I have just left a comment on Patrick Sheridan’s In answer… on a number of questions of church music. I was brought up in the Anglican tradition at St Peter’s School and a number of parishes in York gravitating around the prestige of York Minster and the inimitable Dr Francis Jackson. Naturally, when I became a Roman Catholic in 1982, I sought to take as much as possible into the world of choirs singing on west galleries, not surpliced and in choir stalls. I took the trouble to learn as much as possible about Gregorian chant and a much different approach than in Anglican cathedral and parish worship.
Roman Catholicism suffered in general from the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, the uniformity movement in liturgy, music, doctrine, pastoral methods, spirituality and everything. What followed Vatican II was an effort to put persons and humanity back into the machine, but it was an equal, opposite and excessive reaction.
People can get awfully pedantic about Gregorian chant and it can all become such a bore! Indeed, I took a long time off Gregorian chant, apart from singing some offices and parts of the Mass on certain days. To a purist, singing in English with Gregorian chant must seem quite unauthentic, but I appreciate it. Some very fine editions were produced in England at the back end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Many Anglican religious communities trying to revive Sarum liturgical standards at least to some extent produced fine graduals and antiphoners with English texts. Some of us use them to this day.
In reality, Gregorian chant is an important part of western musical tradition, based as it is on eight modes, and not only two (minor and major) as in “modern” music. Bach often played with modes and wrote the famous Dorian fugue.
Many composers were deeply inspired by Gregorian chant, especially in twentieth-century France. I cite Marcel Dupré and Maurice Duruflé as examples among many French organists and composers.
What I wanted to instil in my fellow seminarians at Gricigliano was not to get bogged down in a “method”, but rather to sing the text and the notes accurately, but with humanity and heart. Gregorian chant often became dry and boring like scholastic theology because it was made “mechanical”, dreary, deprived of harmony or any accompaniment. This is only a part of the drama of western Catholicism since the late sixteenth century.
This is my comment that Patrick has published:
You have some good reflections on church music, something in which I have some experience. It all started at the Council of Trent when there was a movement to abolish all music other than Gregorian chant. Palestrina saved the day with the Missa Papa Marcelli.
I was in charge of music at seminary and I made it a matter of pride not to follow the Ward Method for teaching Gregorian chant. My resistance was answered by Fathers Wach and Mora bringing in the “Vamps”, two elderly ladies from France who used the strict Solesmes-Ward method. Instead of hearty chant, it was all “mi-mi-mi”, or “bouilli de chats”, a mish-mash of simpered and insipid singing. I was soon farmed out to a “parish” in Marseille and my organ loft with the old 18th century Tronci organ went to another seminarian who was more compliant with the new directives.
The only positive thing with the Solesmes movement was the restoration of mediaeval notation and its system of neumes as opposed to the nasty style of notation that was introduced in the 18th and 19th centuries. That was something positive which Dr Renwick has used for his editions of the Sarum gradual and antiphonary. The notions of binary and ternary rhythm introduced by Solesmes (Dom Gajard) were quite artificial as are signs like the episema for slowing down in places. I think more priority should be given to the natural rhythm of the text.
I have had a lot of sympathy for Perosi and I have recordings of most of his oratorios. Puccini held Perosi in high esteem, despite Perosi being accused of plagiarising Puccini. When I come to his church music, much of it is quite nice, but I am an Anglican, and see that he didn’t have a patch on Stanford or Parry among the many other English cathedral organists of the Victorian era. When I installed an organ at the Abbey of Triors in France, I played for high Mass and played Howells Saraband for the Morning of Easter. It was much too flamboyant and Anglican. Those men are used to Nicolas de Grigny and Couperin! I learned many things from that experience.
Many gregorianists disapprove of organ accompaniment of Gregorian chant. I disagree. Harmony gives warmth to the melody as a good sauce prevents meat from being too dry to eat. I always use a soft 8 ft stop and keep the harmony very simple: tonic, dominant, subdominant and relative minor. That also helps to prevent the whole piece sliding down as happens with people singing without good breath and support.
All that seems moot in most places as music is once again based on secular standards and bad taste. You have done well to bring up the subject.