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.

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.

fredag 4 november 2016

Inter communion?

Bishop William Kenney, the Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham and former assistant bishop in Sweden, has been making statements about the practicability of inter-communion between Catholics and the Swedish Lutheran church.

I am no expert on these matters, to put it mildly, but I have always assumed that when one receives communion, one does so on the clear understanding that one accepts the teaching of the Catholic church on the subject ie that, as the Council of Trent declared

"in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue" 

Trent further added that anyone who "saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood - the species only of the bread and wine remaining - which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation, let him be anathema."

So far as I am aware, this teaching remains valid. It follows automatically that the Eucharist must be consecrated by a validly ordained Catholic priest.

Inter-communion is not inter-communion if it does not operate in both directions. That in turn implies recognition of the validity of Lutheran ordinations, which include women priests. But the Pope himself re-iterated on his journey back from Sweden, that the Catholic church would never ordain women, thereby reaffirming that the church does not believe it has the power to ordain women.

This means that though a woman may have been the subject of the rites of priestly ordination, that she may not thereby have become a priest, and consequently may not possess the power to carry out the Eucharstic consecration and that the elements cannot be guaranteed to be the Body and Blood of Christ.

Is it me who is confused here?


torsdag 3 november 2016

Should we sing Bach at Mass?

Catholic music is, like Jewish music, written for a text in a sacred language. It is typically melismatic, and modal ie not in the major or minor keys; the latter correspond respectively to the Ionian and Aeolian modes, about which Plato had pronounced and unflattering views.

Following the Reformation, a body of music was produced with the specific intention of being NOT-Catholic. These are hymns written for vernacular texts, in a major or minor key, and it is not melismatic but has, typically, one note per syllable. It has a completely different effect on the listener. It arises from a different spirituality.

Bach's church music, such as the cantatas, compilations of cantatas, and organ pieces incorporates Lutheran hymn tunes such as Wachet auf, Eine feste burg (used in Mendelsson's Reformation symphony), Nun danket alle Gott, etc. There is, of course Bach the B-Minor Mass, but it would be extremely unusual to use that setting liturgically.

Mixing music based on Lutheran themes into a Catholic liturgy creates an unhappy and incoherent blend from both a stylistic and spiritual aspect; think of pouring Vindaloo sauce on sushi.

The above comments do not apply to the same extent to organ music except that much of this, too, is based on Lutheran themes, and there is another point. There is plenty of Catholic organ music of the finest quality, written on Catholic liturgical themes, which gets squeeze out. by the Protestant composers. It deserves performance and is in keeping with the style and spirituality of Gregorian chant. Too much of it is neglected - Frescobaldi, Muffat, Couperin, de Grigny, Duruffle, Messaien. There will always be plenty of opportunity to listen to Bach and Buxtehude at concerts or on the radio or in recordings.

What about Mozart or Haydn, whose music is not modal? The line is not a hard and fast one. From the beginning of the eighteenth century and through to the start of the twentieth, European music was generally written in a major or minor key. The key point is "typically modal and melismatic", and of course there are exceptions. A musical setting for a Latin Mass text is obviously Catholic music.

Aside from settings for the Ordinary of the Mass, the sort of music that composers write is naturally going to be influenced by the composers' spiritual orientation, consciously or otherwise. The Lutheran and Calvinist composers of the immediate post-Reformation period were consciously striving to produce music which reflected their theology and attitudes. These were redefining their understanding of the Christian faith in a new and different way. The music was written to promote that aim.

Later Protestant music reflects the subsequent developments - the High Church Anglican music of the seventeenth century, the Nonconformism of the eighteenth, the Oxford movement of the mid-nineteeth and the muscular Christianity of the British Imperial period.

Another issue is the practical one regarding its place in the Mass. Protestant hymns normally find their way into the Mass as replacements for parts of the Proper - ie the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons. These form part of the reading. There are specific instructions about this in the General Instruction for the Roman Missal.

there are four options... 
  1. the antiphon from The Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting;
  2. the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;
  3. a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 
  4. a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop.
Thus, the use of hymns of any kind is a last choice. An important reason for the first choice is that these pieces, in particular, the Introit, are set to music which indicates the church seasons and feast days, acting as a signature tune setting the theme of the Mass. After a couple of years, people get to recognise the music, which is particularly important for children growing up in the faith. It is not a good thing if this music is squeezed out, which is what happens almost universally.

