Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's going on with Vatican music?

Sandro Magister today offers a revealing and excellent analysis of a very strange problem at Papal Masses. The music is weak, even appalling. It does not conform to the Pope's own writings. Festivals all over Rome are offering the greatest music of all time but St. Peter's is still stuck, passing up opportunities to improve the liturgy and show the world what Catholicism offers.

His comments:

Not only is the sound of the organ largely absent from liturgical services, but its use is even overlooked for situations that are perfectly suited for it. One bad example is given by the basilica of St. Peter itself. Every time there is a liturgical celebration with the pope, the basilica is filled with faithful, long before the scheduled time. This would be an ideal moment for the sound of the organ. It would create an atmosphere of greater recollection, of preparation for the liturgical celebration. And instead, nothing. The organ is there, the organists are there, there are thousands of faithful who would enjoy listening to good music that would raise their spirits. The only thing missing is the will to decide to do something so basic.

There is a sort of musical paralysis, in Rome, around the celebrations of the pope. Benedict XVI's thought on liturgical music is very well known, it has been presented in his writings, very critical of the decline that has taken place. But almost nothing has changed, in more than three years of pontificate. The Vatican still has no office with authority on sacred music. The Sistine Choir, conducted by Monsignor Giuseppe Liberto, is a shadow of its glorious former self. And when the Sistine Choir is not singing at the papal Masses, what dominates is the theatrical style of Monsignor Marco Frisina, director of the choir at the Lateran, the cathedral basilica of Rome.

In this sense, too, the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art taught a lesson. To perform the Masses and motets of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Luca Marenzio, Claudio Monteverdi – in short, the illustrious choir directors at the cathedrals of Rome and of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the choir of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, conducted by Peter Latona, came from the United States, and from Germany the choir of the cathedral of Speyer, conducted by Leo Krämer.

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