fredag 17 februari 2017

New Mass translation proposed

When I first read this on another blog I thought it was more false news. Not so. Pope Francis is apparently reviewing Liturgiam Authenticum, which stipulated that liturgical texts must be close to the definitive Latin.

The present English translation, which came into use in 2011, is awkward in places, and is far removed from the kind of English that is used in daily conversation, but it is a huge improvement on the banal 1970 version.

At least having yet another new version will help to keep printers in business. Nowhere is all these endless discussions about liturgical language is the point made that the universal use of Latin is both a sign and a instrument of the Catholicity of the Catholic Church. Once it was discarded, the church, and indeed, parishes, split up into national language groups. This is the great, and most valid, argument against the Orthodox, who have at least held faithfully to their forms of worship.

Once the Catholic church abandons its traditions so that the Sacrifice of the Mass looks like a re-enactment of the Last Supper - the Protestant interpretation, and abandons the use of a common language of worship, one has to ask what is left of it and what is the point of it?

fredag 3 februari 2017

Another look at why Orthodoxy?

I have always had a an open mind about Orthodox Christianity. As a convert to the Catholic church in England in 1975, the eastern Orthodox churches were not something that I had even thought about. They had next to no presence, since the only Orthodox churches were the expatriate Russians - this was during Soviet times, and the Greeks, immigrants from Cyprus.

The subject crops up from time to time, however, partly because there are many more Orthodox parishes where I live now, and partly also because I have a friend who is Orthodox. A few years ago I wrote this blog piece on the subject. My friend had been under instruction to be received into the Catholic church, but at the last moment he took exception to Papal Infallibility and joined the Orthodox church instead. That led to the problem of which Orthodox church to join. He ended up in the Euphorbian Orthodox church, an expatriate group with a congregation of about twenty. He has to make  a long journey across London every Sunday morning to attend their Liturgy. As a result of this contact, and because of the proximity of Orthodox parishes where I live, I sometimes attend an Orthodox liturgy, usually in the Serbian church. Contemporary Catholic liturgies, in comparison, are poor fare.

There are exceptions, of course. There are more or less traditionalist groups such as the Oratorians and the congregations committed to the Extraordinary Form. The Catholic church here in Sweden, and in particular, my own parish, is one such oasis; last night, we had a Tridentine Mass for Candlemas, a liturgy of great beauty and devotion. Parishes where this happens are growth points.

The bigger picture of the Catholic church in Europe and the English-speaking world, however, is of a crumbling structure. Ireland, for centuries a bastion of the faith, it has all but collapsed. In the USA, it is imploding. The situation in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands is little better. Vocations to the priesthood have all but vanished for the past four decades. The age profile of the present priests means that numbers are about to plummet, with many parishes needing to be closed.

Strange news, and often contradictory messages, have been coming from Rome ever since the resignation of Pope Benedict; that was itself a strange event. We are in for an interesting few years. For more than a century there has been tension in the church between modernisers and traditionalists. Are we now approaching breaking point?

How Catholic is the contemporary Catholic church in reality? One sign of Catholicity is the presence, in congregations, of people from all the nations of the world. But because of the way the foreign chaplaincies operate, our own multi-national parish is split into a dozen different language groups, each with its own vernacular Mass, plus one in English for everyone else. The post-Vatican 2 adoption of the vernacular in the liturgy is un-Catholic; Latin was both a means and sign of the Catholicity of the church. Once it had been cast aside, what was left of the Catholicity?

This raises a disturbing question. The church has survived major shocks before. There is the precedent of the Arian heresy and the preservation of the orthodox faith by the remnant, followers of St Athanasius, who was sent to a remote place in the empire. But that was before the Orthodox/Catholic split. Already in the sixth century the Western church was starting to go its own way as the Papacy was beginning to evolve.

Only once before has the Catholic church had to face such a crisis apart from the other ancient patriarchates. That led to the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Are we about to see another great split? Could this be the end of the Catholic church in the form it has taken since the Great Schism?