As a practical matter, congregational hymns do not work well at the Offertory or Communion as at both times they are sitting, kneeling, looking for change to put in the collection or queueing for communion.

onsdag 2 november 2016

Some thoughts on the Pope's visit to Sweden

I have to be careful what I commit myself to these days; I can end up having nothing to eat apart from the rice cakes and tinned mackerel which I keep with me as a standby in case the food on offer is unsuitable. Consequently I was unable to attend the Pope's visit to Malmö.

The Catholic Mass at Malmö was an afterthought. The original plans for the visit did not include anything much for the Swedish Catholics, since the visit was to commemorate 500 years of the Reformation. The Mass was held out of doors in a football stadium, which was unsuitable for an event in Sweden in November. It also involved leaving at 03.30 for a start at 09.30.

The liturgy, however, which was mostly in Latin, really could not be faulted. The commentator was excellent and gave a detailed explanation for what non-Catholics might find difficult to understand, cued by a co-broadcaster to put the questions to her.

The choice of music was, in part, entirely suitable and familiar to everyone in the multi-national congregation: Missa de Angelis (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus), Credo III, Mysterium fidei, Pater Noster. That was was a particularly happy choice, especially in the light of the TV commentator's explanation: that the church uses Latin as a universal and unifying language unconnected to any particular nation or ethnic group. Surprisingly, at least one priest who usually takes a strong anti-Latin stance, said afterwards how delighted he was that Latin had made it possible to celebrate the Mass together with the Pope.

The choice of music, on the other hand, was weird, verging on perverse, especially in the light of what the TV commentator herself had explained about the use of Latin. There were newish pieces of poor quality, with melodies that would be more suitable as accompaniments to advertisements for margarine or cars. There were a couple of nineteenth century Anglican pieces which would have been fine for an English Choral Evensong but were out of place here. There were a couple of Lutheran hymns from the seventeenth century Swedish Empire period of Gustav II Adolf. Thus, the Proper for All Saints' Day was squeezed out. There was nothing - not even the easily sung Introit Gaudeamus omnes in Domino.

Nor were heard any of the compositions that would be expected for a visit from the Pope and which would be a useful addition to the musicians' repertoire - such as Tu es Petrus, not necessarily the well-known Palestrina setting, but others, possibly the Duruffle, Byrd or Victoria compositions.

Clearly this was unintentional, but that does not alter the fact that the overall impression was that the music was for some reason meant to be non-Catholic. The fact that there was some Latin just led to an overall sense of incoherence.

This peculiar choice was the responsibility of the diocese, where there is evidently little sense of, and feeling for, the Catholic musical tradition.

The Lund cathedral service was something else again. It was a strange, cobbled-together happening with no obvious rhyme or reason. If it had been an Anglican celebration it could have been framed as a Choral Evensong; the Swedish church apparently does not have such a thing, but it might on the other hand followed the format of Vespers, with some intercessions. As it was, the service was neither fish nor fowl and lacked coherence

Taking one thing with another, the Mass at Malmö was a memorable day for those with the stamina to attend. The Lund event, however, has produced a confused reaction all-round, especially taken in conjunction with the Pope's comments in the plane on the way home. The Swedish Catholic bishop, who appeared on television with the Lady Archbishop of Uppsala, head of the Swedish National Church, was visibly embarrassed by questions which he could not answer without causing an upset.

At best, the visit will make no lasting impression. The Lutheran church of Sweden will continue its decline, whilst the Catholics, far from the influence of Rome, can continue to try to maintain and build on Catholic tradition. But the diocese of Stockholm needs to get a grip on its music. At present, it is as if the curators of a gallery full of medieval and renaissance art treasures had locked them in the basement and put a collection of popular posters on display instead.

tisdag 30 augusti 2016

Should we sing hymns at a Catholic Mass?

Why do we sing hymns at Mass? The practice has become almost universal during the past 50 years, following the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy.

There is, in reality, no necessity for them in a Catholic Mass, since the parts that are meant for the people to sing are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, which together make up what is known as the Ordinary of the Mass. Add in the Pater Noster and responses and we have enough singing for any congregation.

