Thursday, April 26, 2018

A New Mass Composed for a New Religious Community

Catholic Arts Today, the website of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship published an interview yesterday with composer Frank La Rocca, concerning a new Mass which he has composed for the Contemplatives of St Joseph. This is a new religious community which has been founded in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and will be formally established by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone on May 1st, the feast of St Joseph the Worker. The Missa Sancti Joseph will be sung for the first time at the Mater Dolorosa Church in South San Francisco, starting at 11 a.m., right after the ceremony of consecrating the order’s first prior. The church is located at 307 Willow Avenue. As an example of Mr La Rocca's work, here is his setting of O magnum mysterium from his Youtube channel.

Here are some excerpts from the interview. As you can read, he is a composer who really thinks about the sacred character of the music to be used in the liturgy. (If only we had a few dozen more like him!)

CAT Editors: What composers, if any, influence you and how? Did any composer specifically influence your composition for the Missa Sancti Ioseph?
Frank La Rocca: At this stage of my career, my influences are largely subliminal. That is, I am not consciously aware of any influences per se as I am working. What others have sometimes told me is that they hear the vocal texture of Renaissance polyphony with a harmonic language a bit like Bruckner. This is a sound, therefore, very much in continuity with the Church’s great treasury of sacred music, but in a harmonic language informed by more recent developments in harmony. Since this is music for Liturgy, it would not be appropriate to try to project any kind of highly individualistic voice in the music, such as one might do in a concert work. Seeking to assert a quality of ‘originality’ for its own sake could very well lead to music that would distract from the interior participation in the Liturgy that sacred music is supposed to facilitate.

This restraint, if you will, is not something all composers are willing to exert, but as Popes from Pius X to Benedict XVI have taught, such an approach conforms to the true “Spirit of the Liturgy” (the title of Benedict XVI’s excellent book, which I recommend to anyone interested in the questions surrounding music in the Liturgy). ...

CAT Editors: Is there a specific reason why you have the soprano starting the Kyrie and Agnus Dei, which is not very common in chant-based polyphony? What inspired you to start with the soprano and not the tenor?
Frank La Rocca: The reason is twofold: First, this is not a chant-based Mass. Second, and more importantly, these are the penitential movements of the Mass. The soprano voice, traditionally associated with a child’s voice in an all-male Schola, was (in the Bach Passions for example) often assigned the role of the ‘believer’ or the ‘catechumen’. When we come before God to seek forgiveness, we should approach Him with a childlike receptivity (Matt 19:14). I seek to express that childlike disposition through the use of the soprano voice.

CAT Editors: Were there any special spiritual influences that went into the composition of this music?
Frank La Rocca: There are always spiritual influences in my music, as there are in many composers’ music, even when the subject is not explicitly religious. But more specifically, I sought in this Mass to capture a tone of humility, obedience, and reverence, since these are qualities embodied especially by St. Joseph in his role as the foster father of our Lord. Indeed, among the Saints, only the Virgin Mary can be said to have more deeply and perfectly embodied these traits. So this is for me a particularly “conservative” work, an approach I found entirely in keeping with the spirituality of St. Joseph.

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