We have always assumed that the church, under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, is the main branch of the tree, but this rests ultimately on an interpretation of Matthew 16:18. What if we have been wrong all along? What if the main stem is the churches of present nine Orthodox patriarchates? It is a disturbing thought.

söndag 29 januari 2017

The Balance of Payments problem

Imports = wealth comes into the country, claims on wealth go out.
Exports = wealth leaves the country, claims on wealth come in.

So which is more beneficial? A balance of payments deficit means that the value of what comes in is more than the value of what goes out. If that were not the case, the trade would not take place. There would be no point in it.

tisdag 24 januari 2017

Foreigners harassed after Brexit vote

A German friend was telling me about the harassment he has been receiving, even from colleagues, since the Brexit vote. This, would you believe, is at a university. It is nasty; however, what has happened is the outcome of decades of ignoring people's genuine concerns.

Joining the EEC was never a good decision for the UK. It was imposed by a political elite for a variety of reasons, some creditable, others misguided. Edward Heath, Prime Minister at the time, and one of the driving forces, had been an artillery commander in WW2 and was anxious to prevent another war. The original conception of the EEC was based on subsidiarity but that principle was never followed, with ever more control being sucked to the centre.

Joining the EEC meant, first, the imposition of VAT, and second, import tariffs and a big increase in food prices, as the UK lost its sources of cheap food. These changes were part of the cause of the steep inflation which followed after the UK joined in 1973. Older people remember this well.

VAT was a condition of being in the customs union. It would be difficult to think of a worse tax, which, incidentally, yields little more than if it did not exist at all.There was no public discussion about it - VAT was forced on the country as a fait accompli. VAT is an administrative burden, especially for small businesses. What it was introduced, it put up the cost of goods and services which had not been subject to tax before. After 1973, spectacles, which had been free under the original NHS, not only had to be paid for but were subject to VAT on top. This was a regressive and damaging tax and was deeply resented. VAT also put up the cost of services such as building works, meals in cafes and restaurants, accountancy, even repairs to things like cars, bicycles, washing machines etc. It promotes the throw-away mentality.

Then there were the agricultural and fishing policies, which led to food mountains, the destruction of the countryside in many parts of the country, and the destruction of the inshore fisheries eg along the Sussex coast. I watched it all happen.

That was "reformed" and then we had set-aside, the scandal whereby farmers were paid to let weeds grow in their fields. After another 15 years we got another "reform", and set-aside was replaced by the present arrangement under which wealthy farmers are paid just because they are landowners - welfare for the wealthiest.

The EU fisheries policy was equally inept. For decades, the rules prevented the landing of under-sized or the wrong sort of fish, with the result that large quantities were dumped back in the sea, dead.

Free movement of labour also harmed the poorest people in the country. If we have two countries, Richland and Poorland, and allow free movement of labour between them, wages in the two countries will drop to the level in Poorland. They do not even average out. Are workers in Richland going to be content with finding their wages drop through the floor, and that the trade unions left powerless to do anything about it? It would be difficult to think of a better way of promoting exploitation of workers. That is not the end of it either, as the increase in population in Richland creates pressure on housing, leading to increases in rent. It is truly a policy for the benefit of the property-owning classes, and the "progressives" cannot even see it.

I was one of those who voted to remain in the 1975 referendum, in the expectation that the more stupid policies would be reformed, but there has never been any indication of a willingness to reform. Agricultural policy is worse than ever.

As members of a privileged group, I am one who has gained from the EU. The vast majority enjoy no perceptible benefit. In the face of decades of bad news stories based on facts, not inventions, it is only surprising that the vote to leave was not bigger. It seems as if the EU leadership is oblivious of the problems caused by its policies.

The only fortunate thing for the UK is that it did not join the Euro. A common currency is not viable without political union. It draws wealth to the geographical centre of the area in which it circulates, and it is unworkable if interest rate management is used as a means of economic regulation. We have found the same thing even within the UK, which is too big for a single currency.

What has happened is a tragedy which could have been avoided, but the principal cause is high-handed and out-of-touch politicians. If the EU had held to its founding principle of subsidiarity, Brexit would not have happened.

lördag 7 januari 2017

Schoenberg and the atonals

BBC Radio Three is running a series of programmes on "The Second Viennese School": the group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna. Schoenberg himself was the subject of this week's Composer of the Week.

