The Patrimonium Musicae Sacrae and the Task of Sacred Music Today
Hard and bold thinking about the use of music in worship is taking place these days in ecclesiastical circles, not only because of the reforms and changes instituted by the recent Vatican Council, but because of the enlightened and informed work of certain able churchmen. Now at last we are in a position to touch upon a long-standing illness of religious art, caused by the fact that the 19th century's moral, legal, and social concepts moved relatively slowly while its artistic advance was swift. There thus arose a maladjustment, manifesting itself in the artistic strains of which we are increasingly conscious, and in the sad fact that generations ago the great masters ceased to compose for the Church. The Muses without wings, the musae pedestres, have largely taken over music for the Church, ruining the esthetic perception of generations of worshippers, while what little of the great art of the past is heard comes through the centuries with a pallid air. For well over a century sacred music has embodied an increasing flight from content, that is, from social and artistic reality; many of the works heard on solemn occasions are depressing monuments rather than living art The object of this gathering is to clarify these problems and to show that they can be solved by forthright thinking, just as the changes in the liturgy itself are being accomplished. Now some of you may wonder what I, a layman not actively engaged in church music, am doing here. I take it that the organizers of the Congress thought that besides persons officially connected with the Church, someone should address you whose only business is to study music from a purely scholarly point of view. Well, that does not make me any more competent than many a person in this room, but I see things from an angle different from yours, because as a musicologist my first allegiance is to music.
The musicologist knows how idle is the attempt to analyze the musical experience in divine worship before we have ascertained the ways in which music performs its function. He also knows that it is difficult to define sacred music because it is itself indefinite. And I might add that the historian's motto, dubito, ergo sum, is also somewhat different from yours. As you well know, throughout history there have been many churchmen who have denied the validity of esthetics in church music altogether on the ground that esthetic judgment is irrelevant in matters theological. Theologians have doubted whether divine transcendence can really be conceived by the human mind on the plane of esthetic genius. Their discussion of music is therefore restricted to such things as propriety, tone, attitude, suitability, and so forth. Now all these are important criteria which must be considered, but they do not touch the artistic essence itself. In other words, these churchmen, and the literature they influenced, forgot the subject in their preoccupation with the precepts, and they spent much earnest study and wrote many pages of legislation on something that will not submit to a system.
The way in which the eternal, which satisfies through being both historical and valid, is made available for man today and every day, is through the liturgy. Obedience to the liturgical spirit is for the artist much more than paying heed to merely legal commands, yet for some time the best musical minds have been prevented by the latter from fulfilling the former. The legislators on liturgical music have failed to consider that while music as a vehicle for religious expression is innate in man, that emotion beyond words takes refuge in music, as a phenomenon music exists for its own sake. They forget, also, that the composer lives in a certain age, writes for certain patrons, be they popes, kings, impresarios, publishers, or just country congregations, and is therefore limited to a certain extent by the knowledge and beliefs of his own period. Obviously, artistic significance is created by many factors and the religious is only one of the many. What is it, then, that makes sacred music sui generis of artistic validity ? These are some of the questions that have been lightly passed over in decrees and encyclicals. The liturgists, like the Curia itself, were determined to be impregnable; as a result they failed to establish communication with the musicians.
One of the prime forms of anti-intellectualism is the belief that worship music should not be contaminated by either high artistic principles or by imaginative scholarship. But we, the scholars, are equally at fault with our often irrelevant learning, removed from everyday life and local ties. Yet the scholar's purpose — and it should be yours too — is like Odysseus’: "to sail beyond the sunset." It is essential for us to discover some criteria that go beyond esthetic fancy, but also beyond the sole religious purpose, in order to find a reconciliation with life.
