Friday, May 05, 2006

the trouble with traditional music

By “traditional music”, I refer to the musical practice of the Western Church as cultivated until the middle of the 20th Century, not to “traditional hymns”, by which one typically refers to Protestant hymns (i.e. “Praise to the Lord”) or hymns derived from that tradition (“Faith of Our Fathers”, “Adeste fidelis”).

It seems there is little disagreement that a singing congregation is a laudable goal. While the Popes of the 20th century all advocated for singing, nothing gave it the priority that V2 and the subsequent reform did.

Yet, how are we to reconcile the “new-fangled” idea of congregations singing with the idea of preserving the Church’s musical heritage, most of which does not lend itself well to congregational singing. If I can be so bold, I propose that we have the following genres in our tradition:
  • chant Propers and Ordinaries, with little or no repetition (Kyrie VIII etc. notwithstanding)
  • choral motets, Ordinaries, and Propers
  • hymns
Ranked in order of feasibility for a congregation to sing, we have:
  1. hymns
  2. other chants
  3. choral music
The handful of traditional (chant-based) Catholic hymns that comes to mind is (and I’m sure there *are* more):

Ave maris stella
Creator/Conditor alme siderum (two different hymns, I know)
Corde natus ex parentis
Pange lingua...prælium
Crux fidelis
Stabat mater (not really a “hymn”, but it works)
Veni creator spiritus
O filii et filiæ
Ubi caritas
Attende domine
Puer natus in Bethlehem
Veni veni Emmanuel

(Apologies if I’ve left out someone’s favorite - feel free to comment.)

Of the chants in the Roman Kyriale (1973), none are fiendishly difficult, but it is a substantial undertaking to propose that we teach even Gloria VIII, which has a lot of melodic repetition and is in Paul VI’s Jubilate Deo, to a whole congregation. And if we want to keep the practice of changing the Ordinary setting with the season, we’ll want a separate Gloria for Easter than for non-Easter.

And what do we do with the Creed? Teach four, even five, settings of the longest text of the Mass? (Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Eastertide, Ordinary Time)

The notion that a congregation should sing is a pretty radical one, it seems, in light of the musical tradition of the Church. At some point, those of us who advocate for more traditional music in the liturgy will have to face this problem and provide an answer: there are only so many musical events in the liturgy, and the more we honor the artistic heritage of the Church, the less congregational singing there is.

I mean, even if we propose that congregations sing the Ordinary and the choir sings the Proper. (Made possible with the translational 1985 Gregorian Missal in pews?) The stipulation that congregations sing the Ordinary immediately wipes out an incredible wealth of music - Palestrina, Rheinberger, the choral settings of less exalted composers of the 20th century, and all points in between.

What if we used choral Ordinary settings just for solemnities and so forth, one might propose. Would we deny the pew folks the experience of singing the Gloria on Christmas?

I’m not really sure where a good solution lies. It does seem pretty clear, though, both from analysis and from what I’ve read of the politics and proceedings, that the musicians were given fairly little influence on Sacrosanctum concilium, Musicam sacram, and the 1969 GIRM.


At Friday, May 12, 2006 7:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been an excellent discussion of this issue currently on, in the forum section. It would be worthwhile perusing.

At Friday, May 12, 2006 8:42:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...

Anon: Can you direct me to the one you have in mind?

At Friday, May 19, 2006 5:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really amazing! Useful information. All the best.


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