Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Music for the Mass; a More Sophisticated Take

As you might expect from a Stanford professor and long-time practitioner of sacred music, this requires a bit more sophistication to understand.

Asking the question "What music [not text] is right for the Mass?", Professor Mahrt first sets the table with what we've learned from the Chant.

A second level of speaking of liturgical action is to speak of the discrete liturgical actions—each individual part of the liturgy is an action: a procession, a reading, a litany, etc. In the high Mass sung in Gregorian chant—sanctioned by the council as the “normative” liturgy—each of these actions has its own musical shape. It is not just that each is accompanied by its own music, but the music is an integral part of each action and serves to differentiate that action from the others.

Therefore, the “choice” of the music which sets these actions is crucial.

That should awaken an "A-HA" reaction from most people.

A fundamental difficulty in Musicam Sacram is that it allowed alius cantus aptus, other suitable music, to replace the proper chants of the Mass, and in practice, this has driven out the propers of the Mass. It must be acknowledged that this kind of substitution had been prepared by a common practice before the council—the requirement of singing the texts proper to the Mass was minimally fulfilled by singing each proper part to psalm tones.

While this is a pragmatic solution, especially with "parking-lot" considerations,

...something essential is missing—they are all the same; an introit is sung in exactly the same way as an alleluia, despite the remarkable difference in liturgical function, a difference which the music of Gregorian melodies makes clear.

A similar argument applies even more emphatically in the case of “songs” sung at Mass from the common hymnals currently in use. Take a specific case in point. A question and answer column in a national Catholic weekly recently addressed a question: is it suitable to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” at Mass?

The answer from the columnist was 'yes,' it's just fine. The sentiment in the text is nice.

No mention of its music. In fact, the melody is not in the style of a patriotic song, but rather of a Broadway musical—a show tune! There is nothing wrong with it in its own place, but it is sheer entertainment music, participating in stereotyped and clich├ęd formulae, representing limited emotions suited to limited dramatic situations, stroking the listener with a tune that does little more than confirm his own unreflective response to that part of the show.

Thus, not exactly a fulfillment of Pius X's mandate that the music should "sanctify and edify the people...and...lift their minds and hearts to God."

...this is functional music, but the function does not transcend the limits of the genre, does not lift the listener’s awareness to any higher purpose. I am saying this about the music and not the text, and this is precisely my point; even when music sets a significant text, the music itself carries particular meaning and value. In the case of a song for Mass in the style of a Broadway tune, and in the case of setting all the propers of the Mass to the same psalm tone or a brief office chant, the music has contributed only a modicum of real value.

Mahrt's point is that the Mass is a 'unity,' and that all its elements must contribute to the whole.

...a higher purpose should be the goal—to sing the Mass in in a way that makes it unambiguous that each of its parts serves its own distinct role, and contributes to a multi-layered sacred action, an integral part of the transcendent action of Christ himself.

Examine again the Chant's lessons. Apply them.

4 comments:

Lois said...

I am not sure that I understand. Is the point that one kind worships more than another?

Thom said...

No, Lois. The point would seem to be that one, by its intrinsic nature, suits worship more than another.

Dad29 said...

Not exactly.

If approaching from the "human" point of view, then Mahrt's position is that the 'vehicle' could be either a smoothly functioning car or one which breaks down often.

On another level, his point is that what accompanies the perfect sacrifice should not be...ah...ratty clothing (and there is a parable which makes the same point.)

On a third level, he states that the 'style' of the MUSIC (not text) used should be appropriate to the action it accompanies (which is more finely-diced than the above paragraph, because he contrasts "Introit" music with, e.g., "Communio" music.)

It's not really a question of "more" or "less." It's a question of "how BEST" rather than "how LEAST" to do it.

Lois said...

I guess I will have to listen to some chants to understand.
Thank you.