I have never been particularly attracted to that sort of music, though if you are used to singing Gregorian chant, it is not difficult to listen to. There is an interesting background. Schoenberg, who seems to have been a thoroughly good egg who had a hard life, was trying to break out of the diatonic (major and minor key) straitjacket, which, it was felt, had reached the limits of its possibilities by the end of the nineteenth century.

What is still not widely appreciated is that the dominance of diatonic music was a Western European phenomenon which took hold in the seventeenth century. Before that, and outside Europe, modal forms and other scales were and remain the norm. But even within Europe, the rules of diatonic music were famously broken by composers such as Gesualdo, William Lawes, Purcell, Bach, Zelenka, and Mozart.

That is not all. The music of the Catholic church, and the traditional Jewish music from which it was derived, is not diatonic but modal. The mode nearest to the major scale, Gregorian mode 5 (Lydian), is nevertheless different. The minor scale corresponding to the Aeolian mode, has no equivalent Gregorian mode. The other seven Gregorian modes are distant from the diatonic scales, none more so than mode 3 (Phrygian). Thus, if one is used to Gregorian chant, there is nothing strange about twentieth century "atonal" music.

Which brings us to Olivier Messaien, whose music also breaks out of the diatonic mould, but from a starting point in the Gregorian chant which he would have grown up with. There is here a sort of convergence. Messaien famously wrote no choral settings. He had taken the view that he could not produce anything of the quality of Gregorian chant and that there was no point in trying to compete in the field. A wise decision - in my view that helps to makes him probably the greatest composer of twentieth century church music.

fredag 18 november 2016

Tankar angående påvens besök i Sverige

Nuförtiden måste jag vara försiktig med vad jag utsätter min mage för; det kan sluta med att jag inte kan äta något mer än riskakor och en burk makrill i tomatsås som jag tar med mig som reserv, utifall den mat som jag blir erbjuden är opassande. Jag var där av förhindrad att närvara under påvens besök i Malmö.

Den katolska mässan i Malmö skänkte mig mycket eftertanke. De som kunde närvara talade om en riktigt härlig upplevelse. Detta trots att mässan hölls utomhus på Malmös fotbollsstadion, vilket bara i sig är opassande under november månader. Planering av mässan var nästan en sista minutens chansning, eftersom syftet med påvens besök ursprungligen var Svenska Kyrkans firande av Reformations 500 års-jubileum. För att delta i mässan hade Göteborgs city katoliker behövt avresa från Göteborg kl 03.30 för att kunna närvara vid dess start kl 09.30.

Påven firade nödvändigtvis på latin. Av detta skäl kunde det inte misslyckas. Tv kommentatorerna var utmärkta och gav en detaljerad förklaring av det som icke-katoliker kan finna svårt att förstå i mässan.

Valet av musik var delvis helt passande och välkänt: Missa de Angelis (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus), Credo III, Mysterium fidei, Pater Noster; detta särskilt i ljuset av att tv kommentatorerna själva förklarade att Kyrkan använder latin som ett universellt och enande språk utan koppling till någon nation eller folkgrupp. Märkligt nog, åtminstone en präst som brukar ta kraftig ställning mot latin uttryckte att han uppskattade att latin gjorde det möjligt att alla kunde delta i firandet med Påven.

Men - trots att mässan hölls på Alla Helgons Dag, av festdagens Proprium fanns det inte ett dugg. Mässan började med “För alla helgon” av den engelska kompositören Vaughan Williams i den Brittiska stilen “muskulär kristendomen”: bra musik men en klyscha. Därmed trängdes festdagens riktiga ingångsantifon Gaudeamus omnes in Domino ut.

Och så fortsatte det: nya musikstycken vars melodier hade varit mer passande i tv reklam för tvättmedel; psalmer på svenska med ursprung från stormaktstiden; 1800-tals stycken av anglikanskt ursprung, på engelska, visserligen vacker musik som hade passat bra för en gudstjänst på en domkyrka in England men helt opassande där och då. Säkert var det inte tänkt men över lag gav musiken intrycket att målet var att vara just icke-katolsk.