There is a secret connection between lyricism and religion; indeed, the soul of the Church has manifested itself in lyricism from its very beginnings, and congregational worship naturally tends to it. Thus the motto of this Congress, Cantare amantis est, is more than just a nice phrase. One is tempted to say that the first Christians were all poets and singers of sorts in the tremendous inspiration of spiritual awakening. Nor should we forget that at the bottom of even the driest theology there is poetry. But next to the holy textus receptus we see also, and from the earliest stages of Christianity, the appearance of individual inspiration, the Christian poet arriving with new poems, followed by the composer with his new songs. The inspiration of the creative artist was considered of divine origin, even indication of sanctity, though some, who remembered the saturnalia of antiquity, were adamant about the morally debilitating effects of music, which St. Ephrem called "poison coated with sweetness." This hostility to music, strongly present in the writings of some of the Church Fathers (whence it found its way into Calvinism and the denominations inspired by it) created a dichotomy that has accompanied the ars sacra throughout its history, and there is no question but that the wide-ranging freedom and variety of individual inspiration was not without theological dangers. The Church had become an organization and like all organizations it was compelled to establish a certain external discipline in order to protect its spiritual message. Council after council was occupied with restrictive legislation, but while the theological decrees were respected — at least until revoked or altered — the artistic were not; the "poison coated with sweetness" became everyday nourishment. The songs grew in numbers, and as St. Clement said, "the whole life of Christianity is a ringing feast." Indeed, this song was a mighty charm, a tremendous flag and weapon, and we see the spectacle of heretics and true believers battling one another with hymns.
The power of this music and the ardent devotion with which it was used should not obscure the fact that while the gift of art is God-given, the arts are made and administered by men. We should also remember the profound truth expressed by Dryden that "the first spiritual want of a barbarian is decoration." Man is not a creature moved by reason on Monday and emotion on Tuesday, but his reason is emotional and his emotions reasonable. The Church, wisely recognizing that since both the religious and the artistic instincts are innate, decided that they should be joined. In this union, however, music occupies an exceptional position among the arts, because unlike architecture or painting it was made an integral part of the liturgy itself; therefore it became the sacred art par excellence. And yet, what is the exact connotation of the word "sacred" in music? The widely accepted thesis leads to a supposed distinction — not only in mood but also in effect — between musical effort undertaken with, and that undertaken without, a predominant religious spirit. In setting forth the claims of specifically Christian religious music, this thesis ignores the creative process and underestimates the considerable and demonstrable importance of what the psychologists call the "indifferent" creative approach. The creative artist is like a hunter, he chases his quarry and he runs it down, but the hunt is for its own sake, and though the hunter may be a Christian of the loftiest aspirations, these can hardly affect the hunt itself, for the artistic experience of the individual may outweigh all the circumstances of purpose, environment, and tradition. To sacrifice individual values (and it does not matter whether it be done by Catholicism at one end of the scale or Marxism at the other) is to sacrifice the very concept of art such as it has existed since the beginning of civilization. And when the mystery of the creative process has been solved the mystery of human life will have been solved. Since both of these events are unlikely, and we are faced with Church legislation concerning the role and nature of music in worship, we find it necessary to take an attitude toward the opposed ideals of head and heart, thought and feeling, the literal and the peripheral sense of music.
What is an external and absolute reality, music, that has its own laws and essentially cannot obey extramusical precepts, was declared by the Church to be ancilla theologise. Its role was thus supposed to be the furnishing of emotional and exclamatory symbols. But as yet there is no known technique for the analysis of the liturgical function of musical symbols, because after all there is no such thing as a sacred or secular dominant seventh chord. Is this true or merely clever?
