IMMY CARTER and George W. Bush had something in common: neither one could correctly pronounce the word “NUCLEAR.” Here’s a video with ten mispronunciations in just 38 seconds:
* * Video • “NUCLEAR” by Carter & Bush
Both men possessed power to destroy the entire world—by means of nuclear weapons—but could not even pronounce the word. Strange, no? 1
Yesterday, I received an email from a priest, asking me to explain why the revised setting of Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation sounds so horrible (according to him). He went on to say:
In my opinion it’s a lazy attempt to stuff a new song into an old box. I’m not a musician so I’d appreciate your thoughts.
Similar to the Carter/Bush “nuclear” pronunciation, I find it strange that popular composers of Catholic liturgical music—and Haugen certainly is one—sometimes disregard fundamental principles of music. Having visited YouTube (so I could assess the revised setting) I fully agree with that priest. The revised setting has a deficient form which “crams” the new words into old wineskins.
WARNING : The article below contains candid opinions about a popular Mass setting. Not everyone will agree with these opinions!
HOW DIFFERENT IS HAUGEN’S SETTING than Gregorian chant. Are you familiar with the “golden ratio” concept? Gregorian composers employed it frequently. For example, Gloria III reaches its highest notes according to the golden ratio.
Before the revision, Haugen’s Gloria “worked” much better, but I still had serious reservations about it. In my opinion, the biggest problem was its heavy reliance on rhythm, whereas authentic Church music takes as its foundation the melody. Moreover, it basically uses a “minor” tonality—in spite of the flattened seventh—whereas great Church music usually makes use of the Church modes, which mysteriously float back and forth between major & minor tonalities. Compared to the Church modes, Common-practice era “minor” tonality often sounds dingy. 2
I find Haugen’s Gloria lacking in harmonic imagination—even stagnant—especially in parts like this. Much of it is plodding and predictable, especially parts like this (perhaps the result of its heavy reliance upon rhythm). Some would argue that congregational music must be predictable, but I strongly disagree. Music can be simple without being predictable.
By way of contrast, consider the beautiful poem by Prudentius (d. 413) which is often sung in English to Dr. Neale’s brilliant translation. Here’s an organ accompaniment for DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, the most common melody:
* * PDF Download • Of The Father’s Love Begotten (Organ Accompaniment)
Don’t allow the lush harmonies or parallel seventh chords to scare you! The accompaniment was composed according to NOH principles. To me, the bright & varied harmonies, careful use of dissonance, and preference for oblique and contrary motion propel the melody forward.
Finally, we have occasionally made reference to a very popular “contemporary” Mass setting based on the My Little Pony theme song (e.g. here and here). A family member heard about this and warned me they had “proof” I once enjoyed Missa My Little Pony. Lo and behold, I received a picture of myself in the 1980s:
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 For the record, President Obama does not understand the difference between “who” and “whom.”
2 Needless to say, in the proper place and context, minor keys can be sensational. I love and appreciate all kinds of music, but over the years I’ve come to realize that not all great music is appropriate for Church. For example, the Wedding March by Mendelssohn/Liszt/Horowitz is absolutely delightful: without question a masterpiece … but not for Church!