Resultatet blev att det varken sjöngs musiken som tillhör Alla Helgons Dagen eller kompositioner som hade varit passade vid ett besök av en påve. Den sista skulle kunna ha varit bra för att lägga till kyrkokörens egna repertoar - såsom Tu es Petrus till påvens ära (samt St Petrus och Paulus högtid) - inte nödvändigtvis den välkända Palestrina sammansättning, men möjligtvis en sammansättning av Duruffle, Byrd eller Victoria.

Ansvarig för ovan nämnda val av musik var stiftet, som bevisligen saknar känslan och kunskapen för det katolska musikaliska arvet. Detta är inte den enda exempel men en pågående förstörelse att biskopen bör ta hänsyn till och gör någonting åt.

Den ekumeniska Gudstjänsten i Lunds domkyrka var någonting ytterligare att dryfta. Det var ett märkligt hopkok av flertalet kockar med uppenbarligen noll känsla för Kyrklig liturgi och katolsk skönhet. Gudstjänsten började med en procession bärande ett färgglatt kors som såg ut som en rolig leksak, och så fortsatte den. Den hela verkade vara ett hedrande av människor snarare än ett hedrande av Gud.

Om det hade varit en vanlig anglikansk gudstjänst hade det kunnat framställas som en “Choral Evensong”, (en blandning av vespers och completorium) vilket skulle ha varit acceptabel för både katoliker och Lutheraner. Svenska kyrkan har tyvärr inte detta i sin egna liturgiska tradition men det kunde har utformats som en vesper Gudstjänst med ett antal förböner. Nu blev det istället pannkaka av hela tillställningen och ingen röd tråd kunde skönjas.

Om vi lägger ihop de olika händelserna, så blev mässan, trots kallt, regnigt och blåsigt väder ett minnesvärt ögonblick för de katolsk. Å andra sidan har det hela besöket skapat en allmänt förvirrad reaktion i vårt stift som utanför, särskilt ihopkopplat med påvens intervjusvar på flygplanet hem till Rom.

Sveriges katolska biskop blev å sin sida intervjuad av Sveriges Television tillsammans med den kvinnliga ärkebiskopen av Svenska kyrka. Biskop Anders var märkbart generad av Svt:s frågor som han omöjligt kunnat besvara utan att orsaka upprördhet hos det svenska folket i tvsofforna.

Utan mässan kommer besöket som bäste inte att lämna bestående intryck. Det svenska Salighetsverket kommer att fortsätta sin andliga kräftgång; mässan kan ha givit en liten skjuts åt latinet som ett sätt att ena ett samhälle delade bland många olika språkgrupper. Sveriges katoliker långt ifrån Roms influenser, kan fortsätta att behålla och bygga på sin rika katolska tradition. Insatserna skulle gynnas om Stockholms katolska stift tog ett hellhetsgrepp om den musikaliska tradition man i framtiden bör ösa ur.

måndag 14 november 2016

Square notes versus round

Every so often I have had a scrap with organists and choir leaders who insist on making us sing Gregorian chant from scores in modern notation. Our choir was once invited to sing in a broadcast concert from the Brighton Festival. The scores, of familiar music, were handed out, but we found them confusing, and asked for them in Gregorian notation that we were used to, with the groups of notes shown by signs called neumes (upper line). These were gladly provided, but the concert director expressed surprise that anyone was still using them.

Sometimes the dispute gets acrimonious. One choir director poked fun at the idea that anyone should even raise the matter, and said it was a fuss about nothing. To her credit, she later became convinced, started to go on courses at Solemnes and is now an Associate of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambrige.

The situation is particularly entrenched here in Sweden, paradoxically, because church musicians are well-qualified; there is an abundance of talented singers, but their background is mostly Lutheran. They have no roots in the Catholic musical tradition. Naturally enough, they find the Gregorian neume system unfamiliar and off-putting. Since there is almost nobody still around who was brought up in the Catholic tradition and could pass it on to them, there is resistance against changing to the authentic notation. As a result, although there is a reasonable selection of the Latin Gregorian chants included in the national hymn book, Cecilia, they have been printed in a five-line notation with stemless filled oblique oval notes (lower illustration).