Let us take a look at the universal practice of contrafactum and parody during the hallowed Palestrinian era. Pietro Cerone, whose treatise, El melopeo y maestro (1613), is the authoritative summation of the preceding period's principles, practices, and techniques, makes the following statement: "As a rule, the Mass is usually composed upon some motet, madrigal, or chanson, even though by another author." This is not a frivolous aside but a succinct description of the basic technique of "parody" employed in the composition of music for the Mass. Now how does le suis desheritee become Gloria in excelsis Deo, or Qual é it piu grand amor? Agnus Dei ? There can be no question that most of the Masses composed by the transformation and elaboration of secular musical substances are unexceptionable church music — but not because of their musical materials. This important fact has usually been misinterpreted in the litterae tenebrosae of church music. Neither the effusive generalities about the chant or "the" polyphony, nor the reserved impersonality and apodictic judgments are in order when discussing or legislating church music. No true art can acquiesce in decrees; it must ask questions, and it is not least efficient or least magnificent when it asks questions for which there are no answers. But is not this another proof of the essential spirituality of art ? Are the greatest experiences of humanity not bound up with unanswerable questions?
Aside from the philosophical and esthetic mistakes committed in the name of proper liturgical music, the legislators, as well as the practitioners of church music often show a grievous lack of knowledge of the history of music and musical thought. They seem to be mounted on a celestial rocking horse which, as it gently sways to and fro, remains rooted to the same spot. We have been told that aside from Gregorian chant, which is rightfully considered the basic musical element in the liturgy, the "classical" polyphony of the 16th century is the only true church music. In contradistinction, the Masses of the post-Palestrinian era, especially those of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and other masters of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, are proscribed as being secular and theatrical in tone, and thus insincere. Sincerity alone is not enough for poetic creation. Actually, the sacred music of Palestrina, Lasso, Byrd, and all the other beatified masters is unthinkable without madrigal and chanson, for that magnificent choral polyphony of theirs is suffused with what we loosely call secular elements to the same degree as 18th century church music is suffused with opera and symphony. Needless to say, art is not created in a vacuum, apart from the social and artistic conditions under which the composer works. The view that this classical polyphony is eminently usable as religious music is correct, but the eulogists will find it difficult to explain the morphology of this art in religious terms, even though they are always ready to do so. Interestingly enough, there is a long-held view that what makes Palestrina's music especially sacred is "the absence of all human passion, the absolute religious purity of his thought that is free from all artifice." Well, the historian does not know whether to regard this statement (endorsed even by Richard Wagner!) as a stimulant or a disinfectant. Music without human passion and artistic "artifice" does not exist, or if it does it is like moss: picturesque surface without roots. Palestrina was a great artist, one of the greatest in the history of music. He created his style with an iron artistic discipline that encompassed all the techniques known in his time. A deeply religious man, he was also a pragmatic professional who did not believe that an artist must renounce all earthly ties in order to become an honest church musician.
There are a few other remarks I should like to make about this great music of the 16th century. Those who advocate exclusive reliance on Palestrinian polyphony should bear in mind that involved counterpoint sounds to an otherwise music-loving layman like music without any periods and commas. This codified classical polyphony is often so subtle and refined that its masterpieces elude even the specialist scholar's interpretation. At times its surface is too uniformly glazed to be convincing, and not infrequently it is the cold hand that exercises the craft of composition with incomparable skill. But even more often this music glows because of the intensity with which the composer felt and communicated the personal experience of Christ. Unfortunately, it is this very intensity that our slovenly and romanticized performances eliminate because of our uninformed attitude that devotional music must be comatose.
So much for the great era of vocal polyphony. But what about the vast expanse of church music lying between Palestrina and the Cecilians who were supposed to have rediscovered true church music in the 19th century? Judging by the strictures directed at the composers of this long period, they and their ecclesiastical patrons, as well as the congregations that loved this music and were edified by it, must have misunderstood religion for over two centuries. While the musical layman does not notice the so-called secular elements in old music, he immediately becomes a critical expert when the music is closer to his experience. But does he really recognize such elements? What to the historian is pathetic in this situation is that both clergy and musicians consider Bach's Passions and Handel's oratorios pure religious music, while a Mass by Mozart or Haydn is "too operatic" to be acceptable in God's house. Now take the St. Matthew Passion, one of the towering masterpieces in musical history. What are its stylistic ingredients? Recitative, arioso, aria, and chorus. Actually, with the exception of the choral numbers, all the other ingredients come straight from opera. Since in this case the opera from which the aria and recitative models were taken is Baroque opera, with which few musicians and even fewer of the public are familiar, they do not worry about the "secular" strain; but Mozart's operas they know and they recoil from an Et incarnatus est because it is suspiciously similar to Dalla sua pace. They do not suspect that I know that my Redeemer liveth, that ineffable song from Messiah, is pure Neapolitan opera seria, because they do not know the genre; so, paradoxically enough, they take this aria for what it really is — a profoundly Christian confession.
