Monday, 1 June 2009

The Pope's Orchestral Mass for Pentecost

Thanks to New Liturgical Movement for the photo and pointing to the link to a video of the Pope's mass for Pentecost featuring Haydn's Harmoniemesse. You might want to skip forward to about 8.45 to the Kyrie - the Introity-responsorial thingy is not sung well (and I wondered if the Pope's sidelong glances reflected that assessment!).

The case for orchestral masses

Over at Fr Z, there is a vigorous debate going on on the merits of orchestral masses. I know there are very divided views out there from past discussion here, but you won't shift me from being a fervent supporter of them. Not least because attending a couple was crucial for my own conversion, in that they convinced me that Catholics (contrary to my experience up to that point, which consisted of the guitar-twanging nonsense of the worst excesses of the 70s) did actually know something about beautiful worship after all.

For me, as someone committed to the Western musical tradition (I was studying in a French conservatoire of music at the time), an orchestral mass connected the culture I felt part of to the tradition of the Church in a way that chant - which I had studied from a purely academic, history of music perspective only - couldn't have.

Now don't get me wrong - I've since come to know and love the chant as a living tradition, and certainly don't want it displaced from use. And not every orchestral composition labelled Mass, Requiem, Gloria or whatever is suitable for liturgical use. But many of them are, and as part of the great patrimony of the Western Church and should be treasured and used in their proper setting.

Objections to orchestral masses

I personally don't see how the occasional (or even frequent!) orchestral mass in anyway detracts from the heritage and importance of chant -and it is really a nineteenth century innovation courtesy of Solesmes that insists that monody should be the most solemn form of singing. From the earliest period of the middle ages, people expected at least some harmony - then polyphony - and then orchestral masses on more special and solemn occasions. But in any case, what is wrong with combining an orchestral mass for the Ordinary, and chant for the propers (or vice versa where there are settings of the propers)?

The other major objection to orchestral masses seems to be that it delays the liturgical action, and shifts the focus. But the mass is above all above worship - and that means a lot more than the priest saying the necessary words and doing the necessary actions. It is one thing to object to the Novus Ordo because it favours a horizontal focus on the community at the expense of the sacrificial dimension. But it is surely simply a confusion of thinking to object to an orchestral mass because it emphasizes the vertical dimension of worship over the sacrifice as one commenter over at Fr Z argues!

In any case, I await eagerly an attempt to stage an EF Mass with orchestra and choir at some future special event in Australia!


The Sibyl said...

Dear Terra,

Complex issue this one. Church documents tell us that Cathedrals and places which are capable of performing Classical Masses should preserve this great cultural heritage along with Sacred Polyphony and Gregorian, both of which should be held in the highest place of honour.

There is one very important point which, in my humble opinion should never be lost, and that is that the restoration of the chant after many centuries allowed the people to join in the singing of the ordinary which for centuries had been denied them even in smaller parishes.

To hear a congregation singing the ordinary of the mass is a wonderful reflection of the faith - and whilst not necessarilly more appealing to aesthetes it makes the sung liturgy much, much more accessable for smaller parishes, something which the pian reform was at pains to achieve.

Arguments about detail aside, there must be room for all the expressions of the musical patrimony of the Church (eagles wings cannot be included in this for obvious reasons), but it must be proportionate.

A custom seems to have developed in the major catholic musical centre's (Westminister, Vienna, Regensburg etc) that whilst for Midnight Mass, and the Easter Vigil - the polyphonic and chant repertoires are used, For the Mass of the Day a classical Mass is used. Thus the main repertory from Sunday to Sunday gives precedence to Chant and polyphony and exceptionally for great solemnities classical masses are used. (Let's draw the line at Beethoven's Masses which were never intended to be used in church - the Gloria alone goes for half an hour!) However Masses by Vierne and later composers should also be included - fauré on All Souls adds great solemnity - nor does the chant suffer since it is used for most funerals.

Terra said...

Yes it would certainly be nice to see an orchestral mass in St Mary's and a few of our other cathedrals!

As for singing the Ordinary, I have mixed views - although I personally do like to be able to sing the Ordinary, at least some of the time, promoting 'active' participation over 'interior' participation too much is a path that we've all seen having awful consequences!

However I think my real issue with it is lies in the practice. In theory the opportunity is generally provided. In practice it is generally subverted.

