Friday, November 23, 2007

Counter-Reformation II

Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent address to clergy, signaled his intention to steer Catholic liturgical music away from folk masses and other contemporary (aka "happy clappy") material, and back to Gregorian chant and the polyphonic repertory of the Renaissance and baroque eras.

This follows the pope's restoration of the Tridentine (Latin) Mass, and is interpreted as another sign of his desire to return to traditional components of worship, Malcolm Moore reports in The Telegraph:

Moore quotes Monsignor Valentin Miserachs Grau, director of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music: "Due to general ignorance, especially in sectors of the clergy, there exists music which is devoid of sanctity, true art and universality."

During the 1990s chant craze, I sat in as a group of Catholic lay people learned to sing Gregorian chant. They got the hang of it fairly quickly. (Being traditionalists, they already had some command of Latin, which gave them a head start.) Later, more elaborate repertory is another matter: Imagine the local parish choir taking on Josquin, let alone Lassus or Palestrina.

A counter-reformation of Catholic (or, for that matter, Protestant) church music would take a generation – and would require seminaries and churches to put new emphasis on music education.

Then there's the question of universality. Can, and should, the Vatican impose antique European musical forms on congregations in non-Western societies? Would worshippers in, say, Mozambique or East Timor hear "true art" in Gregorian chant?

And closer to home, would Pope Benedict, reputedly a Mozart man, hear the works of two of the most devout European composers of his generation, Messiaen and Penderecki, as "true art?"