Sunday, April 06, 2008

What clarity?

Today at church we were discussing the history of church music. During this discussion I had a thought. It is widely accepted that the Council of Trent wanted simplified music so congregations could understand the words. However, these masses were being sung in Latin both before and after the Council of Trent. So, who in the congregation would understand the Latin in the first place? If they recognized the typical Mass sections, they should have been able to do so in pre-Trent masses, to the level that they knew the basic theology of Latin masses. Were the changes in musical style for under-educated priests, or for the educated ruling classes? It certainly wasn't for Giuseppe Lunchbox. Could it be that Pope Julius III just preferred Palestrina's music and decided to encode it into Catholic theology?


Allen H Simon said...

Believe it or not, lots of people understood Latin in those days. Latin was a standard component of all schooling well into the 20th century. Anyway, the Catholic rites were repetitive enough that even those with a shaky grasp of Latin would still understand them.

David said...

Isn't there some doubt as to whether Trent actually made any direct statements about music? That seemed to be the argument in Craig Monson's "The Council of Trent Revisited" in the Spring 2002 Journal of the American Musicological Society. I was shocked to hear his challenge to the conventional wisdom! (I attended one of his courses as a graduate student.) I've copied and pasted the abstract below, in case one would like to know the gist of Monson's argument in the article:

"Reexamination of a wide range of documents surrounding the 22nd, 24th, and 25th sessions of the Council of Trent reveals that delegates strived officially to say as little as possible about music, only that secular or impure elements should be eliminated, and that specific issues should be settled locally by individual bishops and provincial synods. But, beginning with Gustave Reese, several scholars have misleadingly strung together a preliminary canon, stressing textual intelligibility, which was never approved in the general congregations, and the few lines that actually supplanted it, concerned only with the elimination of lasciviousness. On the other hand, a largely unrecognized or misunderstood attack on church polyphony did occur at the less familiar 25th session, when Gabriele Paleotti may have attempted to suppress elaborate music in female monasteries. Although this attempt was rejected in the general congregations, its restrictions were subsequently revived by local authorities such as Paleotti and Carlo Borromeo in their own dioceses. In the Council's immediate aftermath, reformers such as Paleotti and Borromeo once again focused on the issue of intelligibility, affording it a quasi-official status that seems to have quickly become widely accepted as iuxta formam concilii." (taken from RILM, originally from JAMS)

What to make of this? Regardless, it seems the "clarity" issue is still applicable as a Post-Tridentine doctrine, if only by way of local authorities.

Incidentally, what a delight it must be to chat about music history at church. It would almost make me want to go!

John Brough said...

I think it had very little to do with Latin (They kept Latin until the Vatican II in the 1960's after all), and more to do with elaborate Polyphonic settings of the early Renaissance. The original decree of the Council was to return to Gregorian Chant only (Which by the way, would be Benedict's choice right now!) and remove all aspects of secular music in the catholic church, no more L'Homme Arme masses - sorry Josquin, La Rue and others, but folks like Palestrina, perhaps not on his own, came up with a style of homophony and lesser polyphonic style which encouraged a clarity in the text.

Personally, not being a Palestrina fan - this was the first of many tragic developments in the music of the Catholic Church, the second being that Vatican II had to fall in the era of bad acoustic guitars playing hippies!

Scott said...

Thanks for all the great comments. Allen, literacy didn't start to increase significantly until after the Reformation, and mostly in Protestant areas rather than Catholic areas, so most of the laity would have been illiterate. Hence my comment about catering to the small ruling class.

David, that seems very likely. And yes, it was fun to discuss. The senior warden is the executive vice president of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and he decided to lead this discussion as part of our Adult Education series.

John, you are right that there was a distinct change in musical style, whether for theological or aesthetic reasons. Can you point me to a source on the Council's desire for Gregorian Chant? That sounds very interesting.