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"Most Holy Father, in This Era of Irrational Barbarism..."
An appeal to Benedict XVI "for the return to an authentically Catholic sacred art." The main signatory is the great German writer Martin Mosebach. And in the meantime, the meeting between the pope and artists in the Sistine Chapel is drawing near
by Sandro Magister
ROME, November 5, 2009 – A few days before the meeting announced for November 21 between the pope and artists in the Sistine Chapel, an appeal anticipating its principal motivation has already come to Benedict XVI's desk.
The appeal is "for the return to an authentically Catholic sacred art," and was signed not by artists, but by scholars and other figures who are passionately concerned, for various reasons, about the fate of Christian art. Two names stand out above all: Martin Mosebach, and Enrico Maria Radaelli.
Mosebach is an established German writer whom Joseph Ratzinger knows well. His latest book: "The heresy of the shapeless. The Roman liturgy and its enemy" was published this year, including an Italian edition by Cantagalli. And it is a stunning apologia on behalf of great Christian art, and more than that, of the Catholic liturgy itself as art. With biting invective against the iconoclasm that reigns today within the Catholic Church itself.
Radaelli, a disciple of the great Catholic philosopher and philologist Romano Amerio, is a sophisticated scholar of theological aesthetics. His masterpiece is: "Ingresso alla bellezza [Entryway to beauty]," released in 2008, a magnificent introduction into the mystery of God through his "Imago," which is Christ. Beauty as the manifestation of the truth.
The appeal was born from seminars held in recent months in the library of the pontifical commission for the cultural heritage of the Church, hosted by the vice-president of this Vatican commission, Benedictine abbot Michael J. Zielinski. Active participants in the meetings included Fr. Nicola Bux and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, consultants for the office of papal liturgical celebrations. Fr. Lang is also an official at the congregation for divine worship. But no clergyman figures among the promoters of the appeal, not to mention any Vatican official. The signatories are laymen, of various competencies and professions.
After a brief introduction, the test unfolds in seven small chapters dedicated to the causes of the current fracture between the Church and art, to theological references, to the commission, to the artists, to the sacred space, to sacred music, to the liturgy.
And it ends with the appeal itself, which is formulated in this way:
"For all the reasons set out above, we are eager to receive from Your Holiness a fatherly listening and the merciful attention of the Vicar of Christ. We beseech you, Holy Father, to read in our heartfelt appeal our most pressing concern for the appalling conditions of contemporary sacred art and sacred architecture, as well as a modest and most humble request for your help so that sacred art and architecture can once again be truly Catholic. This so that the faithful can again enjoy the sense of wonder and rejoice once again at the presence of the beauty in God's House. This so that the Church can be once more regain her rightful place, in this era of irrational, mundane and malforming barbarism, as a true and attentive promoter and custodian of an art that is both new and truly "original": an art that today as always flowers in every age of progress, which reflowers from its ancient roots and eternal origin, faithful to the most intimate sense of Beauty that shines in the Truth of Christ."
The complete text with the list of signatories can be read, in multiple languages, on the website created for this purpose:
> Appeal to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for an authentically Catholic sacred art
The following is a sample chapter:
VI. SACRED MUSIC AND LITURGICAL CHANT
Holy Father, the Church has today the opportunity to regain his "highly" role in the magisterium of music, mainly in the field of sacred music and liturgical chant, which must necessarily respond to the categories of "good" and "right" for their intimate connection, not just correspondence, with the liturgy itself (Paul VI, Address to the singers of the papal chapel, March 12th, 1964).
In the ancient history of Christianity the dialectical relationship between sacred music and secular music has produced many times the intervention of the Church to "clean up the building of the Roman liturgy" (a term explicitly used by many popes) from the secularist intrusions that the music itself lead in the temple and that, over the centuries and the gradual technical and musical development, have become increasingly severe and spill-over from the proper liturgical use, ending often in the assumption of roles of self-referencing or profane nature.
From the time of the Const. Ap. “Docta Sanctorum” issued by Pope John XXII (1324), the magisterium has always indicated the righteous ways of understanding music in the service of worship, gradually adopting new techniques compatible with the liturgy, but always and consistently pointing up to the present day (including the magisterium of Vatican II and the entire post Vatican II period) in the Gregorian chant, the primal root, the source of constant inspiration, the highest – because it’s simply the most noble – form of music that can perfectly embody the Catholic liturgical ideal also by virtue of its anonymity and its meta-historical true aesthetical, verbal and sensitive universality.
