There was a great interview with the former (if this makes sense) "Maestro in perpetuo" of the Sistine Chapel Choir, Mons. Domenico Bartolucci. In keeping with the usual practice of men who are over 90, lucid, expert, and thwarted, Bartolucci has something to say, and – oh my – does he say it. Sandro of Espresso has done us a great service to publish this frank interview here is are excerpts, but you must read it yourselves.
Background: Curial officials such as His Excellency Piero Marini (Master of the Pontifical Ceremonies) engineered Bartolucci’s downfall when the Pope was declining. The late Pope wasn’t too interested in the sort of music Bartolucci championed but he upheld it. I cannot fathom that had the Pope still been healthy anyone would have perpetrated the injustice done to Bartolucci. Also, recently there was a concert in the Sistina with Bartolucci which the Pope attended. Cardinal Ratzinger had been a lonely supporter of Bartolucci when he was being attacked. Ssay what you want about the quality of the music he produced, his ideas are spot on. His ideas are in harmony with the Pope’s position on sacred music. In what follows find my emphasis and [my commentary].
An interview with Domenico Bartolucci
Q: Was Perosi in some sense the harbinger of the current vulgarization of sacred music?
A: Not exactly. Today the fashion in the churches is for pop-inspired songs and the strumming of guitars, but the fault lies above all with the pseudo-intellectuals who have engineered this degeneration of the liturgy, and thus of music, overthrowing and despising the heritage of the past with the idea of obtaining who knows what advantage for the people. If the art of music does not return to its greatness, rather than representing an accommodation or a byproduct, there is no sense in asking about its function in the Church. I am against guitars, but I am also against the superficiality of the Cecilian movement in music – it’s more or less the same thing. Our motto must be: let us return to Gregorian chant and to polyphony in the tradition of Palestrina, and let us continue down this road! [The Cecilian began in Germany and aimed at a reform of Church music. The theory behind the movement aimed at restoring Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony and sidelining some music that was perceived to be overly "operatic". This is the basis of the work of several decades of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, MN. It must be said that, in the main, the Cecilian movement embraced the same ideals as Bartolucci, in regard to the place of music in the liturgy. The comment on superficiality probably refers to some of the less than successful modern compositions which were written in imitation of Renaissance polyphony, etc. In my opinion I would include the works of Perosi, whom Bartolucci admires in many respects, and perhaps some of Bartolucci’s own works… but that is not really to the point here.]
Q: What are the initiatives that Benedict XVI should take to realize this plan in a world of discotheques and iPods?
A: The great repertoire of sacred music that has been handed down to us from the past is made up of Masses, offertories, responsories: formerly there was no such thing as a liturgy without music. Today there is no place for this repertoire in the new liturgy, which is a discordant commotion – and it’s useless to pretend that it’s not. It is as if Michelangelo had been asked to paint the general judgment on a postage stamp! You tell me, please, how it is possible today to perform a Credo, or even a Gloria. First we would need to return, at least for the solemn or feast day Masses, to a liturgy that gives music its proper place and expresses itself in the universal language of the Church, Latin. In the Sistine, after the liturgical reform, I was able to keep alive the traditional repertoire of the Chapel only in the concerts. Just think – the Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina has not been sung in St. Peter’s since the time of Pope John XXIII! We were graciously grant[ed the permission to perform it during a commemoration of Palestrina, and they wanted it without the Credo, but that time I would not budge, and the entire work was performed.
Q: Do you think that the assembly of the faithful should participate in singing the Gregorian chant during liturgical celebrations?
A: We must make distinctions in the performance of Gregorian chant. Part of the repertoire, for example the Introits or the Offertories, requires an extremely refined level of artistry and can be interpreted properly only by real artists. Then there is a part of the repertoire that is sung by the people: I think of the Mass “of the Angels,” the processional music, the hymns. It was once very moving to hear the assembly sing the Te Deum, the Magnificat, the litanies, music that the people had assimilated and made their own – but today very little is left even of this. And furthermore, Gregorian chant has been distorted by the rhythmic and aesthetic theories of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day. [At the same St. Agnes Church, where I am at the time of this writing, each Saturday morning there is a sung Latin Mass at 8:00 am and the congregation sings the Ordinary in Chant and a small schola sings the Proper. I will be celebrant tomorrow, as a matter of fact, and I can attest from past experience how well this works, though it takes patience and time to build the practice.]
Q: Do you think that the musical traditions of the past are disappearing?
A: It stands to reason: if there is not the continuity that keeps them alive, they are destined to oblivion, and the current liturgy certainly does not favor it… I am an optimist by nature, but I judge the current situation realistically, and I believe that a Napoleon without generals can do little. Today the motto is “go to the people, look them in the eyes,” but it’s all a bunch of empty talk! By doing this we end up celebrating ourselves, and the mystery and beauty of God are hidden from us. In reality, we are witnessing the decline of the West. An African bishop once told me, “We hope that the council doesn’t take Latin out of the liturgy, otherwise in my country a Babel of dialects will assert itself.” [This has an amazing comment. When still in Rome a couple weeks back (I am in the USA at the moment) I had a long conversation about the speed with which Pope Benedict seems to be making various changes… not not making changes fast enough, as the case may be. With his perhaps deeper sense of timing a history, this Roman made the comment that in order to get anything done the Pope has to have people to implement the orders. To order something done and fail to accomplish it, because people in middle managment were unable or unwilling, would result in worse problems. So, patience is needed while the right people are slowly but surely put in the proper positions. This might have been the real key to understanding John Paul II’s patience replacement of bishops by attrition rather than deposition. He avoided schism.]
: Was John Paul II somewhat accommodating in these matters?
A: In spite of a number of appeals, the liturgical crisis became more deeply entrenched during his pontificate. [Yah.. that is certainly correct, alas.] Sometimes it was the papal celebrations themselves that contributed to this new tendency with dancing and drums. Once I left, saying, “Call me back when the show is over!” You understand well that if these are the examples coming from St. Peter’s, appeals and complaints aren’t of any use. I have always objected to these things. And even though they kicked me out, ostensibly because I had turned 80, I don’t regret what I did.
There is a great deal more, and I would love to comment on all of it. This taste should get you to go to the interview and read the whole thing.