A visit to the Met, a matter of great joy, and music so beautiful it hurt

Yesterday I followed some inclinations and did some spontaneous things.  Am I glad I did.  Thursday 3 February was a memorable day.

I mentioned in another post that yesterday I felt compelled by a Strong Inner Voice to visit the Met Museum of Art.

I finished my weekly article for the The Wanderer and sent it in (it was about the short doxology during the Novus Ordo which is known as the end of the Lord’s Prayer as Protestants pray it… I drilled into the history of that little prayer and commented on what I thought about it being in a Catholic Mass).

After lunch and getting my office done for the day, I went.

Rejoice with me, for I have tidings of great joy.

I now have the coveted yellow Met button.

You know these buttons.  The button nazis check them before you enter museum galleries which have obligatory voluntary donations.

“But Father! But Father!”, you may be saying.  “Might I just observe… ‘big deal!’?

Big for me.  In my last visits I was always getting reds or greens.  Yellow was the only color Met button I didn’t yet have.

It’s the little things in life sometimes.

In any event, there was A Big Thing at the Met.

The Strong Inner Voice drove me there also to see some works that have returned to the Met.  The Vermeers are back, and some new/old rooms are re/opened!

Among the new/old things on display is a newly restored Madonna and Child by Filippino Lippi.

Oh my.

The startling ultramarine – a pigment made from lapis lazuli and more than gold – sucks the oxygen from your lungs as the painting comes into view.

Baby Jesus is crinkling the page of a book, much as babies will.

The pomegranate is a common symbol in Italian renaissance painting and in other art forms as well.  Inspired by Greek mythology and the story of Proserpina, the pomegranate became a Christian symbol of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

The Virgin.   What can one say about this?

Filippino Lippi was the son of Fra Filippo Lippi. You can see in Filippino’s painting some influence of Botticelli, whose student he was.

Lippi is from Latin lippusLippus is an adjective meaning “runny-eyed”.  In ancient Rome it seems as if everyone and his brother had eye-infections and their eyes ran all the time.  As a matter of fact the only place I have ever had eye infections is in Rome.  In classical Latin you will find the equivalent of the English adage that something is known “to every Tom, Dick and Harry”, that is everyone.  In Latin something known to everyone is know lippis et tonsoribus… runny-eyed people and barbers.  If memory serves Horace quotes that.

These afternoon pleasures would have made this a wonderful day on their own.

Then I had the privilege of saying Mass and blessing throats for St. Blaise.

But wait!  There’s more!

After Mass on a spur of the moment decision, I went with a friend to Trinity Church downtown at Wall and Broadway to look for treasure. It was once done in the talkies, I believe.

The program.

There was a concert to be had of music of the “Sarum Use”, that is, English composers who wrote music for use in that fascinating Latin Rite use that effectively died out.

I walked away from this concert with my head on fire and chest in pain.  The music was so beautiful that at times it simply hurt.

One of my thoughts as I sat there – overwhelmed – was that this was the perfect argument anyone would need for why a musical instrument would never be needed in a church.

The video of the this concert of Sarum music, I find, is on the website of Trinity Church!  Here.

Listen to one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, a Salve Regina by Robert Wylkinson (+1515), that I had never heard before.   It is from the Eton Choirbook.  The beginning Salve was amazing. (Minute 19:30 in the embedded video, below.)  It is about 15 minutes long.  The O clemens and O Piaif you don’t choke up, you are not human.  Some extra text is added.

Salve regina, mater misericordiae,
Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exules filii Evae.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
In hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo,
advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes
oculos ad nos converte; Et Jesum,
benedictum fructum ventris tui,
Nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.

Virgo mater ecclesiae,
Aeterna porta gloriae,
Esto nobis refugium
Apud Patrem et Filium.

O Clemens!

Virgo clemens, virgo pia,
Virgo dulcis o Maria,
Exaudi preces omnium
Ad te pie clamantium.