We cannot now definitely establish musical forms and styles a priori, but the
recovery of Gregorian chant, good polyphonic and organ music (even inspired by the Gregorian), – ancient, modern and contemporary – would certainly, after decades of absolute shock and “probability” in music, recall the liturgical "words" that the Catholic tradition in art and music has given us for centuries: they have worked – using a representative expression of Pope Paul VI in the Enc. "Mysterium Fidei" – as real "tiles of the Catholic Faith", which was always founded on sensible data, endowed with truth and beauty; and always devoid of sterile and mannered or archaeological intellectualism, to be avoided with care (as indicated by Pope Pius XII in Enc. “Mediator Dei” that introduced the liturgical reform of the late twentieth century.
Maybe in the arts devoted to the service of worship, music is the strongest, for that constant "catechetical" meaning which the magisterium has constantly recognized, and also the more delicate because, by its nature and unlike the other arts, requires a tertium medium between the author and the viewer, or the interpreter. For this reason the Catholic Church should take better care of the music than of other arts and should, as happened in the past, urge the education of both authors and interpreters: for sure today the effort is much more difficult than in Middle Age, Baroque period or in the XIX century, since the actual society is completely secularized. However today is needed a clear knowledge of the fundamentals so that the musicians – once endowed with the needed expertise – can recover the "sensus ecclesiæ" together with the "sensus fidei".
And about the meeting between the pope and artists...
The announced meeting between Benedict XVI and artists will take place the morning of Saturday, November 21, 2009, in the Sistine Chapel.
The program of the meeting will be as follows. After a musical prelude, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture, will extend a greeting to those present in the name of the pope. Then a few passages will be read from the “Letter to Artists” by John Paul II, from April 4, 1999. Finally, pope Joseph Ratzinger will give his address. A second musical performance will close the meeting.
The Sistine Chapel is modest in size, so there will be at most five hundred artists present, from all over the world and from all disciplines: painters and sculptors, architects, writers and poets, musicians and singers, men of the cinema, the theater, dance, photography. The invitations were arranged by the pontifical council for culture.
In addition to the letter from John Paul II in 1999, another important precedent comes from forty-five years ago. It is the meeting between Paul VI and artists on May 7, 1964, which also took place in the Sistine Chapel.
The motivation for the new meeting is that “for some time the alliance between the Christian faith and the arts has been broken.” This is how Archbishop Ravasi spoke in announcing the event last September 10.
The alliance between faith and art is inseparable from the Church’s identity. Judaism prohibited sacred images. But faith in the incarnate God quickly prompted the Church to take Greek and Roman art as its own figurative language.
This genial marriage between the Church and art has periodically met with iconoclastic opposition. In the first millennium in the East, and in the second millennium in the West, first with Protestantism and today with the general anti-figurative tendency, not only in art but also in ecclesiastical patronage.
By meeting with artists in that supreme place of Christian art which is the Sistine Chapel, Benedict XVI intends precisely to arrest that decline and restart a dialogue, in the hope that a fruitful alliance between art and the Church may reemerge.
At a time when “in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel,” pope Ratzinger may be thinking of what Saint John Damascene said in the thick of the iconoclast storm:
“If a pagan comes and says to you, “Show me your faith!”, bring him to church and show him the decoration with which it is adorned, and explain to him the series of sacred paintings.”
The twofold official presentation of the meeting on November 21 between Benedict XVI and artists, made in two installments by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture, and by Professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums:
Great Roman Polyphony Returns to Saint Peter'sNot in a concert, but in a Mass. It will be conducted by Domenico Bartolucci, the most brilliant interpreter of Palestrina's music alive today. He was removed as head of the Sistine Chapel choir twelve years ago, but now, with Pope Benedict, has finally been rehabilitated
by Sandro Magister
ROME, November 16, 2009 – Among the arts to be represented in the Sistine Chapel next Saturday, November 21, at the highly anticipated meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, music is perhaps the one that has suffered the most from the divorce that has taken place between artists and the Church.
The distress in music has been the first to afflict the Church. Because while the masterpieces of Christian painting, sculpture, and architecture still remain accessible to all, even if they are ignored and misunderstood, great music literally disappears from the churches if no one performs it anymore.
And one can effectively speak of an almost generalized disappearance when it comes to those treasures of Latin liturgical music that are Gregorian chant, polyphony, the organ.
Fortunately, however, during the same days when pope Joseph Ratzinger will be seeking to reestablish a fruitful relationship with art, the organ and great polyphonic music will return to give the best of themselves in the basilicas of Rome.
