Lo sfacelo della musica liturgica: una costante che progredisce!

sfacelo_cantoIl canto, in ogni tipo di sua forma, è una manifestazione artistica dell’uomo, come la pittura, la scultura, la prosa, ecc., che prevede da parte di chi lo esegue una certa predisposizione e un ovvio grado di consapevolezza e conoscenza. Non è assolutamente vero che tutti possono cantare, senza averne una minima capacità tecnica e vocale o almeno una certa esperienza. Sarebbe come se a un certo punto, dall’ambone, il sacerdote dicesse “Adesso dipingete’” oppure “scolpite questo blocco di marmo”. Chiaramente sono arrivato ad un paradosso per comunque evidenziare un fattore che penso non possa essere messo in discussione: ‘cantare non è come parlare, recitare preghiere o intenzioni’.

Assodato questo punto, potremmo considerare accettabile un’assemblea che apra almeno minimamente la bocca per seguire una schola cantorum che li supporta. Aggiungo che naturalmente ogni nazione si ritrova un popolo più abile a cantare o meno in virtù di quanto ha investito nell’istruzione musicale di massa. Quelli della nostra età, se non hanno frequentato un conservatorio o almeno dei corsi di musica paralleli alla normale frequenza scolastica, hanno di per se un grado di conoscenza musicale vicino a ‘zero’. I frutti si vedono, ovvio, e non solo per la loro partecipazione canora come assemblea. Avendo viaggiato assiduamente in tutto il mondo posso assicurare che ci sono Stati, quali i Paesi Baltici, Scandinavi, l’Area tedesca e russa, dove quasi tutte le persone cantano con facilità. Penso che molti di noi avranno assistito ad una funzione protestante dove normalmente l’Assemblea è capace di cantare a 4 voci oppure una liturgia ortodossa dove l’Assemblea canta larghi passi alternati al pope.

Non ne faccio una questione di confessione, non si fraintenda, però è sintomatico che l’area cattolica, configurabile come il sud Europa (Italia, Francia, Spagna, Portogallo) non abbia più questa capacità di cantare. Considero questo fattore come un’insufficienza per lo più tecnica e di cultura. Spero che nel futuro i giovani comprendano che cantare è un’attività bella, educativa e formativa che appartiene alle manifestazioni artistiche dell’individuo. Ci saranno, a questo punto, apprezzabili ricadute anche sul canto liturgico assembleare.

Scarica le riflessioni di Bepi De Marzi

Riflessioni di Bepi De Marzi

Alcune considerazioni sul repertorio. Vorrei che leggeste le sagaci ma veritiere elucubrazioni di Bepi De Marzi, l’autore di Signore delle Cime e stimato musicista (anche liturgico, essendo stato organista della sua Chiesa per decenni). Le allego a questo post (cliccare sulla foto di De Marzi). L’articolo mette in evidenza la banalizzazione testuale e musicale che imperversa tuttora nelle chiese italiane, contraria a quelle che sono le disposizioni tuttora valide emanate dal Concilio. Il vero problema è che non c’è nessuno che controlli questo sfacelo e sapete perché? Perché nella maggior parte dei casi i ‘controllori’ (sacerdoti e vescovi) hanno sul repertorio le stesse opinioni distorte di coloro che lo eseguono.

