Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/722

This page needs to be proofread.




senxu), but yet willi firmness, regardless of one's per- Bonal views. Moral necessity alone dispenses from iv command of the Church. It must be considered as progress when features either forbidden or discouraged by the Church (c. g., hymn.s in the vernacular during liturgical functions, the use of orchestral instruincnls, women in choirs) are no longer fostered, .•iiid when one abuse after another is gradually reduced to a mini- mum. Those in charge shoidd not cater to the false ideas of the jieople, but should make every effort by the performance of better compositions to ennoble popular taste. Offence is perhaps most easily given, when old and favourite hymns, though of an inferior quality, are withdrawn: modern hymn-books, how- ever, contain such an abundance of cxcelU'nt melodies that many an undesirable hymn is discarded without difficulty." The fundamental conditions for success are a good choir of men and boys, a capable organist, and a judicious choice of masses and other composi- tions by the choir-director.

The \'atir>an chant, however, presents difficulties of a sjiccial nature. It is true that mere recitation on a straight tone may in some cases be resorted to. It has also been customary from time immemorial to as- signtoafew cho.sen singers the more difficult passages. In regard to the rhythm, accent, and other points we now know the precise intentions of the Holy See. The "Acta Apostolicie Sedis" (1910, pp. 145 sq.) contains a letter from the Prefect of the Congregation of Rites to the president of the German Ciicilienvercin, which by this publication becomes binding on all. In this letter the direction is given that the rhythmical inter- pretation of the Vatican edition is to be in accordance with the rules laid down in the preface to theGraduale. The wish is also expressed that no contrary methods should be advocated in the press, as they would only cause confusion and retard the progress of music reform. Theoretic discussions seem not to have been prohib- ited, except in so far as they might interfere with the introduction of the Vatican edition (ef. the decree of the Congregation of Rites quoted above, which was issued under similar conditions — Deer, auth., n. 3830). A considerable latitude is allowed in the inter- pretation of the document. The attempts, disap- proved of by the Holy Father, are characterized in a rather mild manner; critics are asked to abstain from attempting that which, in the present state of archa?- ological studies, can have no other result than to spread confusion and divert attention from the real work of restoring the Gregorian chant to its rightful place. In spite of the many differences of opinion, we should make every effort to introduce the Vatican edition in conformity with the will of the pope. By studying the symmetrical construction of the melo- dies in the light of the explanations of the Benedic- tines, which are undoubtedly of high sesthetic value, the execution becomes not only much easier but the profound beauty of the chant is revealed to us.

Religious Music. — Finally that class of reUgious music which may not be placed in the same category with real church music, must be mentioned. The masses by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven have al- ready been spoken of. The musical interpretation of the text and their operatic form render them little suited to the church. We must also name the older Protestant masters, John Sebastian Bach and G. F. Handel, whose works for Protestant services un- doubtedly deserve to be studied by the church musi- cian. The greater latitude accorded to organ playing in the Protestant cult has given occasion to the high- est productions of contrapuntal and harmonic art. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that the predominance in their works of the instrumental ele- ment, with its obtrusive arias, duets, and choruses, is in opposition to the spirit of the Catholic liturgy, which finds a more suitable medium of expression in the purely vocal style. John Sebastian Bach (b. at

Eisenach, 1685; d. at Leipzig, l7r>Q) has also set Catho- lic liturgical texts to music. His mass in B minor is considered one of his greatest works, among which his oratorio, the "Passion according to St. Matthew", must be also included. Among his other composi- tions for Sundays and festivals, preludes and fugues hold a prominent place. He was also distinguished in the field of chaiiiber music. George Frederick Han- del (1). al Halle, lliS5; d. at London, 1759) devoted his powers llrst to the opera and later to the oratorio. He also wrote "To Deums", psalms, fugues, and conccrti for the organ, which, like Bach's sacred works, suggest the lofty jjiirpose of the older masters, but do not fulfil the requirements of the Church. The musical fame of these masters is thereby in nowise diminished. The church hymn or chorale, which, with the cantata and oratorio, is essential to the Protestant cult, is a develop- ment in popular form of the singing of the Gregorian chant by the congregation.

The oratorio, which Handel brought to the highest degree of perfection (Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, Israel in Egj'pt, etc.), stands midway between secular and hturgical music. Originally intended as an ethi- cal-religious reaction against the Florentine opera, it treats Biblical and legendary themes in a lyric-dra- matic form, but without dramatic action. It consists of recitations, arias (duets, trios, quartets), and choruses with a brilliant orchestral accompaniment. On ac- count of its semi-operatic form the oratorio is not available for church purposes, although it was custom- ary in former times to perform settings of the Passion in church on Good Friday. The cantata (perfected by Bach) is more lyric and less epic in style with a somewhat more modest instrumentation. The can- tata and oratorio are both developments from the antiphonal sacred chants and the mystery plays of the Middle Ages. Side by side with polyphony existed the folk-song in the vernacular and also more pretentious compositions, such as the lays of the troubadours, minnesingers, and mastersingers, and the madrigal. The folk-song of olden times, springing directly from and resembling the music of the Church, was often employed as motif or cantus firmus in masses and other liturgical compositions, a proceeding which would not be allowed now-a-days. Christian pilgrims were wont to sing antiphonally hymns having for their burthen the life and death of our Saviour and similar subjects. The dramatic ele- ment inherent in these subjects was contained in the liturgy itself. It had only to be brought into conjunc- tion with epical recitation or narrative and song in order to develop into the mystery plays, which had their secular counterparts. As far back as the elev- enth century these mystery plays on feast-days served to present to the people in dramatic form the Passion, Resurrection, and Last Judgment. Their original home was the church and the monastery, from which they had later to be banished. The secular and semi- ecclesiastical or simply religious music of the Middle Ages had a decisive influence in the transformation of polyphonic music into the harmonic or homophonic, and a comparison between the various styles is a great aid in determining the character of genuine church music.

It is as important to-day as ever that we carefully distinguish between simply religious music — be it never so beautiful, artistic, and conducive to private devotion — and that kind of music which the Church requires for her services. Outside of the Church each one may sing such melodies to religious texts as best satisfy his own pious mood; he may even indulge his aesthetic predilections in choosing his hymns. The house of God, however, demands an entirely different attitude; we must realize that we are there to pray, that we may not force our personal mood on our fellow Christians, but that, on the contrary, we must follow with devout attention and pious song, according to the