Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Masses &c.

Here is a short video of the Mass during the night (9.30 pm local time) at St Peter's Basilica - you can catch part of the beautiful introit Dominus dixit ad me, the Pope's homily, and the choir singing Adeste fideles with gusto. See below for the whole service.  It was a beautiful Mass, Latin throughout.  The Mass setting was Cum iubilo (Mass IX) - fantastic because as readers would know, the Kyrie is necessarily sung in the threefold fashion because the nine invocations are fully notated in the Kyriale (see Ordo Cantus Missae).  It is also one of the most beautiful Kyrie settings.  Download the order of service here.

See the whole Mass here:

At St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, it was Solemn Choral First Vespers of the Nativity (Cathedral Choir) at 5 pm, followed by a Mass for Children at 6 pm, an 8 pm Vigil Mass at which the St Mary's Singers sang the exquisite Harmoniemesse of F. J. Haydn - one of my favourite parts is the start of the Dona nobis pacem - but beware, the video starts at the loud blast of trumpets.

The Midnight Mass (Cathedral Choir) was the Charpentier Messe de Minuit - see this BBC recording of the Mass at Westminster Cathedral a few years ago.

And the Queen's Christmas message:

Monday, 28 October 2013

Major developments afoot at St Peter's Basilica

In what is surely the most significant act to date in the pontificate of the gloriously reigning Holy Father, Supreme Pontiff and Bishop of Rome, Francis reverted to the traditional ‘Benedictine’ arrangement on the main altar at St Peter’s Basilica for the recent ordination/consecration/elevation/promotion of two priests to the college/order/fraternity/ministry of bishops.  

Vatican City, 24 October 2013 - Pope Francis ordains two new bishops

Reactions to this momentous event have been numerous and varied.  The People for Progressive Catholicism Inc issued a statement saying:
"The Bishop of Rome did not employ the traditional Benedictine arrangement as alleged.  That is to say, the picture in question is merely an optical illusion.  The candles were in fact arranged at precisely a 45 degree angle.  In the alternative, to the extent that the candles and altar cross were placed horizontally, that is to say, in a straight line, that is to say, not at a 45 degree angle or at any angle, this was the result of a last minute rearrangement of the altar perpetrated by a devious and cunning SSPX double agent masquerading as a master of ceremonies, but quite against the Bishop of Rome’s express wishes."
A spokeswoman of Catholics for the Hermeneutic of Reversal, Regression and Whatever Else It Takes to Undo Vatican II said that: 
"This is a clear sign that the Holy Father accepts that the action taken to restrict the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate saying the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was an error of judgment, and he will be reversing his decree forthwith.  Furthermore, there are reports being circulated that the Most Supreme Pontiff employed an ungracious amount of Italian during the Mass.  This is not so.  Every word uttered by the Holy Father was in the Church’s mother tongue.  In the alternative, to the extent that the Holy Father did speak in Italian, that is to say, did not speak entirely in the Church’s mother tongue, that is to say, for large sections of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass did not speak in Latin, then this was the result of an agent of the Liturgists’ Liberation Army tampering with the Order of Service, but quite against the Pontiff’s express wishes."
(Editor’s note: The Liturgists’ Liberation Army is the military wing of the Liturgists’ Liberation Organisation, established in 1964 in the midst of the Second Vatican Council and which was declared to be a terrorist organisation by the US Bishops’ Conference in 1988 – during the pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II).

In further shocking news, some English news outlets, including the august and hardly ever sensationalist or wrong BBC, are reporting that the new Holy Father could have a drinking problem, because he “very much likes martinis”.  One source we spoke to says that in fact this is a case of ‘lost in translation’, and that the original story in Italian says that Pope Francis is very much like Martini, a reference to the former Cardinal Archbishop of Milan.  When we put the latter proposition to the Holy Father, he said that while Martini (the man not the drink) was undoubtedly an intelligent, loyal servant of Holy Mother Church, “Buenos Aires is not Milan, you know.”  Regarding the question of drink, the Holy Father stated that:
"the Spirit with which I quench my thirst is not in liquid form.  But on the odd occasion that I do allow myself to enjoy a tipple, it’s a gin and tonic using Bombay Sapphire gin, of course.  If it happens to coincide with Gaudete or Laetare Sunday, I ensure that the order is for a pink (or more properly a rose) gin.  But no martinis, whether shaken or stirred."  
With these words the Holy Father dispelled any lingering doubts that some may have had as to his soundness, leaving only this question remaining: “Connery or Moore?"  

