Friday, July 21, 2006

Interview with Msgr. Bartolucci

Long, but worth it!

Courtesy of Sandro Magister, full article here: I Had a Dream: The
Music of Palestrina and Gregory the Great Had Come Back

Bartolucci, for those who don't recall, was the director of the
papal choir for decades, going back to Pius XII; he was "dismissed"
(a seemingly harsh thing to do to a venerable old servant) under the
pontificate of John Paul II in favor of a more "hip" and "modern"
director who could incorporate modern music into the papal Masses.

When the cantor was like a priest

An interview with Domenico Bartolucci

Q: Maestro Bartolucci, no fewer than six popes have attended your
concerts. In which of them did you see the most musical expertise?

A: In the most recent one, Benedict XVI. He plays the piano, has a
profound understanding of Mozart, loves the Church's liturgy, and in
consequence he places great emphasis on music. Pius XII also greatly
loved music, and played the violin frequently. The Sistine Chapel
owes a great deal to John XXIII. In 1959 he gave me permission to
restore the Sistine which, unfortunately, was in bad shape, partly
because of the illness of its previous director, Lorenzo Perosi. It
no longer had a stable membership, a musical archive, or an office.
So an office was obtained, the falsettos were dismissed, and the
composition of the choir and the compensation for its members were
determined, and finally it was possible to form the children's choir
as well. Then came Paul VI, but he was tone deaf, and I don't know
how much of an appreciation he had for music.

Q: Was Perosi the so-called restorer of the Italian oratorio?

A: Perosi was an authentic musician, a man utterly consumed by
music. He had the good fortune of directing the Sistine at the time
of the motu proprio on sacred music, which rightly wanted to purify
it from the theatrics with which it was imbued. He could have given
a new impulse to Church music, but unfortunately he didn't have an
adequate understanding of polyphony in the tradition of Palestrina
and of the traditions of the Sistine. He also entrusted the
direction of the Gregorian chant to his vice-maestro! His liturgical
compositions were frequently noteworthy for their superficial
Cecilian style, far from the perfect fusion of text and music.

Q: Perosi imitated Puccini...

A: But Puccini was an intelligent man. And his fugues are greatly
superior to those of Perosi.

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!

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 granted 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.

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."

Q: 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. 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.

Q: What did it once mean to sing in the Sistine Chapel?

A: The place and the choir formed a unity, just as music and the
liturgy formed a unity. Music was not a mere ornament, but it
brought the liturgical text to life, and the cantor was something
like a priest.

Q: But is it possible, today, to compose in the Gregorian style?

A: For one thing, we would need to recover that spirit of solidity.
But the Church has done the opposite, favoring simplistic, pop-
inspired melodies that are easy on the ears. It thought this would
make people happy, and this is the road it took. But that's not art.
Great art is density.

Q: Don't you say any composers today who are capable of reviving
such a tradition?

A: It's not a question of aptitude; the atmosphere just isn't there.
The fault is not that of the musicians, but of what is asked of
them.

Q: And yet the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos have sold millions of
CD's of Gregorian chant. There's also the Third Symphony of Henryk
Gorecki, with its medieval references...

A: These are consumer phenomena that hold little interest for me.

Q: But there are authoritative composers who have put the faith at
center stage, like Pärt or Penderecki...

A: They don't have a sense of the liturgy. Mozart was also great,
but I doubt that his sacred music is very much at its ease in a
cathedral. But Gregorian chant and Palestrina match seamlessly with
the liturgy.

Q: In effect, Mozart's letters don't convey any great religious
sentiment. And yet, in the "et incarnatus est" of his Mass in C
minor, that soprano phrase from the wind instruments perfectly
explains to us the mystery of the incarnation...

A: Don't forget that Mozart's father was a Chapel Master. And so,
whether he wanted to or not, he breathed deeply of the air of the
Church. There is always something very concrete, especially in a
man's childhood, that explains such spiritual depth. Think of Verdi,
who as a child had a priest as his first music instructor, and
played the organ at Mass.