O pia!

Funde preces tuo nato,
Cruxifixo, vulnerato,
Et pro nobis flagellato,
Spinis puncto, felle potato.

O dulcis Maria, salve!

It is scored for 9 voices… for the 9 angelic choirs.

Can some readers take a shot at the Latin that was integrated into this common prayer?  It isn’t hard, but it is beautiful.

And you don’t want to miss the fascinating Apostles’ Creed by Wylkinson at the beginning of the second half of the concert.   (Go to minute 54:00).  There is an introduction explaining the 13 part canon.  (You catch a glimpse of the undersigned at about minute 56:19 and again – completely delighted – at about 58:50.  The camera pans around the church because the choir is stretched up the side and center aisles around the church.)

NOTE: Some of the singers from this group should be singing at Holy Innocents on Sunday for the church’s dedication feast.

I will try to embed this:

For a special treat listen to Robert Parson’s Magnificat beginning at 68:50.   The trebles are… astonishing.

What a day.  I learned so much and my views shifted enormously on a whole range of issues.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JaneC says:

    English Renaissance music from the fifteenth through the early seventeenth centuries must be among the most beautiful music ever produced in Europe. There is a lot of awfully beautiful music from that time period, but the English aesthetic–both the pervasive consonance of the fifteenth century and the sweet and lingering dissonances of Byrd and his contemporaries make my heart ache the way few other things can.
    The Reformation had an enormous and devastating effect on English music. It isn’t true that England was “an island without music” or whatever that famous quotation is, but it is true that England had once had influence on Continental music, and after the deaths of Byrd and Tallis, English music was not highly regarded or imitated outside England until the late nineteenth century.
    The music of the Eton Choirbook makes me cry because of its beauty, but also because it is almost all the music we have left from that period in English history–there must have been so, so much more music like this, and all was destroyed.

  2. traditionalorganist says:

    That was wonderful. How did we lose the ability to create such music?

  3. Patikins says:

    Here’s my first time attempt at a translation:

    Virgin Mother of the Church,
    Eternal gate of glory,
    Be our refuge
    With the Father and the Son.

    O Clement!

    O gentle Virgin, loving Virgin,
    O sweet Virgin Mary,
    Hear our prayers
    To you we lovingly cry.

    O loving one!

    (We) pour out prayers to your child,
    crucified, wounded,
    and scourged for us,
    punctured with thorns, drank gall.

    Hail, sweet Virgin Mary.

  4. mibethda says:

    Wylkinson’s Salve Regina is a sublime piece and it was beautifully performed by this choir. It, along with most of the major pieces in the Eton Choir Book ( which is one of only a handful of late 15th, early 16th C. manuscripts to escape Thomas Cranmer – probably because of the royal patronage of Eton) has been recorded by Harry Christophers’ group The Sixteen and covers four or five discs – in many respects the finest group singing English Renaissance music (since I am not at home, I can’t check to see just how many discs are in the group.) I am not sure what the conductor meant in his early remarks where he seemed to imply that there were no continental works for as many as nine voice parts. In fact, by mid-century, when Tallis wrote his 40 voice part motet ‘Spem in alium’ he was encouraged to do so by Thomas, Duke of Norfolk to show that an English composer could compose a piece as complex as the Italian, Striggio’s, 40 voice part motet and Mass. There are surviving a number of such multi-voice pieces by continental (and Scottish) composers from the Sixteenth century.
    I was pleased to hear the very fine rendition of the Magnificat by Robert Parsons (not to be confused with the Jesuit), one of my favorite English Renaissance composers. Sadly his early death at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign cut short a brilliant career (although I believe his death led to a vacancy in the Chapel Royal which was filled by the young Byrd). His Latin ‘Ave Maria’ is one of the finest Aves.

  5. erinalicia says:

    I’m officially living vicariously through you…thanks for sharing your wonderful day.