It is unnecessary to continue discussing the church music of the high Classic era. That northerners called this music "stuff full of popish trash and trinkets" indicates that they must have recognized something particularly Catholic in its spirit, which they equated with the hereditary paganism of the Mediterranean region. Regrettably, these great works are "trash" also in the eyes of many Catholics with a generous pietistic streak in their makeup. So Mozart won't do but Pietro Yon is fine and proper. Since we reject these criteria employed in the interest of a particular conception of liturgical propriety, we must set off on a new search for a conception more in accordance with the finding of modern scholarship.
The intricate reactions of the ear and mind to music are extremely difficult even to attempt to measure with any kind of scientific precision. These experiences are subjective, varying from individual to individual, and are largely a matter of taste. The very essence of poetry (to use a term that can be applied to all the arts) is supposed to live in the inspiration of the individual poet, the sources of which are beyond the search of critical investigation. The creative artist is, in a sense, the epitome of the imaginative life of his age and nation. Nevertheless, every student of the arts soon learns that in all the arts the poets must take account of conditions which they did not create and can only partially control. It is held that musical genius is revelatory and purely instinctive. The revelatory and the instinctive, which undoubtedly exist, project the artist's personality and give his work an individual cast. But these principles are never present in their pristine state, for they are inexorably bound to the constructive and representational activity of the same creative mind. This activity is intrinsically orderly, more or less directed by consciousness. Furthermore, there are a priori pressures from form and material that compel the artist to constant mediation. What those in charge of policies in liturgical music have failed to consider, especially with regard to church music of the 17th and 18th centuries, is the question as to what concessions can be made — and constantly must be made — to contemporary techniques and new materials. Right now we are engaged in contemplating just this sort of adjustment, but we do not seem willing to realize that at every stylistic period the Church has been faced with this same problem. Then again every question of style is also a sociological question. The content and subject matter of the arts are largely given by the social environment, but artistic forms have also an internal evolution of their own, in accordance with their own logic, even though they too are conditioned by tastes, preferences, and by the changes occurring in society. Essentially taste is a convention, often a very unreasonable convention, and like every convention it is changeable, and in art it must change. However, one must beware of converting taste into either religious or esthetic argument. Finally, we must consider tradition. All principles which are the carryover in tradition result in forms; the question is whether it is better to study the forms, which represent the play of circumstances upon tradition, or to concentrate upon. the principles. But, and the Second Vatican Council proves it, tradition is not a thing that is ended altogether by choice; whether we like it or not, today is the child of yesterday.
I hope that I have demonstrated that it is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to establish rules to test the fitness of music of whatever style to take its place in liturgical worship. Thus, strictly speaking, the term "sacred music" should be avoided because it makes a false distinction which has done a great deal of artistic harm. But it is conveniently inclusive as a substitute for "music composed on sacred subjects, or texts, or for devotional purposes." For this reason I must respectfully disagree with two statements in the pamphlet announcing this Congress. The first one says that Gregorian chant and polyphony "grew out of the liturgy." No, they grew into the liturgy to become what they are, and an examination of their musical substance will disclose an infinite variety of sources, some of them antedating the Christian era. The other statement comes from Cardinal Frings' decree concerning church music. Point two enumerates the requirements for any church music as being "holiness, true art, and universality." I trust that I have shown that no musical composition can be made holy by determination, nor can it be planned to be universal. The real answer to all these questions and problems is a recognition that both worship and art are a form of communication attempted by the human soul. However, the essence of communication can never be completely expressed in words, and it is here that the particular domain of the arts begins. The arts seek to communicate the most profound human feelings with the aid of the "beautiful;" hence the eternal connection between religion and the arts. The main force of great art is that it soars toward endless mysteries and secrets which are only dimly divined, and its religious power rests on its ability to rise above the din of life into the highest sphere of esthetic values. Perhaps the best definition of sacred art was given by Michelangelo in his conversations with Vittoria Colonna.