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bach, Mozart from the Proms

Two great Bach performances from this year's Proms, under the baton of the great Bach exponent Sir John Eliot Gardiner:

Easter Oratorio

Ascension Oratorio

And an old favourite, the Mozart Requiem at the 2006 Proms, under the direction of Herreweghe:

Monday, 26 August 2013

Choral music of the modern Dutch school

The twentieth century has - perhaps surprisingly - produced numerous choral settings of the Mass (in Latin), in part thanks to the not inconsiderable efforts of Westminster Cathedral in commissioning new works for liturgical use.  Less surprisingly, the bulk these settings were composed after Pope Pius X's masterly exposition of the purpose of sacred music (as a means by which the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful in the celebration of the Mass might be complemented and enhanced), and the qualities which the music for use in the liturgies of the Church of God must be possessed of.  Tra le sollecitudini was of course not the starting point of the renewal of sacred music and authentic liturgical composition that manifested itself in the first part of the twentieth century (one immediately thinks of the renewal of the French school - see brief account here).  But it was perhaps its high point.  Was Pope Benedict XI's pontificate the modern high water mark?  If so, we should see the effects well into the next fifty years. Let it be so!

Which is a rather long-winded way of introducing these beautiful videos of a relatively modest, but effective, setting of the Mass by Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) - Missa Christus Rex - sung here by the Haarlem Cathedral Choir.  The collapse of the Faith in the Netherlands is well documented.  These videos give comfort that it is not a complete spiritual and liturgical wasteland.  The bishop even intones the Gloria!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Sydney Monteverdi concert reviewed by the Herald

The Sydney Morning Herald has a very favourable review of the Monterverdi 1610 Vespers performed last Thursday at St Mary's Cathedral by the combined choirs of the Cathedral and St James King Street, accompanied by Australian Baroque Brass playing on authentic instruments.

The article neglects expressly to mention that Monteverdi's composition was augmented by the proper chant antiphons, sung with great aplomb by the Scholars of the Cathedral.

The SMH, which is fast gaining a similar reputation to The Guardian in the matter of spelling (or rather misspelling), informs us that:
"The Hymn Ave maris stella started with celestial choral sounds from behind the alter [sic], bringing in brass from the left, strings from the right, a boys choir from the organ loft, golden-toned recorders from the pulpit and a delicate group of guitars and long-necked Chitarrone from behind, to create simple delight in the joining of space and sound."
I have written to the editor to have this corrected.  I have done this several times in the past and to their credit they have always effected the suggested changes very promptly.  My favourite editorial mishap (possibly induced by 'spell check') was when the paper earnestly reported that (now Saint) Mary Mackillop had been beautified!

Protester 1:  I mean, the badgers have dwelt there for generations.
Minister:  Ah well now, can you be sure of that?
Protester 2:  It said so in The Guardian!
[Protester 2 hands the Minister a copy of the said newspaper]
Minister: Oh, right … actually what it says here is that the ‘bodgers’ have ‘dealt’ there for generations!
A few years ago Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducted an excellent performance of the work at the Proms.  The Monteverdi Choir was joined by the London Oratory Junior Choir (see also below) and the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School Schola Cantorum:

Of course, many years ago he famously conducted the 1610 Vespers at the Basilica di San Marco (the London Oratory Junior Choir was involved in the performance):

The New College Choir, Oxford, has also recently recorded the work for CD:

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 on the Feast of the Assumption


The resonant interior of St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney will tomorrow night be filled with the glorious sounds of choral singing and period brass as the choirs of the Cathedral and the neighbouring Anglican Church of St James, accompanied by Australian Baroque Brass, perform Monteverdi's celebrated setting of vespers (see more here and here).

There is a video of Australian Baroque Brass rehearsing this work with the Adelaide Chamber Singers in preparation for a concert in Adelaide in 2010.

For a CD recording of the work, it is hard to go past the one directed by Jordi Savall.  I bought a copy of this when I was in Lyon one year, and it have enjoyed listening to it regularly ever since.  Here's an extract:

I last attended a performance in Sydney of this work at the Anglican Christ Church St Laurence in 2010.  I seem to recall it was on a particularly hot March afternoon.  The polish on the pews - perhaps freshly applied to beautify the Church for the occasion - left a residue on the clothes of those audience members who were perspiring and glowing respectively!

