Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Music for Papal Liturgies in Portugal

Thank you to Mark for arranging the two videos in the previous post.

As already acknowledged, I was for the most part, uplifted by the music during the most recent Papal trip, but I maintain that it lost a golden opportunity to let the Holy Father hear at least one piece that would have demonstrated beyond doubt, that Portuguese composers hold an indisputable place as jewels in the crown of renaissance polyphony - Cardoso, Escobar, Fonseca, Lobo (Duarte, not to be confused with the Spanish Alonso) to name but a few.

The Holy Father congratulated the Portuguese on the strength of their culture, but they had not let him hear in public, any of this important aspect of it. Surely, they could have produced a choir capable of singing this music just once during the trip. Of course it is quite right that everyone should be able to sing in joy before the Lord and, His Blessed Mother, in the company of the Holy Father, when the opportunity presents itself. I am not disputing that at all. I just find it depressing that some of the most exquisite treasures remain hidden on these occasions. After the Communion (I think at Fatima) would have been the perfect time to place one of them. Instead we had a beefy operatic rendering of 'Panis Angelicus' from a soprano who had so much vibrato that she was actually out of tune for 50 per cent of the time, making poor old Cesar's tune almost unrecognisable, and that's saying something! (Sorry I can't stand vibrato in a liturgical setting and in any case, what has Franck to do with Portuguese culture?) On the other hand the woman's voice was suited to the Magnificat which followed. Whether post Communion was the right place for it is another matter. I suspect not, considering Pope Benedict's plea for silence at this point in the proceedings, a plea which seems to be increasingly ignored, even in St. Peter's.

As far as the upcoming trip to England is concerned, taking notice of what the Pope proposes about the Mass is one thing, but to subject him to music with which he is known not to be personally comfortable, is to me the height of discourtesy and inhospitality. It is not the way this most honoured guest should be treated. Judging from what Damian Thompson says about the music being prepared for the Beatification Mass at Coventry airport, it seems that the intention is to present him with a diet he will find indigestible. The furthest we will go back in OUR culture is to a piece by Elgar. And here was I (silly me) praying for the 40 part 'Spem in Alium' of Tallis, and maybe Byrd's Ave Verum. Perhaps there's still a chance that we'll have them at a Vespers somewhere during the visit. Make no mistake, there is enough choral strength and expertise in Britain to carry it off. (It is not a question of whether I like what is apparently being proposed, but of whether the Pope, and above all, Newman himself ,would like it.) It will be tragic if the 'powers that be' decide not to harness the necessary talents and experience that are obviously available to them, particularly when it is English choirs, notably that of Westminster Cathedral and New College Oxford, who have promoted the works of the Portuguese composers who inspired this post in the first place. If in the UK, the Pope is given a menu of what he once called 'utility music' (Ratzinger Report, 1985), you will never again see me criticising what happened in Portugal!

In Christo pro Papa


Londiniensis said...

Quite apart from the rather obvious trying to make a point, the proposed Coventry music is a quite telling example of sheer "sod-you" bad manners, of a sort all too often prevalent in contemporary England in all reaches of society.

What was it that Cardinal Newman said about a gentleman?

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
I love music, but I'm not a musician, so I rarely comment. But I did notice that frightful rendition of Panis Angelicus and couldn't put my finger on what caused it - now you've told me. The Mass is not entertainment. Wasn't it the same piece that was rendered by Placido Domingo in Washington DC? I felt decidedly uncomfortable during all that - when he even went up to the Holy Father after his performance. My guess is that Benedict was embarrassed, though he's too much of a gentleman to show it. Would have suited John Paul, perhaps.... but not Joseph Ratzinger.
Now I'm appalled to read about the possible music for the visit to Britain - but not surprised. Look at our bishops!!!!! I've never been to our cathedral, but our music group goes there to perform - guitars, recorders and all - at the Masses. No wonder I escape to Rome!
Love, Mary
P.S. I don't want to be "Anon." dear Jane - I'd be happy for you to use my name if you comment on what I say. I've tried yet again to set up a Google account, but they think I already have one. Then, they won't let me sign in.