  6. Janol says:

    Wylkinson’s Salve Regina reminds me very much of Taverner’s Gloria in the Missa Gloria Trinitas. Listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvLO-IZris0
    I prefer Andrew Parrott’s recording of it to The Tallis Scholars’, but that and The Tallis Scholars recording of Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Alium are my two desert island CDs. Do look into The Tallis Scholars recordings of Tudor music if you loved the concert at Trinity Church. By the way, before abjuring the “heresy of Cranmer” eons ago, I was a member of Trinity Parish and of one of its choirs. I’m now looking forward to being a member or the new Anglican Ordinariate.

  7. benedetta says:

    Am setting aside time this weekend to enjoy that concert from Trinity Wall Street…

    Father, you might enjoy a stop at the Frick collection as well sometime when you are in NYC.

  8. Rachel K says:

    Thankyou Father for sharing this beauty with us! I am listening online as I type. I am a music teacher by training and an amateur singer- in a previous parish there were enough of us who were competent to sing some of the simpler Tudor Polyphony. Nothing can come close to the heavenly sound of this music- it is so tremendously uplifting! It’s a great treasure and the choir at Trinity are superb. Attending a performance like this is like stepping into heaven for a while…
    Regarding the art; the face of the Madonna in the Filipino Lippi does look very Botticelli like- a touch of Venus about her I think. I am very jealous that you can get to the Met! However, there are some fantastic art treasures near me- the Pre-Raphaelites in Liverpool and other superb art in Manchester. Can’t complain really…

  9. jeffreyquick says:

    It’s sad that it’s hard to fit such music into the EF Mass. I’ve heard that the altar ritual in Sarum was so elaborate that huge motets were needed to “cover the action”, but nowadays you can’t even make a 15 minute motet work as a postlude. Fred Lautzenheiser at Immaculate Conception in Cleveland has occasionally done pre-Reformation English, but it’s generally involved using bleeding chunks as offertory and communion motets, or replacing large blocks of text with chant. Fr. Godic and Fr. Kotlinski are pretty patient, but there are limits.

  10. APX says:

    How did we lose the ability to create such music?
    I ask myself that question every time I hear the radio.

    This sounds amazing in surround sound. The chord at 18:48 makes my heart melt.

  11. Nordic Breed says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. I love sacred choral music and have quite a bit of Byrd. I never get tired of listening to it. The picture of the Madonna by Lippi is too beautiful for words. That blue is electrifying.

  12. AML says:

    The Caremelite Lippi was considered a sort of foil of the saintly Dominican, Fra Angelico. Lippi was a major philanderer and legend has it that his patrons had to lock him into a room to get him to finish the commission and keep him away from the women of the household. He was most certainly a marvelous painter. His painting was perhaps a bit more naturalistic than Fra Angelico’s but heavily influenced by the blessed Dominican.

    If you haven’t seen this, you must: http://www.googleartproject.com/

    The best thing yet to come out of Google.

  13. mibethda, can you let us know what particular album(s) we can find these things on?

  14. Mariana says:

    Thank you, Father, what a wonderful concert! And the Filippino Lippi Madonna! What a charming day you had!

  15. Sam Schmitt says:

    Yes, I don’t listen to this music too often because it can hurt too much. Partly the sheer beauty, partly contemplating what we’ve lost.

    The Sixteen, an English choir conducted by Harry Christophers, has recorded the Eton choirbook on 5 discs, available in a boxed set called “The Eton Choirbook Collection” (and at a very good price, by the way). According to a review on Amazon.com: ” The five volumes, originally issued separately and still so available, are: The Rose and the Ostrich Feather, The Crown of Thorns, The Pillars of Eternity, The Flower of All Virginity, and The Voices of Angels. ” Other choirs like the Tallis Scholars have also recorded portions of the choirbook.

  16. Janol says:

    Fr. Z wrote: “What a day. I learned so much and my views shifted enormously on a whole range of issues.”