Q: Do you feel a bit lonely, with no heirs?

A: There's no one left. I think I'm the last Chapel Master.

Q: But in Leipzig, at the church of Saint Thomas, there is the
sixteenth Kantor since the time of Bach...

A: In Germany, in the Protestant arena, the children of the composer
of the Brandenburg concerti jealously safeguard their identity.
Verdi rightly said that the Germans are the faithful children of
Bach, while we Italians are the degenerate children of Palestrina.

Q: Speaking of Verdi, great sacred music isn't always compatible
with the liturgy....

A: Certainly. Verdi's Requiem Mass cannot be called a Mass suitable
for the liturgy, but think of the power with which the meaning of
the text comes through! Beethoven, too: listen to the opening of the
Credo. It's entirely different for the Cecilian movement. These are
the masterpieces of sacred music that have a rightful place in
concert performances.

Q: Bruckner was also very inspired...

A: He has the defect of being longwinded. His Mass for wind
instruments, the one in E minor, is rather tedious.

Q: Was Mahler correct in saying that he was "half god and half
simpleton"?

A: That's right. He had some extraordinary moments, such as his
masterful treatments of the arch. But then he began to exaggerate,
and then...

Q: And do you like Mahler?

A: He's like Bruckner – some beautiful moments, but rather
repetitive. One would like to shout at him at a certain point: knock
it off, we get it!

Q: According to Ratzinger, there is music as a mass phenomenon, pop
music, which is measured by the values of the market. And then there
is the educated, cerebral music that is destined for a small
èlite...

A: This is the music of the moderns, from Schönberg on, but sacred
music must follow the spirit of Gregorian chant and respect the
liturgy. The cantor in the church is not there as an artist, but as
a preacher, or as one who preaches by singing.

Q: Do you envy the Eastern Churches at all?

A: They have not changed anything, and rightly so. The Catholic
Church has renounced itself and its particular makeup, like those
women who have plastic surgery: they become unrecognizable, and
sometimes there are serious consequences.

Q: Was it your father who brought you close to music?

A: He was a workman at a brick factory in Borgo San Lorenzo, in the
province of Florence. He loved to sing in church. And he loved the
romanze of Verdi and Donizetti. But at that time, everybody sang:
the farmers while they were dressing the vines, the shoemakers while
they were working a sole. There were bands in the piazza, during the
holidays music directors came from Florence, and the area theatre
had two opera seasons each year. It's all gone now.

Q: In Italy, the authorities have cut off financing for the
orchestras and theatres...

A: They were right to do so. Those organizations have too many
people who are just dead weight. Take, for example, the
administrative offices: at first there were four or five persons,
now there are twenty or twenty-five.

Q: In what sense can Palestrina, Lasso, or Victoria be considered
relevant?

A: For their musical density. Palestrina is the founding father who
first understood what it means to make music; he intuited the
necessity for contrapuntal composition linked to the text, unlike
the complexity and the rules of Flemish composition.

Q: For the philosopher Schopenhauer, music is the summit of all the
arts, the immediate objectification of the Will. For Catholics, can
it be defined as the direct _expression of God, as the Word?

A: Music is Art with a capital "A." Sculpture has marble, and
architecture has the edifice. You see music only with the eyes of
the spirit; it enters within you. And the Church has the merit of
having cultivated it in its cantories, of having given it its
grammar and syntax. Music is the soul of the word that becomes art.
It most definitely disposes you to discovering and welcoming the
beauty of God. For this reason, now more than ever the Church must
learn to recover it.

1 comment:

Charles in CA said...