“True art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it. Because for those who feel it, nothing makes the soul more religious and pure than the endeavor to create something perfect. For God is perfection, and whoever strives after that is striving after something divine.”
Let us now proceed from history, philosophy, and theory to the present and to the pragmatic tasks that face you. Your first problem is a big one: how to rescue and safeguard the patrimonium musicae sacrae yet at the same time insure actuosa participatio populi. On the face of it this seems an insoluble dilemma; actually it need not be too formidable a task if we clearly realize that we are attempting to reverse history, and then act with prudence. Historical precedents show that the tendency has usually been from the simpler to the higher realms of art. Such a tendency is a natural consequence of the creative urge in artists which cannot be stemmed. Let us take one of these historical examples.
The Lutheran hymn, the chorale, was genuine congregational song in the century of the Reformation. In the 17th century the popular hymns were developed into higher forms of music, though still based on chorale tunes. What the composer wanted was to surmount the restrictions of the strophic construction, thereby gaining a greater freedom of form and rhythm so as to achieve an expressive musical declamation. Aria and recitative were introduced in Protestant church music as they were in Catholic, and the instruments, formerly used ad hoc, were organized into a formal orchestra. The whole movement, Catholic and Protestant, stood under the influence of Italian opera, the dominant musical idiom of the age. This course of events was inescapable, and where the composers failed to accept the new style, as in the Calvinistically inspired regions, music simply dried out. What is now being proposed in Catholic church music is not unlike the Protestant solution in Bach's time in the so-called reform cantatas: admit the higher forms of art music, but safeguard congregational participation by allotting to the people certain parts of the sung service. The only difference — and it is a serious one — is that because we have lost historical continuity, we are trying to introduce a practice not arrived at by an historical process, by a form of natural selection, but established almost overnight and unknown in Catholicism since the early Middle Ages. Obviously, this calls for vigilance and the avoidance of hasty steps.
Every innovation has weighty consequences for it can becloud the past. Our knowledge of the past enables us to recognize the real values, the elements capable of development, and above all, the relativity of the results. The first question must be concerned with the temper of the society upon which this new art and procedure of the Church is impinging. The social attitude has its reactions upon art itself and these must be conditioned lest they get out of hand. Historians and sociologists cannot but be aware, for example, that the worst kind of pseudo-popular, "commercial" music is threatening to invade the Mass. Guitar, rock 'n roll, and jazz Masses do not represent the actuosa partici patio envisaged by the Council. This music not only lacks the devotional quality but also the particular grace of art, because it gives us in the raw those cultural traits that were not influenced by Christian ethics. Only those can view the difference between "serious" and "popular" music as being merely a difference in genres who are ethically insensitive. As a channel of access to the divine such music is no better than bingo which, physically at least, is also a form of actuosa participatio populi, assiduously indulged in under pastoral leadership. There is a distinction between "folk" and "popular" art, the one being popular in origin, that is, of communal growth, the other being popular by destination, that is, containing elements drawn from common experience calculated to assure popular adoption. The first of these categories, true folk music, can be used to advantage in the Church; a good many of the fine hymns were based on such tunes. As to the second category, and this includes the commercial product commonly and erroneously called "folk music," its use would be a denial of everything our Catholic tradition and piety has stood for ever since the first songs rose in the catacombs. And yet I beg you not to proscribe guitar and hootenanny Masses. Any legislation and prohibition in the arts is futile, a form of "blue law," and blue laws have always- been resented and violated with relish. This is really a matter for education to solve. Where an enlightened pastor is in charge, the young people themselves will give up these questionable practices for worthier experiments. The obvious solution is to create new music that is more in accordance with the temper of our times. However, this is not a task for amateurs but for the best contemporary composers available. In addition we must collect and arrange good Catholic hymns, of which there are many, and compose new ones.