For obvious reasons, 2010 was a Monteverdi Vespers year - and I have since learnt that the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs also performed the work in November of that year in Sydney's excellent City Recital Hall.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A Passionate Life

is the title of a new BBC documentary presented by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and it's a fascinating insight into the life and music of J. S. Bach.

The programme was transmitted a few weekends ago on Australia's excellent Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and (I believe for Australian viewers only) can be watched (or watched again as the case may be) for another few days as at writing:


Monday, 13 May 2013

Music List for Ascension - Guess where

Here is a (superb) music list for Ascension Thursday (a clue).

Where do you think it might be? Westminster Cathedral? Spanish Place? Farm St? London Oratory? Church of the English Martyrs, Cambridge? St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney?  Impossible - they all celebrate Ascension on Sunday (surely the policy of moving important feasts and solemnities to the nearest/following Sunday will one day come to an end?)

Whatever the venue, to sing Credo I you would have needed a book with a Kyriale inside (e.g. Graduale Romanum, Singing the Mass).  To sing the Propers, the choir would have needed the Graduale.  You would have heard them sing the exquisitely beautiful introit Viri Galilaei.

The other parts of the Ordinary were in Greek/Latin - from the delightful Rheinberger Cantus Missae.

It simply must have been in a Catholic church - any Catholic church, since this is the music that has pride of place in the Roman tradition, that constitutes a treasure of inestimable value.

If you had been present in Cambridge on Thursday 9 May 2013, it would have been all but your bounden duty (after having punted on the Backs) to attend this sung service, and you would have heard Catholic music given the pride of place that it so deserves.

You would have heard the Church's own music for Ascension, sung on Ascension (how novel).

You would have been at ... King's College.

Kudos to Stephen Cleobury and the staff of the college and chapel.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Great Bach Videos

The Osteroratorium, Philippe Herreweghe, Scholl as countertenor:

And for Ascension on Thursday (Sunday), the opening movement of the Himmelfahrtsoratorium, Tolzer Knabenchor - such splendid singing:

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Funeral Service at St Paul's for Baroness Thatcher - Order of Service


Today is the funeral in London of The Baroness Thatcher.  The music at St. Paul's Cathedral is provided by the Cathedral Choir directed by Andrew Carwood (formerly of the London Oratory, Brompton Road).

Download the Order of Service here.

The service is being streamed here.

The choir sang How lovely is thy dwelling place from Ein Deutsches Requiem by Brahms.

And here is the original in German (Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen):

The In paradisum is from Faure's Requiem.

REQUIEM aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Sir Colin Davis - Requiescat in pace

News today that Sir Colin Davis has died at the age of eighty five (see here and here).  I fell in love with Mozart's Mass in C minor after listening to his recording on a CD I borrowed from my local library (a copy of which I now own). He was conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

My fondness for this recording extends beyond the performance to the venue - none other than Westminster Cathedral!  It was the first time I has cause to investigate this intriguing, red brick building, and my appreciation for the Cathedral has continued ever since.  (Classical music enthusiasts might be interested to know that Westminster Cathedral was also the venue for the world premiere recording of the Berlioz Messe Solennelle under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner).  

The Mass in C minor:

The booklet states that the recording was made in February 1971 in Westminster Cathedral "by kind permission of Cardinal Heenan"

Actually, I had cause to reflect on Sir Colin's musical legacy as recently as last weekend.  The superb Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, performed Handel's Messiah on Saturday night at Holy Name Church in the Sydney suburb of Wahroonga.  In preparation, I listened to a number of Messiah recordings that I have accumulated over the years.  First among them (in the chronology of recording dates) was Sir Colin's legendary 1966 recording with the LSO and Chorus (recorded in the famous Watford Town Hall - by all accounts a fabulous recording venue but in a less than salubrious locale).  The recording (along with that of the Antipodean Mackerras in 1967 with the English Chamber Orchestra) was trail blazing because it dispensed with the gargantuan vocal and instrumental forces that had characterised Handel performances up until that time.  Although Sir Colin (and in a sense Sir Charles) was skeptical about what he regarded as the period instrument "craze", in a sense he precipitated its impact.  

Here is the 1966 Messiah recording on Philips, in full:

Of course, by modern ears, even this recording will sound "dated", but it is still riveting listening.  

I will post shortly on the performance given by the St Mary's Cathedral Choir, who were accompanied by members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra - suffice it to say (in the interim) that it was a truly splendid performance.  I will also add a few comments about other recordings I have collected over the years (post dating the Davis one).  

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses from St Peter's Rome

View them here.

