OT LONG AGO, we spoke of the inscrutable decree by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, who declared that “the beauty of the Gregorian Chant” and a “sense of reverence” during the Holy Mass are “not consistent” with Vatican II. How can anyone believe such a claim? Vatican II said: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art” (SC §112). Vatican II said: “Choirs must be diligently promoted” (SC §114). Vatican II said: “the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem” (SC §120). Vatican II said: “The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care” (SC §114).
Not Just Plainchant: Vatican II said Gregorian Chant must be given “first place” (SC §116) under ordinary circumstances, but also explicitly praised polyphony at Mass. Polyphony is the highest form of music, because each voice has its own melody. At the same time, thanks to the rules of counterpoint—which took hundreds of years to figure out—the independent melodies create harmony. In Masses by the great composers (such as Palestrina, Victoria, Morales, and Guerrero), the melodies themselves are based on Gregorian Chant, but sometimes the melodies are flipped upside down (inversion) or stretched out (augmentation).
They Could Not Kill This: The 20th century saw the decline of the arts, thanks to “sophisticated” avant-garde music.1 But polyphony survived, because sensible musicians realized it was the greatest music of all. Polyphony continued to be taught at secular universities, even by professors who (sometimes) were atheists! Regarding “contemporary” Catholic liturgical music—originally classified as The Hootenanny Mass—composer James MacMillan summarizes: “A lot of the favored new settings are musically illiterate, almost is if they were written by semi-trained teenagers, getting to grips with musical rudiments.” No serious conservatory would ever teach music by composers like David Haas, Rory Cooney, Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas, and Dan Schutte.
Another Reason: Polyphony also survived the “dark days” of the 1970s and 1980s because it’s an absolute delight to sing. The gorgeous lines by Father Francisco Guerrero practically sing themselves! And what a joy it is to work with fine singers! One of the greatest singers I know is my colleague, Corrinne May. She recently recorded all the voices for “Benedíctus Qui Venit” (Missa Iste Sanctus) by Father Guerrero. My singers really appreciate these rehearsal videos:
REHEARSAL VIDEOS for each individual voice and the (free) PDF score await you at #5305.
This “Benedictus” goes along with the SANCTUS and HOSANNA, which is #5454.
Rehearsal videos for the KYRIE (Missa Iste Sanctus) can be found at #5294
Rehearsal videos for the GLORIA (Missa Iste Sanctus) can be found at #5612
Rehearsal videos for the 5-voice AGNUS DEI (Missa Iste Sanctus) can be found at #5512
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 I can’t tell you about “avant-garde” music, because you won’t believe me. If I tell you composers wrote “music” which requires the pianist to fire a nuclear weapon into the audience, you won’t believe me. If I tell you composers wrote “music” which requires placing radios on the stage of Carnegie Hall and listening to static, you won’t believe me. If I tell you composers wrote “music” which requires the pianist to beat the piano strings with a dead fish, you won’t believe me. If I tell you composers wrote “music” which requires the audience to be placed on buses and taken around the city, you won’t believe me. But all those are examples of avant-garde music. There’s even a piece where the pianist just sits in front of the keyboard for 4 minutes and 33 seconds; and that is supposed to be “Classical Music.”