Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rumour Watch: New Maestro of the Sistine Chapel for Lent?

Covering the papal liturgies being celebrated in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, we have recently, especially since the appointment of Msgr Guido Marini, had much reason to rejoice in the gradual restoration of the sacred. One important element, however, which had so far seemed in some ways not to be affected by this restoration (although the proportion of Latin sung actually has increased, I think) was the liturgical music of these celebrations. The quality of the Sistine Chapel choir under its Maestro Msgr Liberto, whose task it is to sing in these liturgies, has often been criticised from various quarters. Today, there is an interesting article by the well-known Vaticanista Paolo Rodari in the Italian paper Il Reformista looking at this, and which indicates that a change towards tradition may also not be far away in this area. Here it is in an NLM translation:

It was about a year after the election to the throne of Peter that Joseph Ratzinger gave an important signal to the finer palates across the Tiber regarding liturgical music. Surprisingly - it was June 24, 2006 - Benedict XVI called upon to direct a concert in the Sistine Chapel Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci, i.e. the one who, until the "coup" of 1997, was "perpetual" director (i.e. for life) of the homonymous polyphonic choir responsible for accompanying the papal liturgies musically.

In 1997, the then Master of Papal Ceremonies, Msgr Piero Marini, succeeded in installing in the post of Bartolucci the younger Giuseppe Liberto. The exchange was epoch-making: polyphony and Gregorian chant disappeared from the papal ceremonies, in virtue of the practical implementation of that post-Vatican II reform which, as far as it concerns the liturgy, has often characterized itself as intramundane.

In the 2006 concert there are those who read the Pontiff's intention, not so much to give back to Bartolucci that which had been taken from him, as, in the wake of that "reform of the reform" so often advocated by Ratzinger, to return to the Sistine [Chapel choir] the prestige of centuries of liturgical music that have never had anything to do with that more "popular" [music] proposed by Liberto. And together, the signal that Liberto was soon to be promoted bishop and, therefore, redirected to new pastures.

And, instead, nothing. At least until now. Even if, with the Christmas celebrations of this year, another signal has been given, so much so that it is not impossible that, with the next Lent, Liberto becomes bishop in some Italian diocese and in his place arrives a Maestro more attuned to the musical sensitivity of the Pontiff.

The signal came in the Christmas celebrations of this year. For the first time, by indiciation of the Office of the Liturgical Ceremonies led by Piero Marini's successor, that is Guido Marini, every celebration was preceded by a few minutes of listening to music and readings, so as to "dispose the soul of the faithful to the climate of prayer and recollection." An important signal that could bring with it the return of the use of the organ before and during the papal ceremonies.

On the post of Liberto, it is said, would arrive the one who is seen as the only possible heir: the Catalan Monsignor Valentin Miserachs Grau, president of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music [pictured to the right]. In his favour speaks the fact of having the same musical sensibilities as Ratzinger. In his disadvantage, having put himself too much in contrast to Liberto in recent years. Often Benedict XVI, between two contenders, chooses a third, who may possibly be far away from the palace quarrels.

One thing that should be noted if and when such a change does come about is that this must not be seen as simply a choice more attuned "to the musical sensitivity of the Pontiff", as it says at some point in the article. As the article itself points out, this would be a return to the Church's own musical heritage and a millenarian tradition, and therefore, a true restoration of the sacred, not just a new fashion, which is what opponents of the Reform of the Reform and Sacred Tradition in general often try to portray it as.