Saturday 29 August 2009

Bartolucci on the Solesmes Chant revival

There is a fascinating interview with Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci, Maestro Emeritus of the Sistine Chapel, admirer, friend and collaborator of Benedict XVI on Rorate Caeli. The whole interview is worth reading; it mainly deals with the liturgical reform following Vatican II, which Mgr Bartolucci witnessed as an exceptionally well-informed and well connected individual. There is a section on the chant which deserves particular attention on this blog.

Maestro, what role does music play in this process?
It has an incredibly important role for many reasons. The affected “Cecilianism” to which certainly Perosi was no stranger, with its tones that were so mild and enticing to the ear had introduced a new romantic sentimentalism, which had nothing to do, for instance, with the eloquent and solid physicality of Palestrina. Some extravagant deteriorations introduced by Solesmes had cultivated a subdued gregorianism, which also was the fruit of a pseudo-restauring passion for the Medieval ages, which were so popular in the nineteenth century.

The idea of an opportunity to recuperate the archeological vein, both in music and liturgy, of a past, from which the so called “oxen centuries” (seculi bui) of the Council of Trent separated it ….. in short an archeology which has nothing at all to do with Tradition and which wishes to restore something which maybe never existed, is a bit similar to certain churches restored in the “pseudoromantic” style of Viollet-le-Duc.

What does it mean, Monsignore, when in the musical field you attack Solesmes?
This means that the Gregorian chant is modal, not tonal and not rhythmical, it has nothing to do with “one, two, three, one, two, three”. We should not despise the way people sung in our cathedrals and replace it with a pseudo-monastic and affected murmuring. A song from the Middle Ages is not interpreted with theories of today, but one should go about it as it was then. Moreover the Gregorian chant of another historical time could also be sung by the people, sung using the force with which our people expressed their faith. Solesmes never understood this, but we should recognize the learned and large philological work executed on the old manuscripts.

What is this 'subdued gregorianism' he condemns? It is the theory you will find set out in pre-conciliar school texts as well as scholarly books, developed by the monk of Solesmes Dom Mocquereau,which attempted to interpret the chant in terms of groups of two and three notes. This interpretation is still indicated in the standard Solesmes editions of chant by small vertical lines, the ictus, which gives the 'up' beat of a group. The shoe-horning and distortion of the chant this required is remarkable, and it has been rejected in academic circles and with most chant practitioners as well.

Solesmes is credited with the revival of chant, which (they claimed) had fallen into decay after Trent, by a massive project of manuscript research and the creation of new editions, and theories of interpretation to go with them. However Bartolucci seems to be claiming that the stilted interpretation they ended up giving the chant was part of the reason for its downfall, and in its rejection of the then-current practice in favour of a historical reconstruction is guilty of the 'archaeologism' condemned by Pope Pius X.

It should be noted that the new wave of Chant revival uses a more fluid approach to interpretation, with a greater respect for the text being sung. Bartolucci seems to be demanding also something more virile and forceful, in contrast to 'pseudo-monastic and affected murmuring'.