    Pray tell us.

  17. Ef-lover says:

    glorious music!

  18. JamesA says:

    Indeed, Pater, tell us about your view shifts. Please !
    Thanks for posting this. What a treasure trove of music at that site– even if they do have a “priestess” ;- )
    They are Episcopalians though, so no harm no foul.

  19. Fr. Basil says:

    \\I finished my weekly article for the The Wanderer and sent it in (it was about the short doxology during the Novus Ordo which is known as the end of the Lord’s Prayer as Protestants pray it…\\

    It’s also used by Orthodox, Byzantine Catholics (with a Trinitarian phrase), Copts, Armenians, Syriacs, and Assyrians. Only the Latin Church doesn’t use it.

    \\ I drilled into the history of that little prayer and commented on what I thought about it being in a Catholic Mass).\\

    It’s been said in Catholic Masses for centuries: Byzantine Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, and Chaldean Catholic.

  20. APX says:

    ” The five volumes, originally issued separately and still so available, are: The Rose and the Ostrich Feather, The Crown of Thorns, The Pillars of Eternity, The Flower of All Virginity, and The Voices of Angels.

    They’re also available on iTunes for all those who prefer impulse buying, or don’t want to risk someone breaking into their car and stealing their CD’s.

  21. AnAmericanMother says:

    Is it heretical to say I prefer English Renaissance music to Palestrina and Victoria?

    The absolutely straight soprano tone is like a glimpse of heaven.

    Even the Episcopalian cloud has a silver lining. They are preserving this music when most Catholic choirs won’t touch it.

    (We do however. “Bleeding chunks” it may be, but at least we are singing some of it.)

  22. Charles E Flynn says:

    The 5 CD set of the Eton Choirbook Collection performed by The Sixteen can be seen by searching on Amazon for:


    There are some retailers offering a better price, which can be found by searching at Google for:

    eton choirbook collection sixteen

  23. Absolutely beautiful choral music. Heading to the iTunes store now.

    I had a similar experience during a candle-lit evening performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers in San Francisco’s fantastic Grace Cathedral. The music was new to me then (in my early 20s), but now is a mainstay on my iPod.

    Why can’t Catholic churches be doing this?

  24. Precentrix says:

    The Eton Choirbook is one of the best things I’ve ever had the pleasure of studying. Somewhere, I have an ace essay I wrote on this music. It is the equivalent of Gothic architecture and the spire of Sarum cathedral. Even the simpler pieces (not the Wylkinson, which is spectacular) are stunning, mainly because they create a feeling of space, of opening out into eternity. This has a lot to do with the enormous range between the lowest bass parts and the high English treble – the ‘cantus’ of continental polyphony is more akin to the English ‘mean’, the second voice down. English music of this period plays around with at least an octave more than continental music of the same era.

    Interesting are the influences of this style (which uses English ‘discant’ quite a lot, too) in the Catholic compositions of Tallis (old enough to remember it) and Byrd (Tallis’ pupil) and also Mundy during the restoration – used deliberately to ‘hark back’ to the days of freedom, even though the Roman liturgy had been introduced.

    I won’t make a comparison to Palestrina or Victoria – to me, their music is very different. It wouldn’t be comparing like with like – they created for different times and different places. The oldest works in the Eton book are from around 1380 which is significantly before Trent!

  25. Charles E Flynn says:

    One of the reviews of the 5 CD set by The Sixteen on Amazon mentioned a forthcoming edition of the Eton Choirbook. It may be this facsimile:


  26. stpetric says:

    @Precentrix — I’d love to read your essay! Is it online somewhere, or would you e-mail me a copy? steve [dot] petrica [at] gmail [dot] com

  27. techno_aesthete says:

    AnAmericanMother: “The absolutely straight soprano tone is like a glimpse of heaven.”

    I find the soprano tone in Allegri’s Miserere to be absolutely breathtaking, angelic. There are YouTube videos of The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen singing it.

