Thursday, September 07, 2017

A Bit More about Bad Church Music in Italy

In our recent round-up of articles about the “irreversible” speech, I wrote the following in regard to Fr Zuhlsdorf’s take on the matter: “(he) begins his very useful commentary by stating ‘Given what I have seen and heard in Italy, my mind reels in dread at the very notion of a room full of Italian liturgists.’ This is a completely reasonable reaction; the state of the liturgy in Italy is appalling, with a particular emphasis on very bad music.”

Just two days ago, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on a conference of choir directors, some of them quite prominent, recently held in Rome in honor of Card. Domenico Bartolucci for the centenary of his birth; they are also deeply pessimistic about the general state of music in Italian churches. (The translation of the following excerpts is my own.)

The Catholic Church is mute. When it sings, it does so badly, in a way that profanes the liturgy. “... isn’t it time to calm down and return to singing the Word of God, instead of the horrendous repertoires which are heard in the choirs of our parishes?” The question is posed by Don Valentino Donella, director emeritus of the choir of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

“In (liturgical) functions, a populist attitude dominates. But singing the liturgy isn’t about livening up a meeting of friends, which is the order of the day, unfortunately. Sacred music must possess three characteristics: it must be holy, true art, and universal. Our land is overgrown with weeds”; this, the denunciation, with all his authority, of Monsignor Valentino Miserachs Grau, director emeritus of the choir of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. … Michele Manganelli, director of the Choir of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, (i.e. the Duomo) and a professor at the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music in Rome, insists (that the problem lies in) the absence of musical training in seminaries. “The first to not know what they want are the liturgists, the parish priests, the bishops. They don’t know what should be done, and they don’t sing. They push the buttons on the ‘liturgical animator’ and play recorded music, (Editor’s note: I myself have seen this happen.) but the celebrant doesn’t sing, the assembly doesn’t sing either, and the rite is cut in half. …”

“We lack poets, we lack writers. Catholic publishing houses print texts that would be fine for Sanremo, (an annual Italian music festival, wholly dedicated to pop-rock), which speak indistinctly of love, or separation from him, from her, with no reference to the sacred,” adds the President of the St Cecilia Association, Monsignor Tarcisio Cola, who concluded the conference by officiating at a Mass sung very worthily, in the Choir Chapel of St Peter’s Basilica. The choice of location was deliberate: here, where the Cappella Giulia sings, is buried the body of Pius X. (Editor’s note: properly speaking, it is in the chapel next to the choir chapel.) He was the Pope who, with his 1903 Motu Proprio on sacred music (Tra le sollecitudini) set the stage for a reform in the name of the true identity of liturgical music, which is called to distinguish itself from other styles, especially that of the opera. ...

A century later, his strategy has not succeeded. … but even within the Catholic Church, the Italian churches are outstanding for their mediocrity. In a study soon to be published by Treccani, don Alberto Brunelli, a music historian and well-known organist, writes, “Every parish has its own collection of songs, which is in continual evolution or degeneration. (“evoluzione o involuzione”.) The culture of the ephemeral has also taken over the liturgy. We know full well that the Second Vatican Council did not prohibit anything at all that was old, while happily opening up to the modern. This absolute liberty has brought us down to a level from which it will be difficult to rise up.” What about Pope Francis? “Paul VI, tone deaf as he was, always sang. Benedict XVI knows and loves music, and knows how to sing. Pope Francis does not sing, unfortunately”, says Don Donella, with sadness.

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