NorthernTenor wrote:I was thinking of the time between the two Vatican Councils, as the immediate context of practice following on from the Bugnini/Pauline reforms. I don't doubt that there is a considerable history of cheesiness - St. Pius X didn't use the word 'formaggio' in 'Tra le Sollecitudini', but we get the drift. However, I suspect the widespread introduction of modern hymns in the 19th and 20th centuries, initially in the context of non-eucharist liturgies and devotions, and subsequently as supplement to or replacement for propers, proved fertile ground for the inward-looking sentiment that came on us like a deluge from the 1970s on.
I'm not sure how to reconcile the dates. If hymn singing came in in the (late) 19th and (early) 20th centuries, wasn't that the period between the Councils? Thomas Muir is the expert on the subject of music of this period (and before). I've heard him speak entertainingly about how much bad music there was during this period. I certainly think there isn't the slightest case for making it out to be a time of unremitting good practice, which was all to be undone by the changes that followed Vatican II.
The real issue comes down to the conflicting aims of aesthetic excellence and actuosa participatio
. It feels to me like we mainly act as if the two are irreconcilable. Certainly when I scan the repertoire it often seems as though the idea of music of genuine artistic merit (read: wouldn't sound out of place in a concert hall) which also involves, well, the people singing, has only rarely been tried. It's this gap that causes the liturgical music wars: those who place one or other of these two concerns untouchably higher than the other, are guaranteed to be incomprehending and implacable foes of those in the other camp. (Whether that should then take the form of public denunciation and vilification is another matter, and Calum Cille has summed it up nicely elsewhere.)
Who's to blame? Or, equivalently, in whose hands does the remedy lie? Composers of serious renown, who could make a significant contribution to this hitherto-all-but-missing genre of sacred music. Cathedrals which have the resources to implement this kind of repertoire. Those who commission new works. It would probably require all three groups working together to make a difference.
Here's a near miss: the commissioning in 2008 by the Genesis Foundation
of settings of a well-known prayer of Padre Pio. The brief was for something which would include a singing congregation:
The commissions come from the Genesis Foundation, a charity headed by John Studzinski CBE who is concerned about the lack of music written today for congregational participation. The brief states that the composers should address this omission.
Hats off to Mr Studzinski. But the works that resulted
(from Will Todd, Roxanna Panufnik and James MacMillan) were all for choir alone. I wonder what changed between the commission and the execution - was it the composers who didn't believe that good music could be written for the assembly?