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By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 07, 2006

It was a long time in coming. But today, thanks to digital sound-mixing technology, the vocal register for which "On Eagle's Wings" was composed has been artificially replicated:

THE VOICES of a tenor and his 13-year-old chorister son have been combined to produce the 18th-century sound of a castrato singing Handel's "Largo" from Xerxes.

Professor David Howard, head of the audio laboratory at the University of York, combined his own voice with that of his 13-year-old son, Joey, a treble in the choir at York Minister, to replicate the sound of a castrato, which was celebrated for reaching very high and very long notes.

Castrati were popular in European opera houses in the 18th century, and up to 4000 boys a year between the ages of eight and 13 were castrated to keep their child-like voices. But castration for choral purposes was made illegal in the late 19th century.

Curious. Castration for choral purposes was made illegal. That makes it sound as if the pain inflicted on the listener was of greater moment than that inflicted on the singer. Serial "Eagle's Wings" victims among us may be inclined to agree.

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  • Posted by: hUMPTY dUMPTY - Jul. 13, 2006 6:55 PM ET USA

    There is a CD available of the Last Castrati of the Papal Choir. The voice is incredible. However the music he sings makes "On Eagle's Wings" appear operatic in extremis. The CD also has a personal blessing by Pius X, which illustrates an untrained uncertain papal voice. But Pius X did issue his Moto Proprio, which did much to eliminate the Italianate flora dora from the Church liturgy. Education as to natural musical beauty will elimate much of the castrati pitched folk music.

  • Posted by: Gentle Bill - Jul. 12, 2006 9:25 AM ET USA

    My nephew and I have tried to write a companion piece to "Eagle's Wings" called "On Buzzard's Beaks", but cannot seem to find a receptive audience. (The very worst of all, though, had to be the incredibly horrible, "And the Father Will Dance", which mercifully seems to have disappeared from the "Gather" songbook.)

  • Posted by: Gregory108 - Jul. 09, 2006 3:29 PM ET USA

    This is all so sad when you consider that there's lots of modern music that is singable, holy, based almost soley on Scripture and on the Psalms, or which is Psalms, word for word, put to music, that glorifies and lifts up God, focusing on adoring Him. It is largely ignored by both "modern liturgists" who favor sentimental slop, and the traditionalists, who will sing and appreciate nothing but Gregorian chant! I thank God I've found it! Singing it is truly praying! It's made all the difference!

  • Posted by: - Jul. 08, 2006 10:39 AM ET USA

    Hey! What's an altar rail?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 08, 2006 1:06 AM ET USA

    You all may be interested to know that Father Michael Joncas realizes his mistake and now regrets having written that piece of overly sentimental slop. (I can't bring myself to like it even though it was played at my father's funeral.) Now if only he and his colleagues, Haugen and Haas, would realize that what they're writing these days is a whole lot worse. OEW is sentimental slop; Gather Us In is heretical slop. Check out this site: http://www.mgilleland.com/music/moratorium.htm.

  • Posted by: ColmCille - Jul. 08, 2006 12:54 AM ET USA

    Sure there's a place at the altar rail for sappy sentimentalists. But there's no place in the liturgy for sappy sentimental songs like On Eagle's Wings. This is not merely my opinion. It is the Church's opinion (despite the insistence of liturgists that the Church did away with chant and Latin). It is, in fact, more than just the Church's opinion, but her constant teaching and tradition. You want sappy and sentimental? Buy the CD. And maybe a set of earphones. :^)

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jul. 07, 2006 10:44 PM ET USA

    Most "modern" Catholic hymns are celebrations of "I","we", and "us" and not directed to the worship of God.

  • Posted by: BostonBlackey - Jul. 07, 2006 6:01 PM ET USA

    I like "On Eagles Wings" for all of the sappy sentimental reasons most of you dislike. This discusiion, which has little to do with castrati, is a good example of why no translation of the Mass into English wil ever be accepted by everyone. Read Fr.Ronald Knox's "Trials of a Translator". There should be a place at the altar rail for us sappy sentimentalists too.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jul. 07, 2006 5:24 PM ET USA

    Thomas Day's great book "Why Catholics Can't Sing" has a great critique of OEW's lyrics. I didnt' understand exactly why it is so difficult to sing until I analyzed the melody and harmony. THE OPENING NOTE IS NOT IN THE CHORD. If you play the guitar or piano chord (no musician would desecrate a real organ with this abomination) you can't pick out the opening note of the melody from it. My grade school adopted this as their theme song. Yuck. Joncas be ashamed.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 4:10 PM ET USA

    I’m a former cathedral choir boy and I recall the many times I was verbally castrated by the choir master, a German who demanded total excellence. Failure to hit and hold the high notes warranted attitude adjustment therapy from an ever-present enforcer of the Sisters of Mercy. And as we all knew then, you got no mercy from the Sisters of Mercy. So, when we chanted “ora pro nobis,” we really meant it. Thankfully, those days are gone but, sadly, the Church threw the baby out with the bath water.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 2:18 PM ET USA

    Hey, I liked "On Eagle's Wings." It is at least scriptual unlike "Gather Us In" or "The Sounds Of Silence." All it really needed was a verse reminding us about the eagle's talons. All in all, I give it a 6 because you can dance to it. :0)

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 1:21 PM ET USA

    Now the singers arent castrated but the lyrics are.

  • Posted by: coach1 - Jul. 07, 2006 10:40 AM ET USA

    "On Eagles Wings" appeals to "sappy, oversentimental Catholic illiterates that have been effectively protestantized. They don't even know it. It's all about "feelings". Worship due to Almighty God is an afterthought. The WWII generation and the '50's generation were and are a bunch of sheep. If you told us to stand on our heads during Mass, the response would probably be "On the pew or on the kneeler"???

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 10:26 AM ET USA

    oops... my mistake: he was a castrato, not a castrati

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 10:22 AM ET USA

    Did Prof. Howard point out that the Vatican was one of the proponents of castrati? Mutilation to assure the presence of angelic voices in the Sistine Choir was not considered morally wrong but, rather, just another way of giving praise to God. Several years ago I heard a recording of the "last" castrati rendition of "Ave Maria." This really isn't new: we have such a choir in the current crop of American bishops.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 9:32 AM ET USA

    O man...I can't stand that song "...and he will lift you up on eagles wings....bear you on the breath of dawn.." Every time that song is sung for mass I wince. I'm assuming that's the song you're referring to here - please God save us from sappy, oversentimental folk mass songs!

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