  28. Archicantor says:

    Father Z, is that you on the right, in the Apostles’ Creed around 58:52-58?

  29. ErnieNYC says:

    “…Trinity Church downtown at Wall and Broad…”

    For readers visiting downtown NYC: Trinity Church is located at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway…which is 2 short blocks west of Broad Street.

    Also of interest: St Peter’s Church, the oldest Catholic parish in NYC, and the site of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s conversion to Catholocism, is a few blocks north of there on the corner of Trinity Place and Barclay St. It is also notable for the fact that the remains of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, officially the first person killed on 9/11/01 and an FDNY chaplain, were carried there and lain at the altar after their discovery, topped by his priestly stole.

  30. becket1 says:

    The only flaw in this video is the beginning. A wannabe priestess!. Thanks for sharing. Great music. Now if only the Sarum Rite could be the Extrordinary Form in the Ordinariate.

  31. Girgadis says:

    I have often visited Trinity’s website for its musical gems. BBC’s weekly “Evensong” is another treat. The Episcopal/Anglican churches can be faulted for many things, but music isn’t one of them.

  32. mibethda says:

    Saint Irenaeus,
    I see that a number of others have provided the information you requested in respect to the Eton Choir Book. In case you also were interested in Parsons, to my knowledge there is only one disc of his work available, although his Ave Maria can be found included on several discs, including a very fine one by the choir of St. John’s College (one of the finest of the several Oxbridge collegiate choirs). The single disc devoted to Parsons is on Naxos and includes not only the very fine Magnificat in Latin and the Ave Maria – both probably from Mary’s reign, but also the First Great Service for Cranmer’s service (composed during the reign of Edward VI) and the Responds for the Dead (in Latin) written during Mary’s or Elizabeth’s reign. I believe that there is also a website that contains all of Parson’s known work and is sponsored by a University (possibly Columbia as I recall) – I don’t have the link on my home computer, but it should be easy to locate on a Google search.

  33. becket1 says:

    Quote: “I have often visited Trinity’s website for its musical gems. BBC’s weekly “Evensong” is another treat. The Episcopal/Anglican churches can be faulted for many things, but music isn’t one of them.”

    True, but keep in mind that probably not everyone in that choir is an Episcopalian. And if we had parishes in the Roman Catholic Church here in the US, with some musical taste, instead of letting the happy clappy liturgical commitees run everything, than we could have equally beautiful music. Hopefully in the future those Anglicans coming into communion with Rome will bring those talents and experience with them and start some nice Anglican Use parishes.

  34. becket1 says:

    And also remember that the Sarum Rite, which started in the Diocese of Salisbury, which was at the time a Roman Catholic Diocese, not Episcopalian/CoFE, was also a form or Use, of the Roman Rite.

  35. becket1 says:

    Here is a great website to learn more about the Sarum Use. You have to navigate to the lower right hand side under the title “Sarum Things”. Enjoy.

  36. Sixupman says:

    At least she was good looking!

  37. andreat says:

    The Madonna and Child is stunning. I wish I could see it for real. And the music is breathtaking!

  38. jorgens6 says:

    And post like this are just one of the reasons I read your blog nearly every day. Thank You Father Z!

  39. Jason Keener says:

    Sounds like you had a great day, Father. I’m happy for you. You should also check out the Dahesh Museum of Art at 580 Madison Ave. and 56th Street if you are interested in traditional realistic art.

  40. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:


    Thanks for the beautiful translation. But of course, “Funde” does not mean “we pour”; we are beseeching the Blessed mother that she pour out prayers on our behalf. The verb is second person singular imperative.