This part of the actuosa participatio is, then, relatively simple of solution. The fate of Gregorian chant is another matter. The chant stands as the embodiment of the ideal of church music; it has weathered all crises and still exerts its charm. Do not be offended if I say "charm," for these wondrous melodies are charming in their intimate grace. Of course, if the chant is sung without expression and over a dreary accompaniment, it loses its incomparable quality. We must make it clear to church musicians — and also to the priests — that they are singing living music, a great and ancient art, and not merely supporting the holy text — more or less on pitch.
The shift from Latin to English phonetics is, however, a most serious change, for it alters the entire physiognomy of the chant, creating an almost insurmountable artistic dilemma. I am unable to take a position concerning this radical change precisely because I am a historian who sees its virtual inevitability — vide the Anglican chant. We must remember that what we know as Gregorian chant is a reconstruction, the magnificent work of the Benedictines, for the true Gregorian tradition had been lost hundreds of years ago. The restoration, though a phenomenal scholarly achievement, was in the end an artistic solution, an admirable solution that we have taken to our hearts. Unfortunately, artistic solutions can be superseded in a changing world. I do not think it possible to have two different kinds of Gregorian chant, one for Latin and one for the vernacular — it will have to be one or the other. And of course if Gregorian chant is sung in the vernacular its magnificent universality is lost because it will surely sound altogether different when sung in German, or French, or Italian, or English. What I fear is that unless this question is thoroughly weighed we may end up with a near-Gregorianism which is neither Latin nor English, because a true speech rhythm based on the genius of the language, as is the case with the present Latin chant must necessarily call for entirely new musical values.
The core of the new liturgical musical reforms, the most difficult of our problems, is to permit the participation of the congregation in the solemn rites of the Church without losing the great art that the Church has inspired through the centuries. We must remind those who are advocating a "democratic" Gebrauchsmusik for the church that in times before the 19th century the greatest composers, indeed the avant garde, were to be found in the choir lofts and not in the concert halls. The churches — for in this Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans all agreed — wanted the best in all the arts so as to make Sunday a memorable day of worship even for everyday souls. Art, like religion, elevates man, and even if he does not understand the immense culture that is encompassed in a masterpiece, he feels it. It seems to me that —to use a currently fashionable term — a form of "peaceful co-existence" could be nicely worked out. There is no reason why a church possessing a well appointed choir, and perhaps having access to a good local orchestra, should not continue fostering the great artistic literature of Catholicism — or are we so ashamed of our great heritage that we would banish it altogether ? All this should be left to discretion and not to hard and fast legislation. A cultivated bishop will know how to administer this freedom. So it goes without saying that our great artistic patrimony must be preserved and cultivated. Here most of us agree, except that to my mind this great patrimony does not end with Palestrina.
Finally we must turn to the really perplexing part of the new look of Catholic church music: the place of contemporary art in the scheme. During the last century and a half, and to this day, the average church composer has exhibited a gracious indifference to artistic values, assuming that the best music for the rites of the church is the kind that is as inconspicuous and uniform as specimens of worn coins still in circulation. There are few exceptions, as the bona fide composer has not been welcome in the choir loft. Since the dawn of the 19th century the professional church musician has usually been an organist who also composes on the side whereas earlier it was the other way, the composer was also a competent performer. But serious creative effort is not a side job. Because it has been made so, the overwhelming number of professional church composers, though many of them excellent musicians, adhere to completely outdated conventions. But convention is a stone wall upon which a creative imagination can crush itself. However, if now we turn to the genuine contemporary composer we shall have to pay a penalty for the long exclusion of living music from the church — the shock will be considerable. The step from Bogatto to Bartok or from Stainer to Stravinsky is an enormous one that cannot be covered in one jump. As to what seems to be the music of the day, total serialism and electronic music, it may offer interesting experiments and problems but it represents a manner of composition from which the expression of individual sensitivity is absent; in this materialistic technicism all ethical meaning is lost. This music is uncertain about the quality of life and art itself, it is not yet searching for the purpose of either with secret convictions that they can be found. But history shows that other radical stylistic changes have eventually settled down to an orderly artistic existence, and we have no right to condemn this one before it gets a chance to find channels of communication to humanity at large. Also, in the noise of the battle we forget that there are many fine composers in our midst who remain in the mainstream of art; it is they whose services should be sought.