They will again be heard not only in the form of a concert, but also in the living environment of liturgical action.
The culmination will be on Thursday, November 19, at the hour of evening when the setting sun blazes through the apse of Saint Peter's. That evening, making his solemn return to the basilica to conduct a sung Mass, will be the greatest living interpreter of the Roman school of polyphony, the one that has come down from Giovanni Pierluigi of Palestrina – whom Giuseppe Verdi called the "everlasting father" of Western music – to our own day.
This interpreter of undisputed greatness is Domenico Bartolucci, for decades the "permanent maestro" of the Sistine Chapel choir, the pope's choir, and now, at age 93, still a miraculously adept director of Palestrina.
Bartolucci is a living witness of the elimination of liturgical music from the West, but also of its possible rebirth. The last time he conducted a complete Mass by Palestrina at Saint Peter's was all the way back in 1963. The last time he conducted the Sistine Chapel choir was in 1997. That year he was brutally dismissed, and without him the choir fell into a sorry state.
But now comes its return – powerfully symbolic – to the basilica built over the tomb of the prince of the apostles.
At the Mass on November 19 at Saint Peter's, Bartolucci will not conduct Palestrina, but his own polyphonic compositions, in alternation with Gregorian chants from the Mass "De Angelis." And with that, he will show how it is possible to cherish the best of the Latin musical tradition even within the canons of the modern post-conciliar liturgy: just what Pope Benedict wants, as a profound theologian of the liturgy and a music connoisseur. Naturally, Bartolucci's secret dream is to return at last to conduct the emblematic "Pope Marcellus Mass" by Palestrina, as a Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI at Saint Peter's.
The anticipation that these signs will soon be followed by a change of the conductor of the Sistine Chapel choir will become more impatient from this point forward.
The context within which Bartolucci will return to conduct a Mass at Saint Peter's is that of the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, which is held each fall in the basilicas of Rome, and is marking its eighth edition this year.
The program this year has two focal points: Roman polyphony, and organ music.
The inauguration will be on Wednesday, November 18, in the basilica of Saint John Lateran, with a concert in the spirit of Palestrina, conducted by Bartolucci himself.
Another event in the spirit of the Roman school of polyphony, in a modern reinterpretation, will be the oratory "Paolo e Fruttuoso," composed and conducted by Valentino Miserachs Grau, conductor of the choir of the basilica of Saint Mary Major and head of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the Vatican's "conservatory."
The second focal point will be the organ. The Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra has completed the restoration of the huge Tamburini organ of the Roman basilica of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Its inauguration will involve a series of four concerts performed by the organists who supervised the restoration – Goettsche, Paradell, and Piermarini – and by other world famous organ virtuosos like Leo Krämer and Johannes Skudlik.
The organ is the main instrument of liturgical music, which unforgivably has been overlooked despite the fact that it is present in countless churches. But non-liturgical music will also be included in the program, with works by Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert. On November 20, the octet of strings and woodwinds of the Wiener Philarmoniker will perform Schubert's sublime Octet in F Major in the basilica of Saint Mary Major.
The Wiener Philarmoniker is a constant presence at the Festival of Sacred Art and Music. Of all the major orchestras of the world, it is the one in which sacred and profane music are most closely intertwined.
For the next edition of the festival, the Wiener Philarmoniker has already agreed to perform Bruckner's ninth symphony and a selection from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" in the Roman basilica of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, on October 26, 2010.
The detailed program of the concerts at the basilicas of Rome:
> VIII International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, November 18-22, 2009
A newly published book with critical essays, interviews, and documents concerning Maestro Bartolucci:
"Domenico Bartolucci e la musica sacra del Novecento", a cura di Enzo Fagiolo, Armelin Musica, Padova, 2009, pp. 248, euro 29,00.
The three most recent CD's he has recorded (the third is about to be released), with a cappella music for choir by Palestrina, Victoria, Lasso, Morales, and Bartolucci himself:
> La polifonia della scuola romana, prima edizione
> La polifonia della scuola romana, seconda edizione
> La polifonia della scuola romana, terza edizione
It is instructive to reread the interview that Maestro Domenico Bartolucci gave to "L'espresso," no. 29, 2006.
> I Had a Dream: The Music of Palestrina and Gregory the Great Had Come Back (21.7.2006)
All the articles from www.chiesa on this topic:
> Focus on ART AND MUSIC
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.
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