Sandro Magister has a piece today about what is going with sacred music in Rome, more specifically via the Sistine Chapel Choir and the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music.
In a word: disaster.
Here is the first part:
Not Sacred Music, but Sounds of Attack
After the choir of the Sistine Chapel, the conservatory of the Holy See is also about to be conquered by those responsible for the musical disarray of recent decades. To silence from the pope
by Sandro Magister
ROME, March 30, 2012 – The last bastion in Rome of the grand liturgical music of the Latin Church, built on the pillars of Gregorian chant and the polyphony of Pierluigi da Palestrina, is in danger of collapsing at any moment.
This bastion is the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the musical conservatory of the Holy See, instituted by Pius X a century ago to set the right course for sacred music in the churches all over the world.
It is headed by Monsignor Valentino Miserachs Grau, 69, Catalan, who is also the director of the Cappella Liberiana, the choir of the papal basilica of Saint Mary Major. His predecessor and mentor there was Domenico Bartlucci, the most illustrious composer and interpreter of liturgical music that the Roman Church has had in the past century, the former director of the pontifical choir of the Sistine Chapel, from which he was brutally ejected in 1996, made a cardinal by Benedict XVI in 2010.
There is a profound similarity of outlook, in matters of liturgical music, between pope Joseph Ratzinger and the current leadership of the PIMS. But as already took place in 2010 with the change of the director of the choir of the Sistine Chapel, for the renewal of the presidency of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music everything is about to be decided – not by the PIMS, but against it – without the personal involvement of the pope.
The reasons for this dissociation of Benedict XVI – willingly on his part, to the rejoicing of many – from practical decisions in a matter so agreeable to him, and maintained by him to be so essential to the mission of the Church, still remain undeciphered.
The fact is that this dissociation of the pope gives the green light in the Church, even at the highest levels, to men and to musical trends that are as far as can be from that “spirit of the liturgy” which informs his entire vision as theologian and pastor.
The case of the Sistine Chapel choir is emblematic. The appointment of the current director, Monsignor Massimo Palombella, took place behind the closed doors of the Vatican secretariat of state, surely among those least competent in the matter. And it has done nothing to restore the choir that accompanies the pontifical liturgies from the disrepair into which it has fallen.
It is not enough, in fact, that the selection of composers and songs is today more in line with the desires of the pope. No less important are the quality of the performances and the vision that inspires them.
Further below on this page is a critical review with the byline of an outstanding musicologist and musician, Alessandro Taverna. His judgments on the choir of the Sistine Chapel directed by Palombella are, naturally, debatable. But when, for example, he points out that by the end of an a cappella piece “the singers [had] dropped a good three steps,” he is presenting a fact, not an opinion.
So then, for the position of head of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, an outcome even more fraught with misfortune is approaching.
The name that the secretariat of state is about to have approved by Benedict XVI is that of Vincenzo De Gregorio, the current musical consultant of the liturgical office of the Italian episcopal conference.
Who is De Gregorio? But before that, how has this quasi-appointment come about?
Take note of the roles of Card. Bertone (SDB) and Card. Ravasi. Also, read down to the bottom where there is a comparison of the Sistina and the Choir from Westminster.