It was not until Guido d̈́'Arezzo invented the Gregorian staff notation at the start of the eleventh century that it was even possible to indicate pitch in written form. But even today, it is said that the chant of the church is not part of the soul until it has been learned by heart. Jewish boys still learn to chant scripture readings from the Torah by heart, there being no musical notations, or even vowels, on the texts hand-written on the parchment scroll.

For non-musicians, or for children or beginners, the Gregorian notation is easier to grasp. Compare the two selections of the same score - the Kyrie of Mass I (Lux et Origo) at the top of this blog. The Gregorian neumes are an analog representation of the musical phrases, as well as being a diagram of the movement that the choir director's hand should make. That is not all. To anyone who has gained even a little experience, the distinctive pattern of the neume groupings make it immediately recognisable as belonging to the Mass Lux et Origo. Thus, even if you cannot sight-read off the page, the pattern of notes acts an aide memoire to anyone who as already learnt it, which is something that the amorphous line of floating dots in the Cecilia rendering cannot do.

There is more. The neumes are a guide to the phrasing. Small details in the notation - liquescent notes, for instance, make for subtlety in the sound. A further advantage is that the Gregorian system keeps the words together so that they can still be read, instead of breaking the text up into spread-out syllables which become meaningless in any language (see illustration).

Given that the text has the priority in chant, this combination of neumes and text layout leads to a markedly higher standard of singing, noticeably so even to the listener. I would go so far as to say that the modern notation destroys the very concept of the music as chanted sacred text used as prayer.

There are also practical advantages for the singers. The four-line Gregorian notation does not indicate an absolute pitch. The choice of pitch can be left to the singers; this is of course a nuisance for the accompanist, who has to transpose, which may be one reason for the preference for modern notation.

The Gregorian system also has the benefit of being more compact. The same amount of text and music takes up less space, so it can either be printed in larger type eg 12 point instead of 10 point, or in a smaller (and less expensive) book. For most people over the age of forty, bigger is better. There is a cognitive advantage as well: it is easier to see what is happening when there are only four lines instead of five: 25% easier. There is solid scientific evidence on this subject, which has been done, amongst other things, in connection with aircraft instrument dials, since these can be safety-critical. Worse still, the tonal range of the music does not fit the tonal range of the stave: the two upper lines are almost never used but a ledger line is usually required.

All of these factors make the chant more accessible to non-musicians. We should remember that Gregorian chant is not music for performance; it is prayer. Even a choir rehearsal session is a period of prayer. The music is not the preserve of musicians but belongs to the people. I have been singing in church for over forty years I would not describe myself as a singer, let alone a musician. But then Gregorian chant was not, in the first place, written for singers. Like most people, I cannot read music straight off the page in any format. I have to memorise the tunes, which I can do reasonably well. That is what people have been doing since the dawn of human history. Indeed, the ability to learn a tune is not even a specifically human attribute, since birds and many other mammals are proficient at the task.

For non-musicians the barrier is reading music in any shape or form. For beginners, the Gregorian system is easier, for the reasons mentioned above. Since this music is for everyone, the way to get people singing is to start them off with that which is within their ability and connects them not only to the ancient tradition of the Catholic Church but to the Jewish tradition from which it comes. For more proficient musicians, familiarity with the authentic neume notation will not only transform the quality of the sound, but also provide access to the vast stock of ancient music written in that notation, which otherwise would need to be transcribed, with the inevitable loss in subtleties which that leads to.

It is important therefore, that scores in neume notation should be made available for congregations and choirs, both for Gregorian settings in the vernacular and for the original Latin. As far as the latter is concerned, most of the music required for congregational singing in a Catholic parish is included in the inexpensive (€12 with discounts for bulk purchase) Solemnes publication Liber Cantualis; a book of organ accompaniments is available go with it.

If the Gregorian system of notation is a barrier for musicians here in Sweden, this needs to change. Anyone with aspirations to becoming a serious church musician ought to be familiar with it.