Dopo tanti anni di direzione corale mi sono stancato sinceramente di spiegare che ritmi sincopati e testi storpiati dalla Bibbia non sono utili per favorire l’inserimento giovanile; questo retaggio anni ’60 e ’70 viaggia pari passo con la banalizzazione della nostra società. E’ facile da applicare, non scontenta nessuno e quindi sopravviva! Il vero problema sono i compositori che, ovviamente, non hanno interesse a perdere tempo nella ricerca di testi significativi e musiche appropriate che non apprezzerebbe nessuno. Non essendoci più la dovuta attenzione artistica e anche finanziaria da parte delle istituzioni religiose, ognuno si arrangia come può, cercando di raggiungere il massimo dello scopo (quello che si ritiene tale) con il minimo dei mezzi. Come può un compositore serio che ha studiato 10 anni al Conservatorio, che ha investito parte della sua vita in questo, dedicarsi profondamente alla composizione sacra quando sa che nessuno gli renderà onore (anche economico) a quello che per lui è la sua attività primaria? Questo vale anche per gli organisti e i direttori di Coro. Si fa presto a dire: “si fa perché si rende gloria a Dio”. Bisogna capire che per tanti (anche per me) questa è la professione principale nonché fonte di soddisfazione artistica. Ecco quindi che sono venuti alla ribalta personaggi che si improvvisano musicisti e compositori ma che, guarda caso, allo stesso tempo, accontentano gli uditi facili dei fruitori. La composizione musicale è sì azione liturgica e veicolo di preghiera ma è anche e soprattutto manifestazione artistica della capacità umana. Sarebbe come dire che davanti alla Pietà di Michelangelo l’uomo non possa capire la bellezza che emana, una forza che è anche e soprattutto laica, altrimenti saremmo qui ad asserire che solamente chi è credente può apprezzare l’arte! Questo per dire che il repertorio musicale per la Messa deve avere un contenuto di autentico valore. Altrimenti scadiamo nel banale, che non è un reato, ma sicuramente, è un’opportunità persa nella nostra vita. Questo vale per tutti, anche per i sacerdoti che durante l’omelia possono carpire l’attenzione dei fedeli oppure addormentarli o farli desiderare di essere altrove.

Se avete colto queste mie riflessioni avrete anche sicuramente sintetizzato che non sono per una messa completamente farcita di mottetti a 12 voci, che naturalmente reputo molto più adatti ad un concerto che a una celebrazione, ma nemmeno per la sciatteria imperversante. L’obbligo è quello di tendere al bello, non necessariamente ogni cosa deve essere cantata da tutti. L’essere avvolti da musiche sublimi predispone l’animo ad una riflessione e ad una preghiera molto più profonda che cantare per inerzia, senza nessuna cognizione, banalità quali Una notte di sudore (che ti porta spesso ad annusare il tuo vicino di panca) o Santo, oh, oh. Nessuno si sognerebbe di coprire il Giudizio Universale della Cappella Sistina con una crosta del primo pittore trovato per strada. Perché allora si cerca di cancellare l’immenso patrimonio musicale che abbiamo a disposizione con canzonette che ormai sono futili anche per il più parrocchiale dei campeggi? Salviamo quello che tutti hanno assodato come ‘capolavori’ ed accostiamolo ad un repertorio selezionato, artisticamente e liturgicamente valido. Sono convinto che sarà meglio per tutti e finalmente anche la Chiesa si rifarà promotrice di quell’azione di supporto artistico che ha sicuramente perso con la fine del Rinascimento, quando era molto più conscia delle capacità creative umane.

Victoria’s Officium Defunctorum is the repertoire for the new Rimini Choral Workshop 2014

Victoria - Officium Defunctorum

Get the score for free!

Victoria’s Office of the Dead includes his second Requiem Mass, written for six-part choir. This music, often known simply as Victoria’s Requiem, has been regarded as some of his finest and one of the last great works in what we call the Renaissance polyphonic style. Its refined and dignified austerity is shot through with passionate conviction; it glows with extraordinary fervor within a musical and spiritual atmosphere of serenity and fitness for its liturgical purpose. But it does need some explaining.

In the last years of the twenty or so that he spent in Rome, the Spanish priest from Avila, Tomás Luis de Victoria, composed and published in 1583 a book of Masses including a Missa pro defunctis for four-part choir. This early Requiem was reprinted in 1592. By then Victoria was well established in Madrid as choirmaster and chaplain to the Dowager Empress Maria, Philip II’s sister and widow of Maximilian II, now in retirement at the Royal Convent of the Barefoot Nuns of St. Clare. The Princess Margaret, Maria’s daughter, was professed with solemn vows in 1584 and she was one of the thirty-three cloistered nuns whose daily services, the liturgy of Divine Office, were rendered musically by twelve singing priests and four boys (increased to six after 1600).