In English speaking countries, there were at first no musical settings for the text of the Ordinary, which was recited in a normal speech tone. In order to provide some music, hymns were inserted as replacements for the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons (that part of the Mass known as the Proper), plus a Recessional hymn. Thus evolved the notorious "Hymn Sandwich".

Here in Sweden the situation was better as there was a long tradition of Gregorian Chant in the vernacular. It was a natural and obvious choice to adopt this music and build on the tradition when the vernacular was introduced in the Catholic liturgy. Thus the standard of music in the contemporary Catholic church in Sweden is exceptionally high and retains a continuity with the ancient Latin tradition.

However, the liturgy unfortunately also suffers from hymns. There is no excuse. The Entrance, Alleluia, and Communion verses are given in Cecilia, pages 1157 to 1244 (the second group of pages in the book, edged in grey) and mostly lend themselves to setting to Gregorian psalm tones. So why are these texts, which form part of the reading and should not be omitted, normally replaced by hymns? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal puts congregational hymns at the bottom of the list of preferred options.

There follow two practical problems. The first is that there are over 500 hymns in Cecilia. Most people only know a few of them, so they tend not to sing, leaving the organist playing solo, apart from a few scattered voices.

The second is that non-participation in singing is also promoted because people are sitting at the Offertory and Communion. Sitting never makes for good singing. At the Offertory the congretation are looking for their change to put in the collection, whilst at Communion, they are waiting to receive communion and do not have their books with them. If the communion hymn is sung afterwards, it prolongs the Mass unduly and disturbs people's meditation.

The use of  hymns from the Protestant tradition gives rise to further issues of an artistic and theological nature. The overall sound of the Ordinary in Sweden is traditionally Catholic, irrespective of whether it is sung in Latin or the vernacular. The music is melismatic, modal, and non-metrical, with precedence being given to the text.

Protestant hymns, on the other hand, are syllabic, metrical, and in a major or minor key. Thus there are two distinct musical genres in use. The two forms sit uncomfortably together. The result is like putting together food on a plate in a bad combination. Plato had unflattering things to say about both the contemporary major and minor key modes. The major key corresponds to the ancient Ionian mode, which, he claimed, promoted sloth and drunkenness and could lead to the collapse of society. In the context of liturgical music, it is interesting also that Plato praised the Dorian and Phrygian modes, which correspond to modes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Gregorian chant.

The use of Protestant music in the Mass has theological and spiritual ramifications. Composers such as Crüger, Luther, and Neander wrote fine music, but it is polemically anti-Catholic. Their music carries within it the very spirit of German Lutheranism - so much so that if one enters a Catholic Mass when this music is being sung, it is barely recognisable as Catholic. The same applies to music from other Protestant traditions, for example English Anglicanism and Methodism. Anglican hymns from the first half of the twentieth century, such as "Tell out my soul", by Greatorex, are puffed up with the spirit of British imperialism. It is good music and we like to sing it, but it is out of place in a Catholic Mass.

Conclusion
  • We ought to wean ourselves off the use of hymns during Mass. The Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses should be read or chanted. The recessional should be restricted to one of the seasonal Latin or vernacular Marian hymns.
  • We need to produce Gregorian settings for the translated texts for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses.
  • There may be a need for some kind of  "Hymns of Praise" service on the lines of "Songs of Praise" where people who want to sing these hymns, presumably because they were brought up with them can continue to do so. They do not belong in a Catholic Mass. Such services might be held on a weekday or Saturday and be billed as a ecumenical events.

lördag 27 augusti 2016

Burkini ban rumbles on

Biretta and Roman chasuble
The burkini ban, now overturned by the French high court, has been presented as being just about clothing. This is disingenuous.

A clergyman's collar, a monk's habit or a Sikh's turban are items which announce the wearer's entire philosophy and life principles. The Catholic priest who processes into Mass wearing a biretta and Roman chasuble is making a bold statement about his understanding of the theology of the Catholic faith in general and the Mass in particular. The teenager with well-off  parents who chooses to wear ripped jeans is also saying something, Likewise the burkini.

Clothing is never just clothing. There is a sign system at work here. Clothes have meanings. They are a declaration of allegiance to something or other.