Fleming’s performance of So in love, and a purity and articulation which sits so well with the light but achingly-beautiful writing of Monteverdi.
Perhaps the most successful track on this CD is Ohimè ch‘io cado (Track 2), which contains some of the most evocative baroque techniques, performed with real panache by Galli – each verse gaining another layer of intensity.
But b far the most exciting track is Si dolc’è il tormento which seems to contain everything that perfectly sums up this style – not just of writing and performance, but of authentic interpretation, which Claudio Cavina, Galli, and the group so expertly embodies. You can hear it on Youtube here.
I have most of Venexiana’s recordings of Monteverdi now – I can’t listen to their Gesualdo madrigals if I’m alone in the house or it’s late at night: darker secular material you just won’t find – and each time I hear them I find a new layer of enjoyment and musicality in the listening and the performance alike. They really are a treasure of the contemporary baroque scene and I can’t recommend their performances highly enough. When will they come to London?