  41. Hooksdoc says:

    Re Fr Basil: Byzantine, Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean: all catholic, but not Roman Catholic: their Divine Liturgies are NOT Masses. The word ‘Mass’ derives from the Latin ‘missa’, in, ‘Ite, missa est’, by synecdoche, where we name something from the most significant part, as in ‘all hands (meaning sailors) on deck:’ Haec liturgia divina romana, quid est? Missa est. What is this Roman divine liturgy? It is the Mass.

  42. Hidden One says:

    I must admit that I still prefer Gregorian plainchant.

  43. Hooksdoc says:

    Sorry, earlier, I forgot, is it not strange that the NO mass reformers took out of the Words of Consecration, the phrase ‘mysterium fidei’ as non-scriptural, then added the doxology in question, which is non scriptural? (in De Defectibus, Pope Pius V ruled that changing the (non-essential) Words of Consecration was a grave sin) The Didaché, (source of this doxology, I believe; c 75 AD) was not included in the canon of inspired books by Pope St Damasus at the end of the 4th century.

  44. AnAmericanMother says:

    It’s nice to have the majority of the choir actually be Catholics . . . but you can “salt” it with staff singers. On staff we have three Actual Catholics, but also an Episcopalian and a Southern Baptist. We had a couple of Presbyterians awhile back that went through RCIA, but we just couldn’t get them to pull the trigger . . . .
    Chances are a lot of the Trinity choir are actually Episcopalians, their support of great music is not a recent development. The choirs at St. Philip’s ECUSA Atlanta were top flight back when I sang in them (sixties and early seventies) and remain very good indeed. The director at that time was head of the music department at Georgia State University. The choir at our former ECUSA parish sings regularly at Spoleto Festival and on a couple of national radio programs, and we did not have any non-Episcopal staff. My grandmother took a bachelor’s degree in opera performance back in 1906 and sang in the Met chorus, and she was the staff alto at St. Peter’s, Rome (that’s the Episcopal church in Rome, Georgia) for many years. She and her husband were Methodists but became Episcopalians on account of the music.

  45. Archicantor says:

    On the “how many singers in your choir should be Catholics” question, just to put this in perspective, a few years ago (when I knew a good number of the singers), just one of the men of Westminster Cathedral Choir was a Catholic (i.e. the altos, tenors and basses — I can’t speak for the boy trebles). The rest were (at least nominally) Anglicans, trained in the great cathedrals and in the choral foundations of Oxford and Cambridge (I think five of the men had been recruited from King’s College, Cambridge). Westminster has not had a Catholic music director since 1979, when the current choirmaster of King’s, Stephen Cleobury (an Anglican), was appointed. This is the price of having one of the best church choirs in the country — and when I was living in England (up to 2009), Westminster was widely considered to be the best in the country. I rather suspect that this attention to musical quality will be important down the line for the Catholic Church in England and Wales as it tries to establish itself in popular opinion as sufficiently “English” in culture and outlook to attract more converts from mainstream British society (instead of the steady influx of Polish economic migrants that has buoyed its numbers in recent years).

  46. Girgadis says:

    I forgot to add, Father Z, that the expression of delight on your face, caught briefly by the camera, is priceless. Hearing such other-worldly sounds would make me believe I had died and gone to Heaven.

  47. Girardis: Oh yes. As I mentioned in the top entry, I was completely delighted.

    I was ensorcelled.

  48. Catholictothecore says:

    Very soothing music! Loved it. Thanks for sharing, Fr. Z.

  49. B flat says:

    The music is breathtaking, I agree. But what of the understanding of the conductor, when he calls this a” show”?
    He seems to think this was written for the pleasure of rich patrons, or to curry favour with Queen Mary.
    The audience clap as if it is performed for them.
    Such barbarism is breathtaking too.

    If only they had some glimmer of conception that this is mediaeval man giving his best for the glory and praise of God, and knowing, all the same, that it is infinitely unworthy. And nobody, even the most infirm, could begrudge the time taken here, any more than they would say that Heaven was not worth the effort, or Eternity too long. What progress has mankind made, even in the Catholic Church, in 500years?

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