Friday, March 16, 2007

Popule meus: chant or polyphony?

Scholas look forward to this frenzied time of the year more than any other. There is tremendous responsibility on the choir during Holy Week, and we spend months preparing. This year, as in the last five, we are preparing to sing, for Good Friday, the extraordinary setting of the Reproaches (Improperia) by Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). (Music here.). It's a once-a-year thing, and so beautiful that even rehearsing it is a transforming experience.

So I was taken aback when New York choral director and organist David Hughes, who is always on the cutting edge, called to sing on the phone the Gregorian chant of the same.

"Oh sorry," I said. "I don't know that. We sing the setting by Victoria."

"Jeffrey!" he said. "That is so 2005!"

So I take from this announcement that there is a growing trend to restore the original chant in this place during the Adoration of the Cross. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia implies that it fell out of use 500 years ago!

I'm all for restoration but not this year. The Victoria just sounds too fabulous, and there is something just thrilling about returning to this piece once in a year.

See how we all get stuck in our own localized traditions? Nonetheless, here is the opening of the original chant, the one that David says has made a glorious return.

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