Few congregations are ever given the opportunity to actually learn to sing the Ordinary properly for example, they are just expected to pick it up by listening to the choir. Some can, most don't!

Few choir leaders actually bother to tell the congregation which chant ordinary is going to be used on a particular day. Nor are chant books containing the Kyriale provided in many communities (and some missals have it, some don't).

The result is that while a few people do join in singing the Ordinary well, the majority stay silent or very nearly most of the time, and the congregational sound is dominated by the tone deaf who are apparently so tone deaf that they can't sing softly (if they really must sing at all!)...

It is at those times that I long for an orchestra to drown out all! And it has to be said, that an orchestra can help support a weak choir - whereas unaccompanied singing exposes all.

chrys said...

If the Holy Father, an expert in liturgical matters, thinks its fine to have orchestral Masses on major feasts, then three cheers for common sense and musical/liturgical astuteness. This is certainly not news to those who follow his liturgies, but it may surprise some of those who haven't bothered to do their homework in the first place. Those who would claim they have no place have now been swiftly put into place! The Holy Father would surely not countenance a violation of musical rubrics in his own liturgies,
and not only once, but do it on a regular basis! The great orchestral Masses (ones written for the liturgy and not those clearly intended for the concert stage) are no longer on average than many of Palestrina's Masses - e.g. the Palestrina Papae Marcelli is in fact longer than the majority of Haydn's and Mozart's Masses, so any arguments the orchestral Masses stall the liturgical action are simply unfounded. Yes, chant is to be accorded pride of place and the norm, but on an occasional basis, orchestral Masses are wonderful to have in our liturgies. Although it may seem controversial to suggest this, I would posit the orchestral Masses on the really joyous feasts are far more effective than chant ordinaries in raising the souls of the congregation (already uplifted by the liturgy) to worship Him (and after all, this is the bottomline in all sacred music)- they've worked extremely well for hundreds of years all over the world, and continue to do so. Interestingly enough, the Haydn HarmonieMesse was also sung at St.Francis here in Melbourne on Pentecost Sunday.

chiralcapers said...

Terra, I hope you don't mean St Mary's Cathedral in Perth - Australia's first Catholic Mosque.

My personal prayer is that these triumphs of musical worship come back... for ordinations! Imagine the solemn Te Deum after a priestly ordination (or more likely, an episcopal consecration) being the Berlioz setting.

I only wish it could be for my own (please God).

Anonymous said...

Great liturgical music is part of the life of European catholic churches. Eg Paris and London. In London week at the Brompton Oratory there is a great mass where over 1500 attend regularly. The choir, the organ and the occasional instruments provide a solemn liturgical experience. This is the norm, not the exception there. There are weekly Mozart, hayden masses. The attendance is bolstered as this is what ought be given to the people. The people of God show how they respect this and that it provides great liturgical worship.
It's about time this happened in Rome at St Peter's. Sadly the sistine choir is not up to it. Great choirs of the world should be brought to Rome to sing at the papal Masses.
The S Choir may be good in the chapel, but in the basilica they are lost. Also, a great organ would be beneficial there as in Notre dame.
So much for guitar masses which cheapen the liturgy and have no relevance to modern life or liturgy. They have cheapened Catholic liturgy and created a dumbed down mentality in our worship. Sad but true.

Peter said...

I think that to use the interior vs activo participation is not the right argument to make.
By all means let us aspire to the congregation singing their parts. It requires more effort on the part of all involved, not least of which is the realisation by the clergy of the importance of this, that it is to be encouraged and nurture, to make this part of our catholic identity and culture.

On what chrys has said about efficacy wrt lifting the souls of the faithful, I think this must admit some relativity - ie their own expectations and aspirations. In the current world, most expect some participation and it is not uncommon, even in exclusivly EF attenders to see this ornamentation as a 'concert'. I don't subscribe to that view but there is something to the desire to sing at Christmas and Easter for instance - especially perhaps to join ones voice to the creed if nothing else.
Proper catechesis and nurturing from pastors can facilitate all these elements of the liturgy to have expression and assist the faithful.
It is however not sufficient for the clergy (who jealously guard their perogatives in the liturgy) to see all the music as 'stuff the choir looks after'.

The Sibyl said...


I was first a devotee of "Papa Hayen" and his musical decendants.

