Sunday, September 07, 2008

Salve Regina, by Richard Rice

Richard Rice, the typographical genius behind Communio and The Parish Book of Chant, also happens to be a composer of Catholic music -- and I would say "contemporary Catholic music" but, while that would be literally correct, that phrase carries an association that does not describe his output.

His latest published composition is carried in the catalog of Hal Leonard: Salve Regina, SATB. From the samples, it is beautiful and harmonically challenging work, one in which the composer's deep background in chant shows through.

We haven't written much in NLM about the vast numbers of serious composers of new music who are associated with the Gregorian revival. There is something highly significant about their numbers and output. They illustrate that an enthusiasm for chant is not merely an urge to somehow stop progress in music in the 8th century, or merely to return our aesthetic sense to an imagined pre-modern utopia.

Rather, the chant is the foundational song of the faith that roots the Catholic aesthetic in core values that stimulate the creative mind in its spiritual and artistic longings. Perhaps we can say that the chant does for Catholic musical creativity what doctrine does for theological scholarship: it provides a grounded center from which productive elaboration can take place.

The composers' forum at the CMAA colloquium in 2008 was one of the most highly praised and interesting sessions all week. At the very least, this tendency refutes the charge often made of "traditionalists" that they are merely longing for days' gone by rather than seeking progress. As always, it is not a question of whether history will move forward; it is question of whether that forward motion will have a connection to timeless truths or be unhinged from them.

It is a great tragedy--and this is an empirical fact that is easily demonstrated by an investigation of personal biography via interviews and writings--that the bulk of those who wrote the music that became popular in our parishes after 1970 had essentially no knowledge of the Gregorian tradition. Mostly this was not their own failing. It was a failing of their teachers and trainers, and the publishers who encouraged them to write and write more, and those pastors and liturgists who pushed this music in hopes of enacting some sort of peoples' revolution against the music was and is inseparable from the Roman Rite.

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