It is no secret to those who’ve taken notice of my rantings over the years that my respect for Monsignor Bartolucci is borne only out of common courtesy, manners and respect for his person and office; but that is the extent of such regard. As a choral director, a choral pedagogue to young singers in his charge, as an interpreter of even basic, universally accepted principles of choral tone, blend, musicality and performance practice, I regard his legacy as much an embarrassment to the church as he ascribes to his predecessor. It’s been a long while since I’ve reminded colleagues that Capella Sixtina came through my little town in Central California the week before Palm Sunday one Spring in the early 80’s. They sang in the same theatre that my high school choirs performed in regularly throughout the school year. I sat in the front row. I had only heard them prior on LP’s and seen a concert on video of a performance of one of Mozart’s Masses in a graduate literature course and still remember feeling a sense of shame that such performances represented the hallmark of “Catholic choral music” at the time. At the live concert at which nearly the whole of Palestrina’s setting of the Song of Songs was rendered, my agitation over the ironies of the situation were very distressing: why did John Paul II have HIS choir touring the U.S. during Lent and Holy Week? Well, duh….just listen to them. In a sense, very little has changed under his successor save the discussions over repertoire preferences. In a word, Monsignor Bartlolucci, venerable for his dedication, nonetheless possesses an evident hubris which I would think is obvious to an objective listener. And some of the comments quoted below with my own responses only cause further wonderment and regret. In my opinion, of course.
MB. “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!”
Followed soon by “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.”
CC.To his credit he states these two maxims separately. However, I doubt that he makes a distinction between them which is obvious. The language of Greek and Latin is the binding agent of a catholic church. The artistic “children” of that reality named “Gregorian” and “Palestrina” cannot be regarded as synonymous with that sentiment and tradition; as great as those treasures were and, indeed, are, the monsignor’s motto is not a “catholic” motto, rather a Roman motto which bespeaks a historocity of the Church in a particular era and of a particular geography. To claim otherwise, is intellectually dishonest.
MB. “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!”]
CC. He is absolutely correct and I join his mourning for this state of affairs. But legislation to remedy that universally isn’t necessary despite the great hue and cry. If you want to go to a three-hour Mass, you can do so at St. Augustine’s Church in D.C. But what you’d encounter would repulse the good monsignor. And if there are brave pastors and rectors out there who will prepare their congregations and instruct their music directors to give the liturgy its full due, then the programming of what Bartolucci calls “density” can live anew. But, the climb back up the hill will be tortuous, not because of the cultural decline in Roman Catholicism, but because of the culturally be-fouled conditioning that we moderns in the West have succumbed to, or in a word, the clock as tyrant.
MB. “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.”
CC. There’s that hubris barely keeping its egotism reigned in. Of all the eras in all of history, he has lived and worked when choral artistry over the centuries was charted, understood, re-worked and refined by the greats. (See the current ACDA issue of “The Choral Journal” for an exhaustive corollary to this about F. Melius Christiansen’s “lost thesis.”) He not only seems ignorant that these evolutions have taken place, they seem of no interest to him. I would venture that, if truly queried under oath, not a single prominent and respected Cathoic choral conductor, could endorse the contribution of the Sistine Choir under any of the last three directors as being acceptable, much less beautiful to the canon of achievement in the twentieth century.
MB. “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.”
CC. Give someone enough rope….. just simply an unfortunate and unseemly remark. It is too telling of a mindset apparently with misplaced aesthetic values. In a way, it is very similar to the way the French soccer star’s final encore was the totally inexplicable head butt to his adversary.
MB “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."
CC. Yes, but that doesn’t mean the bishop is calling for plainsong or Roman polyphony. Sorry, if you agree with Bartolucci’s premise, it won’t fly. Latin can fly in Africa, and chant/polyphony as well. But as normative? Please.
MB. “Great art is density.”
CC. Huh?
MB. “The Catholic Church has renounced itself and its particular makeup, like those women who have plastic surgery: they become unrecognizable, and
sometimes there are serious consequences.”
CC. Okay, way too much fun here. Nevermind the obvious mysogeny, it’s certainly a unique experience to hear someone whose life has been devoted to the Roman Catholic Church virtually become an intolerant Bob Jone’s televangelist who equates Holy Mother Church with the tawdry Tammy Faye Whore-of-Babylon charge, not to mention the suggestion of apostacy.
Was this interview to be a source of admiration and emulation? For whom?