Easter Vigil (booklet here)

Easter Sunday (booklet here)

The Gloria from Mass I was sung superbly - listen to the men sing Jesu Christe at or about 26'50''.

Musical settings of the Credo

In the contemporary liturgical age, musical settings of the Credo are scarce.  The Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition has gone a considerable way to changing the liturgical ethos that spurned the sung Credo by adapting the melodies of Credos I and III to the English text of the Creed.  Chanted Credos should (in Latin in the first instance), and might one day again, be commonplace.

What, however, about the great repertory of polyphonic, orchestral and other choral settings of the Credo, amassed throughout the ages?  The current General Instruction seems to prevent such settings being used liturgically, as it mandates the Credo being sung by the whole congregation together, or alternatim (but not by the choir alone, in contrast to the Gloria).  

A musical setting of the Credo might actually bring alive that faith which the congregation is professing.  In Easter Time, does the Paschal Mystery resonate more when the Creed is merely recited, or when a setting like the following is sung?  I think particularly of the words Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, sub Pontio Pilato; passus et sepultus est.  Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas.  

Are we depriving ourselves of a possible source of spiritual nourishment by preventing that which previous generations held dear (and which, in the final analysis, can only serve to support and illuminate the themes conveyed by the text)?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Our Lord's Passion at St Peter's

The full video of the Celebration of Our Lord's Passion at St Peter's Basilica, Rome, on 29 March 2013 is now available:

The choir is sounding great - listen to the men sing the Gradual (at 21'20''), followed the Passion, which was beautifully chanted.  

Selected Music Lists for Holy Week

Music lists for: 
St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta:

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Every cathedral should have a Sunday Mass like this one ...

... and so should as many churches as possible.

The cathedral is perhaps one of the most well known in the world, Notre Dame de Paris.  Whatever might otherwise be said about the music at Notre Dame's Masses on Sundays and during the week, one cannot but admire that on Sundays, a fully chanted Mass is sung:

I have long held the view that, regardless of other Masses at a cathedral or parish church (solemn sung with chant and polyphony, said Mass, vernacular Mass with hymns and modern settings of the Ordinary), one Mass should be a fully chanted Mass - the people singing their parts (responses to the dialogues, Mass Ordinary, etc), the choir its part (Propers from the Graduale, otherwise supporting the congregation sing their parts), and the celebrant chanting his parts.  A nine o'clock Mass would be ideal - with Masses either side being, say, no music and chant/polyphony (or hymns and moderns congregational settings of the ordinary) respectively.

Of course, the dialogues need not be in Latin (though one is reminded of Pope Paul VI's exhortation when he issued Iubilato Deo, drawing on the documents of Vatican II).  The Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition has vernacular chant fully covered.  Why not use a book that has the Latin and English chant side by side?  Or why not use Notre Dame's order of service as the starting point of a customised order of service (like they have at St Peter's (this one has Orbis Factor, Credo III and all the dialogues), Westminster Cathedral or St Mary's Sydney)?

The possibilities are endless.  The resources are readily available.  Discuss, plan and execute.  Make it happen!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Passio Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum Ioannem

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John ...

This is part one of the St. John Passion, provided to assist priests, deacons, cantors and choirs to learn how to sing the Passion on Good Friday.  It also happens to be one of the most sublime recordings of chant ever made - the cadences when the narrator introduces the words of Christ are particularly well sung.  I urge you to buy one of the Naxos CDs which has this chant on it: In Passione et Morte Domini: Gregorian Chant for Good Friday or Ultimate Chant.

Here is the pdf of the music.

There are very good English arrangements to be found.


Video of one such English version from St Mary's Cathedral on 29 March 2013 (with the crowd's parts being sung to an arrangement of T. L. de Victoria):

And another version, Latin, with the original Victoria setting for the crowd:

Also for Good Friday - the Improperia. This is Victoria's setting, sung by the Choir of Men & Boys of St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York under the direction of John Scott. Recorded live on Good Friday 2011.

Palm Sunday Music & Resources

Palm Sunday is nearly upon us.  Where will you attend and what will the music be like?  In Sydney, people tend to make a bee line for St Mary's Cathedral if they seek excellence in sacred music.  Other places include St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, and the cathedral of the neighbouring diocese of Parramatta.  Scholas are being established at some other churches too.

Music at St Mary's Cathedral:

Music at Westminster Cathedral:

Click here for two great videos of the Malcolm Ingrediente Domino, sung as the procession enters the church.