In 1603 the Empress died on February 26 and was buried in the convent cloister three days later. The services were probably simple. The great obsequies were performed on April 22 and 23. These took place at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (where Madrid Cathedral now stands). The Convent Chapel was much too small for such memorial service. Vespers of the Office of the Dead was sung; then, in the early hours, Matins of the Dead, which we used to call the Dirge (from the Latin “Dirige, Domine…” with which the First Nocturn begins). Then, after chanting of Lauds, the Missa pro defunctis, the Solemn High Mass of the Dead, was celebrated. The catafalque representing the Empress Maria in her coffin stood between the coro and the high altar. King Philip III was there in his mourning black and silver, his cousin Princess Margaret, the royal nun, all the dignitaries of church and state, crowded into a scene which may now make us think of an El Greco painting, all to witness that ancient Catholic way of death, the Requiem Mass.

For this occasion the composer Victoria wrote his second Requiem or, correctly, as he called it, the Office of the Dead. He wrote music for the Mass itself, a funeral motet additional to the strict liturgy, and one of the great Latin texts for the ceremony of Absolution which follows the Mass, and a Lesson that belongs to Matins.

Two years late, Victoria published this music [Royal Press, Madrid, 1605] and it has become revered as well as admired, for it seems to be somehow a Requiem for an age – the end of Spain’s golden century, the end of Renaissance music, the last work, indeed, of Victoria himself. At least, he published no more.

It has been said that it was Victoria’s Swan Song, but in his dedication to Princess Margaret it is clear that Cygneam Cantinem refers to the Empress. Victoria could hardly have known in 1603 or 1605 that he was to die in 1611 aged sixty-three. The dedication at the front of the 1605 print clearly states that he, Victoria, composed this music for “the obsequies of your most revered mother”.

The Mass music, provided by Victoria with the proper plainsong intonations and verses in the manner of his time, is written for six-part choir with divided trebles, alto, divided tenors and bass. The plainsong melodies are taken over into the polyphonic fabric in the second treble (except in the Offertory when the chant is in the alto). The first treble soars above and bellow the slow unfolding of the paraphrased plainsong, giving the whole texture a wonderful luminosity. The use of two tenor parts contributes to the lightness and clarity. Even the plainsong intonations and verses are clearly specified to be sung by the boy trebles. The six-voiced grandeur of sonority as Victoria builds his short Kyrie eleison is followed by the Christe with just the four upper voices in a passage so sad that it seems like ritualized weeping in music.

Having ended the Mass, Victoria continues with the motet Versa est in luctum and we assume it to have been sung as the clergy and the dignitaries assembled round the catafalque (representing the Empress). The responses, the music he wrote for the solemn occasion.

The Victoria’s Officium Defunctorum is the repertoire chosen for the Rimini International Choral Workshop with me, Peter Phillips and Ghislain Morgan, 31 August – 6 September 2014!

Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli

Get the music score for free!

Get the music score for free!

The story behind the composition of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli is one of the most famous – and least proven – in music history. As the story goes, the liturgical politics of the day attacked the elaborately composed polyphonic masses that had been the norm of the great Renaissance composers. The councils of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation didn’t want complicated Mass compositions, where the words were hidden beneath a dense blanket of musical counterpoint. They wanted simple music where the words could be understood easily. Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass was written to show that classical counterpoint and clarity of text setting could live together, and thus Palestrina “saved music.”

Like many music history stories this one probably has at least some elements of truth in it. It does seem that there was a movement in the church for greater textural clarity. During his three weeks as pontiff, Pope Marcellus (for whom this mass may well have been written) did indeed express his desires that the words should be clearly understood. And we have the mass itself as evidence. The two movements which would have been at issue – because of their long texts – the Gloria and the Credo – most certainly do set forth the Latin words in the most clear manner imaginable. But to say he “saved music”.