But how shall we build the bridge over a century of conventionalism to living art ? It is a tremendous task of education that will call for tact but also for firmness. The artistic sensibilities of church musicians, and of pastors, and of congregations, long repressed by being carefully sheltered from true art, must be awakened. They must be roused to a broad and deep humanism, to the tender intimacies of artistic perception. But a warning is in order. The question must be asked: who should be responsible for the selection of one type of music in preference to another, or for the preparation of the social system to receive innovations? We might think no one qualifies, for the priest absorbed in pastoral work neglects or disregards the other values; the musician does not realize the grave social problems the priest must deal with, while the administrator often does not understand either. The danger is that those who would lead, legislate and speculate will not give enough thought to the indivisibility of the religious, social and artistic problems, and will fail to realize the consequences of unilateral action.
Let me end with a few remarks, though not without reminding you once more that I am speaking as a lay historian and not as a spokesman for the Church. Every productive artistic reform, even when revolutionary, is only a partial novelty; essentially it is a modification of certain points of the status quo. For if it were altogether to abandon the past, the result would be either chaos or complete reversal. The Protestant Reformation, in its insistence upon active congregational worship, was seeking to return to the practice of the early Church. But when it subordinated eucharistic worship to hymns and preaching it was establishing something new. Lutherans and Anglicans did cling to a liturgy and all that this implies, including (at least in Europe and England) their great artistic and musical heritage, but the other Protestant denominations, constituting the majority, gave up all ritual connections with the past, except the Scriptures, though even their use is highly selective. Liturgy was replaced by an order of service soberly communicated to the congregation by numerals hung upon the wall, referring to the hymns to be sung. In Bach's time a fine chorale prelude played on the organ informed the congregation about the hymn to be sung! I should think that the proper approach to all this is to offer the laity music that gives the greatest artistic experience and value while meeting the least popular resistance. Unfortunately, it is one thing to sing a hymn with a good tune, quite another to sing part music. The lamentable music education in our elementary and secondary schools, both public and parochial, has not equipped the congregation with even a modicum of ability to read and sing even mildly elaborate music. Polyphony is either the real thing, in which case no untrained lay audience can cope with it, or it is a watered-down subterfuge, in which case it has neither artistic nor liturgical justification. The composition of new Masses with a view to accommodating the congregation is feasible and proper, the danger being that of falling into archaic imitation. However, a good composer can escape this artistic trap.
On the other hand, I do not think that the intention is to degrade the schola cantorum to the position of a merely tolerated auxiliary, and I firmly believe that our great musical heritage must not only be kept intact but developed and made more familiar. The phrase, "poverty in the midst of plenty," surely applies to church music; we can change this, but we are not entitled to make our plans on the basis of one factor alone, whether the esthetic, the religious, or the social, assuming that all the other elements will remain unchanged. Above all, we must be careful with the new broom and not wield it with complete abandon.
According to the engaging medieval legend the Blessed Virgin accepted the juggler's piety and veneration expressed in somersaults before her stone image. Perhaps Mary, in her thousands of stone images, has watched for centuries with equal tolerance and sympathy the antics of church musicians and liturgists; let us not tempt-her patience forever.
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