I began to love the polyphonic repertoire through regular exposure in St Mary's Cathedral.

The least of my loves was the chant, compared with the other great musical traditions it seemed bland even uninteresting.

Love of the traditional liturgy brought with it the challenge of warming to the chant, which like the development of a taste for good wine,has grown and flourished.

So now I love all these things and much, much more as well, how do I move beyond my personal tastes to utilise this great expanse of tastes in a way that is truly subordinate to the liturgy and to the Church magisterial teachings on this subject.

Despite my personal taste and those of anyone else we cannot pretend that the Church's intentions have not been made clear on the many forms of music which form part of it's musical patrimony. Nor is there space here to give a detailed account of every instance suffice it to say that what is clearly stated in all the documents on church music of the last century is this:

1. Gregorian chant is (objectively) the sacred music of the Roman Liturgy par excellence as indeed latin is it's sacred language.

2. Whilst other forms are permitted sacred polyphony by reason of it's inspiration and close connection with the chant it's place as closest cousin to it.

3. At the beggining of the 20th century Classical masses where clearly something the church moved away from in order to favour the restoration of the chant, and nowhere is this made more clear than the great motu proprio of Pius X - tra le sollicitudine, and reiterated by Pius XII in later documents.

4. Moderate use of the classical repertoire has continued in the great musical/liturgical centre's in which these had for many years formed a substantial part of the repertoire.

5. St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney has the tradition of singing a classical mass on Easter Sunday and Christmass day as indeed do many European Cathedrals. St Peter's Basillica, you may be interested to know, has always had a number of annual classical masses at different times of the year. All of this however only serves to prove the exception is the rule.

There is really very little room for argument when one has reference to the church's teachings in these matters. To dismiss these teachings or be selective with them is to have missed their point as indeed most of the post conciliar Church has.

The mind of the church on these matters has been made clear over the last century and a half. It is our responsablity, not only to submit our subjective tastes and inclinations to the mind of the church, but to embrace it and apply it, not just with a sense of duty but with humility and charity.

Objectively and subjectively in Christo
The Sybil

Louise said...

If only I had this problem and not Marty Haugen week after week!

chrys said...

>.There is really very little room for argument when >one has reference to the church's teachings in these >matters.

Actually there is ample room for argument - these music documents whilst clear in places, are also rather vague in others - I'm not suggesting that's accidental either - many musical decisions are really left somewhat open-ended. Even in EF Masses here in Australia, one wouldn't have to look too hard to find regular violation of the musical rubrics as outlined by Pius X if you really want to follow every line of this legislation (depending also of course on how one decides to interpret key sections of these documents). The Pope has no problem with these orchestral Masses, the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music has no problem with them, many of the greatest Cathedrals in the world have no problem using them (some quite frequently) - and at no stage does gregorian chant suffer or is forgotten in these Masses (the Propers) - the real stumbling block is not those who have a myopic, overly legalistic and Jansenistic view of liturgical music (and they're around), but more the practical considerations in bringing these events off properly - requiring trained choirs, and instrumentalists.

Prediction - there will be an orchestral Mass at an EF liturgy in Australia within the year.

A. S. Redding said...

According to Chrys: "Even in EF Masses here in Australia, one wouldn't have to look too hard to find regular violation of the musical rubrics as outlined by Pius X".

Could we please have some specific examples of what is being done wrongly, where it is being done wrongly, and who is erring?

Terra said...

A S Redding (and others) - I'm happy for people to discuss examples of what may or may not be examples of such breaches so that people can discuss and perhaps even agree on what the rules are with a view to the future.

I don't want however a list of who has done what where. There can be occasion for that, but I think everyone in this field is working from good motives, but few if any are paid much, if anything, for their efforts, and all that might be required is some positive information sharing/debate.

So please keep the discussin constructive.

A. S. Redding said...

I fully agree with the need for any discussion to be constructive, which (along with my own occasional involvement, such as it is, in EF music) is exactly why I asked for concrete examples. What use are mere generalised accusations of violating St Pius X's commands, unless we are told specifics?

Apart from anything else, there is no hope of such violations being avoided (not least by people like me) in the future, if we are kept in the dark as to what they are and when they occur.

Terra said...

I'm happy to have specifics of the what - just not the when and who!

Justice requires, I think that these things be raised with the relevant people and if necessary the priest before being made public (and I'd think twice even then).