The mass is in seven movements. The Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei 1 & II represent the highest achievement of Palestrina’s serene, flowing, spiritually elevated style. They are quintessential Palestrina, each individual vocal line rising and falling on its own while at the same time combining with all the other vocal lines to create those wonderful soaring sonorities, the rise and fall of the whole ensemble of voices. The Benedictus, scored only for sopranos, altos, and tenors I & II, provides a delicate, tender, ravishingly beautiful interlude between the other full chorus movements. The Gloria and Credo are composed with a brilliant combination of traditional Renaissance counterpoint (each voice part independent) and chordal, block-like musical treatment of the text. In the latter style Palestrina would group together some of his six voice parts and contrast them with another group of voice parts, achieving a wonderful variety of choral textures. This technique, employed as Palestrina did, was actually quite ahead of its time, pointing to the chordal, block-like writing for varying sonorities as perfected by the Venetian school. (An interesting further similarity is a detail from the last measures of the Gloria: while the rest of the choir is sustaining the final chord of the Gloria the first basses sing a little flourish which sounds exactly like a trademark ending of Giovanni Gabrieli. Here Palestrina uses it about thirty years before Gabrieli.)

It has been the tradition to characterize Palestrina as a conservative composer, primarily because one does not find in his music some of the mannerisms of late Renaissance composers, for example chromaticism or figurations. But I think this is an erroneous evaluation, and I expect the scholarly writings on Palestrina will change in the coming years. There are three aspects of his music which actually point forward to the baroque: his use of harmony, rhythm, and his use of contrasting groups or blocks of sonority. We’ve already discussed the last aspect. The Gloria and Credo also provide perfect examples of modern use of harmony and rhythm. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance – in broadest generalities – the harmonic language of sacred choral compositions was modal. In the baroque period a tonal language of harmony was gradually developed. This is the major-minor, tonic-dominant harmonic language of most of Western music composed between 1600-1900, roughly.

Most of Palestrina’s music was still written under the spell of the church modes. But much of this mass has a definite tonal feel, including dominant-tonic relationships. Likewise, this particular Gloria and this particular Credo are not written with the normal arsis and thesis (rise and fall) rhythmic feeling of most Renaissance choral music. Except for certain sections in the older style, most of these two movements have a genuine feeling of meter (regular strong and weak beats – another baroque aspect), even syncopations (accented off-beats). After years of working with this music, I feel there is a completely different internal rhythm in these movements – a livelier rhythm which is married perfectly with the natural declamation of the Latin words. Perhaps you will agree!

Singing together is a medicine for our heart

Whoever is part of a choir will probably know this already: singing together can be a positive experience, not only from a psychological point of view, but also from a physical one. But does this feeling of well-being also have a scientific basis?

This was the question posited by Swedish researchers at the University of Gothenburg, who studied and analysed the heart rates of choir members in the city. The scientists feel they now have the  answer for sure: singing in a choir has beneficial effects on our body.

The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, demonstrates that music has a calming effect on the heart, and that these effects increase when one sings in unison with other people. For the study, the researchers placed electrodes in a singer’s ear, and linked these to a heart rate monitor. As soon as the choir started to sing, the heartbeat of the individual singers slowed down. It is a consequence of a particular type of breathing, used when singing is controlled and slow. Singing, especially in a choir it turns out, is a kind of ’guided breathing’, one which also modifies cardiovascular function.

The musicologist Vickhoff Bjorn, who led the project, states that the heart slows down its speed during the exhalation phase. But what has most struck the researchers is that in just a short space of time the heart rates of singers synchronize with each other. During the first few bars of a song, the lines displayed on the heart rate monitors recorded many different signals , but then quickly began to record a series of uniform peaks: a sort of common rhythm that follows the rhythm of the music.

