Friday, January 19, 2007

Function and Training: Historical Models of the Church Musician

[Another piece from Professor Dobszay which he gave as the opening address at an international conference about higher church music education. It has not been published before. Thus, this is the first appearance of this piece outside of the conference itself, short of private circulation. Thank you again to Prof. Dobszay. I quote here only an extract of the full 10 page composition. See below to read the entire piece.]

By László Dobszay

The history of Christian church music – with regard to its key-personnel – can be divided into five chronological "models". Neither these models nor the related historical periods can be, of course, separated by sharp borderlines. Some of the models might survive in individual communities through a very long time, while other models became typical in other communities. One model might survive alongside another one, or even become modified and merge into a subsequent model. Sometimes the characteristics of two models might be mixed together. Even so, I think we can see many things more clearly if we try to make a distinction and give names to them.

1. The first is the psaltes model. In the first centuries of Christian liturgy church music in a strict sense did not exist. The function of the chant is described by E. Jammers this way:

"The first thing we should emphatically state, is that the Psalter for the faithful, and still more for Christians of the time when the Chant originated, is not a collection of nice, pious poems to be sung, but the word of God… But, is the essence of the chant, God’s word set in music – similar to, for example, a poem by Goethe in a music composition? It is would be a sacrilege, a sign of reduced belief, if God’s word, God’s revelation, the Holy entrusted to the mankind were transformed to be a raw-material for humanly artistry, a text for a composition, and so the human effort were made a partner of the Grace which descended from God, what man never can deserve... The answer must sound: No! A fabricated musical setting can never be a true liturgical music, never be an opus Dei. This presupposes a “music” which is totally different from what we call today “music”; it requires a music which is, in last resort, even no music. One does not set the word of God in music, rather he pronounces it. And when pronouncing it during a worship, it should be done not in the language of markets, but in the solemn sound of chant." (E. Jammers: Music in Byzanz, im im päpstlichen Rom und im Frankenreich. Heidelberg Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1962:15-16.)

That means, the liturgy was manifested in a way, that produced a well-formed entity which we name today ’music’. The music in this case is no more than the chanted liturgy itself. Such entity was, first of all, the delivery of the sacred text in a well-audible and articulated voice, effective in great halls with the impression of sacred solemnity. This performance made it felt that this was not a private communication; what was announced this way was something that pertained to the „res publica” in the field of religion. This proclamation of the text was, however, of different kinds, and so distributed among genres according to the nature of the liturgy. There is a particular manner for simply reading sacred texts, dialogues, litany-like supplication¸ and different from this was the various forms of psalmody or chants accompanying an action, e.g. communion. In one group of these genres the text might be sounded in an elevated way with the purpose of affecting the listeners. But beyond the different moods of transmitting the text the rite opened space also for the melismatic chant with its pneumatic expression, yet this style could be combined with the textual genres. These forms can be analyzed from the repertory of Gregorian chant, but they are still more manifest in the rites of great oral tradition, like in the Eastern church or the Hebrew liturgy. Not only its musical effects are suitable for study today, but also its sociological dimensions.

[To read the entire piece: Function and Training: Historical Models of the Church Musician]

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