CCTLS 10: New Compositions

If you are new to the discussion of this document, don’t be shy: chime in. Feel free to comment on previous posts, too.

Today let’s have a look at John Paul II’s brief thoughts on contemporary compositions:

10. Since the Church has always recognized and fostered progress in the arts, it should not come as a surprise that in addition to Gregorian chant and polyphony she admits into celebrations even the most modern music, as long as it respects both the liturgical spirit and the true values of this art form. In compositions written for divine worship, therefore, the particular Churches in the various nations are permitted to make the most of “those special forms which may be said to constitute the special character of [their] native music”[TlS 2]. On the lines of my holy Predecessor and of what has been decreed more recently by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium[SC 119], I have also intended in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia to make room for new musical contributions, mentioning in addition to the inspired Gregorian melodies, “the many, often great composers who sought to do justice to the liturgical texts of the Mass”[EE 49].

Commentary:

Let’s tease out this first comment about “progress” in the arts. I suspect that the Holy Father was talking less about one era improving on another in terms of better music, more progress, and such. I would agree. However, I think individual composers can and should improve on their craft. Publishers can improve their product. Parishes and other faith communities search out better repertoire for congregational singing. Progress is good, possible, desirable.

It’s inevitable that the skill or charism of composing music nets us a pyramid. Many people try it. Fewer are good at it. A select few are universally acknowledged as “great composers.” It comes with the territory of human endeavor. Preachers exhibit this: most are poor to mediocre. Some are good. Few are excellent.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to CCTLS 10: New Compositions

  1. Charles says:

    Referring to the Church, Bl.JPII writes:
    she admits into celebrations even the most modern music, as long as it respects both the liturgical spirit and the true values of this art form. In compositions written for divine worship, therefore, the particular Churches in the various nations are permitted to make the most of “those special forms which may be said to constitute the special character of [their] native music”[TlS 2].
    No doubt, no argument here. But I believe that JPII clearly places a caveat that the “most modern music” must first be grounded in a liturgical spirit, not a theoretical nor aesthetic nor cultural bias. So, one might conclude that this qualification endorses Corsican liturgical chant traditions that have little resemblance to Gregorian, but does not endorse the cart before the horse to masque artistic invention of romantic opera or theater with mere cut and paste textual assignments.
    Serialism, minimalism (in the Reich/Glass school), expressionism (Crumb, Dalliapiccolla) and other 20th century schools had no intrinsic ties to sacral music, tho’ there were and are some interesting vestigial works that were “A for effort” examples (The Persichetti polyphonic Mass, maybe some Lutoslawski/Gorecki large sacred works.) I like your pyramid image. But I think, like at Giza, there are pyramids of different magnitudes of achievement. If the great pyramids represent chant and polyphony, then the smaller ones need to acknowledge that only those works at the top are worthy to represent the best of that genre.
    The “otherness” of the sacred must be evident. What difference is there between some 14c parody Mass cantus firmus that caused the folk to murmur and giggle as it was craftily folded into the emerging form of polyphony AND a parishioner walking up to you after Mass and saying “Wow, that Tom Booth song was really cool, ’cause it reminds me of ‘Here comes the sun’ by George Harrison.'”?
    That means that composers of any stripe that want their music to serve worship must have some knowledge of that calling and history of the liturgical disciplines. IMO.

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