It is almost as if the singers were looking to produce a common synchronisation of their voices, on that would also be reflected within the body and ultimately in the heart.

According to Swedish researchers, the choir (now that its benefits have been scientifically proven) can even be used as part of certain rehabilitation therapies as well as a support for the reduction of certain types of pain and anxiety.

Performance Practice of the Renaissance Music

u2singi1

Basic Assumptions

  1. Not only one way to perform music of this period; much freedom is allowed.
  2. Little or no distinction is found between instrumental and vocal styles; they are usually interchangeable.
  3. Need considerable knowledge of style, original instruments, etc.
  4. Involves use of new forms and timbres.

Vocal Quality & Choral Singing

  1. Average choir consisted of boy sopranos, male altos with tenor & bass; had from 3 to 5 on a part with the boy soprano part doubled.
  2. Vibrato was considered an ornament (can be used today if natural and with no hint of exaggeration).
  3. Male “castrati” used – now a lost timbre.
  4. Sacred music was choral oriented, but secular music was usually performed one to a part with various possibilities of instrumental substitution or doubling.

Problems of Notation

  1. Dynamics are rarely indicated, phrasing never!
  2. Musica ficta
    a.  Used to raise leading tone at cadential points; used to avoid dim. 5ths (aug. 4ths) harmonically and melodically.
    b.  “Secret Chromatic Art in the Netherlands Motet” (Edward Lowinsky)
  3. Pitch was not standardized; varied greatly from church organ to church organ (one should feel free to change pitch up or down to better suit the voices you have)

Ornamentation & Improvisation

  1. More common in secular compositions than the sacred; i.e., music with one on a part.
  2. Chiefly at cadences and on sustained notes.
  3. Appropriate for voices and instruments.
  4. Should occur in only one voice part at a time; most common in soprano part, but possible in all parts.
  5. More appropriate toward end of piece than at the beginning.

Tempo

  1. Indicated by notational signs that suggest absolute durations rather than through tempo terms.
  2. Governed by unit of time called “tactus.”
    a.  Has 2 parts, each equal (thus not one strong and one weak!).
    b.  Determined to be speed of heart beat or moderate walk; i.e., M.M. = 60-80.
    c.  Conducted as up and down pattern, often heard audibly!  In triple meter the down was twice as long as the up.
    d.  Tempo changes done through proportional changes: i.e., o = o. suggests a ratio of 2 to 3; thus three notes are to be performed in the time of the previous two.

Expression

  1. Must use text as point of departure; find word stresses.
  2. Try to forget bar lines as determiners of stress.
  3. Phrase shape is dictated by movement to and from stress points; thus will likely not be a smooth arching curve, but will rather contain irregular arching phrases.
  4. Dynamic fluctuations should be limited to one degree within phrases though greater freedom may be used between major sectional divisions if warranted by the text.  Extremes should be avoided.
  5. As the tension relaxes at cadence points, there should also be a softening of the dynamic.

Rimini International Choral Workshop

Only few days are left from the beginning of the ‘Rimini International Choral Workshop’!

Tutors, as usual, will be Peter Phillips (Tallis Scholars director), Ghislaine Morgan and me!

It will be an excitement week in which the participants (and the tutors) will afford an entire repertoire by William Byrd, a catholic Renaissance composer at the court of an anglican Queen. Here is the repertoire that the participants will study and perform in two public concerts, in Fonte Avellana and Rimini:

William Byrd
DIFFUSA EST GRATIA

William Byrd
MESSA A 4 VOCI
Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Benedictus – Agnus Dei

William Byrd
INFELIX EGO

William Byrd
VIGILATE

William Byrd
NE IRASCARIS – CIVITAS SANCTI TUI

Beautiful!!

I want to make you a special gift: The booklet of the Workshop, containing all the music scores in PDF format. And we have still space to accept your application. Just go on our webpage at www.musicaficta.org/welcome.html and send an online application!

copertina libretto canti 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have made a compilation of the pieces that you can hear on YouTube: