Sunday, April 13, 2008

Freeze the musical heritage?

There are three statements in this story that read like a caricature of the pro-chant position in liturgical music:

Pope Benedict himself is a good pianist who loves classical music. Use of Gregorian chant has increased at his Masses. But in a talk last year at the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, he seemed to reject the notion that he had no interest in modern or non-European church music.

The church must guide "the development of [church music], not by freezing its heritage but by seeking to combine the legacy of the past with the worthwhile novelties of the present," he said.

First, there is the implied identity of "classical music" with chant and polyphony. Whenever, I see this, alarm bells go off that the person doesn't really know what he is talking about, or is seeking to somehow tie chant to a historical period, whereas its development took place over 1000 years.

Second, there is the idea that chant and polyphony are "European" -- which today is an effort to tie sacred music to a place only. In fact, this is the one genre of music that has shown itself to have a universal liturgical language and appeal, not only in history but today too.

Third, there is the implication that anyone who wants to see the Church's own music used in liturgy is against modernity and modern composition. There seemed to be a few people with that opinion at the Council of Trent but they lost the debate. In fact, excellent composition appears all the time. This blog has highlighted many great new works.

So where did the reporter pick up these little biases and ideas? I guess it all depends on who was interviewed.

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