The Liturgy Office of England & Wales has published the pages for Palm Sunday from the Roman Missal - an excellent way for priests, deacons, servers and musicians to acquaint themselves with the ceremonial well in advance of the Mass.

Below are three great recordings of the Bruckner Vexilla Regis - sung at Vespers from the Saturday before Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Re-watch Papal Inauguration; Re-listen to "For the God Who Sings"

Re-watch the Inauguration of Pope Francis:

For specific video extracts of the music from the Inauguration go to the Papal Music Youtube site.

For those who missed last Sunday's programme For the God Who Sings on Australia's ABC Classic FM, including roughly half of the music on the new Westminster Cathedral Choir CD Miserere, you can listen to the programme again by clicking here - a great opportunity to "try before you buy"!  Available for another 25 days as at writing.

I've also just noticed that this week's programme (for broadcast on 24 March 2013 at 10.30 pm) has another track from Miserere - the Guerrero Ave Virgo Sanctissima.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Te Deum Laudamus - A new Pope gloriously reigns

and his name is Franciscum.

We give thanks for Benedictus XVI.  We give thanks for a short conclave.  We pray for Franciscum to the Lord Jesus that as the new Holy Father he has the physical and mental strength "to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel" (abdication speech of Benedictus XVI), and that his Holiness proves to be "a humble and holy, orthodox, creative and courageous" (Bishop Egan of Portsmouth at his Episcopal ordination) Bishop of Rome, "one fashioned after the Lord's Own" (ibid).  We pray too that the liturgical renewal under the previous pontificate continues, responsible (at least in part) as we are sure it is for the upsurge in vocations (both being necessary elements in furthering in God's name the social justice work of which the new Holy Father - admirably - is so ardent a champion).  

The ambivalence of the joy of welcoming a new Pope mixed with a certain anxiety about how the Church will confront its most urgent problems is perhaps aptly reflected in the current liturgical season

and in that other season characterised by a certain spiritual and liturgical reserve, mindful at all times that "the work of Christ and the Church never regresses, but always progresses" (speech by Benedictus XVI, 2012) but also that that progression can be, and arguably is at present, "hard and bitter agony" (Eliot).

Continuing the Isaiah theme

Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.  A theme of the Papacy of Benedictus XVI, which it is hoped the new Holy Father continues and develops.  

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

For the God Who sings

Sydney is extremely lucky to have not one, but two excellent classical music radio stations - ABC Classic FM (the public broadcaster) and Fine Music 102.5 (a community radio station formerly known as 2MBS FM).

On the former this Sunday evening 17 March 2013 at 10.30 pm is a programme of lenten music, the bulk of which will be taken from the new CD of the incomparable Westminster Cathedral Choir - Miserere (which I briefly reviewed as part of this earlier post).  The parts that will be played are:

A Sequence for Lent at Westminster Cathedral
Hyperion CDA67938
Choir of Westminster Cathedral; Peter Stevens/Martin Baker
Attende, Domine
Miserere mei, Desus
Emendemus in melius
Missa Emendemus in melius: Kyrie
Missa Emendemus in melius: Agnus Dei
Scapulis suis
Audi, benign conditor
In spiritu humilitatis
A Sequence for St Joseph at Westminster Cathedral
Hyperion CDA67938
William Gaunt, br; Choir of Westminster Cathedral; Peter Stevens, o/Martin Baker
Iustus ut palma
Mass IX 'Cum iubilo': Kyrie
Veritas mea

No offence to BBC Radio 3, but all they could manage to play from Miserere when they reviewed it during the course of a three hour programme was a thirty second excerpt from the Malcolm Miserere mei, Deus, followed by a meagre one sentence comment about the singing.  Poor form.

Tune in to 92.9 FM in Sydney to hear the broadcast of this superbly sung liturgical music.  For other frequencies, click here.  Listen online here.

Of course, do not forget to purchase the CD afterwards.  My favourite online shop is the UK Presto Classical.  If in Sydney, drop into Fish Fine Music, or if in Melbourne Thomas' Music (I have no affiliations with any of these businesses). If in London, try the Cathedral's own gift shop, Gramex or HMV Oxford Street, if it is still there :-(.  (I have watched in horror as classical music shops in Sydney and elsewhere have disappeared.  First the superb HMV Pitt St Mall closed.  Its extensive classical music stock was purchased by the department store Grace Bros, now Myer, which also had a dedicated classical music room, until that too vanished into thin air.  Then Michael's Music Room at Town Hall Station shut its doors, followed by one of the two Fish Fine Music shops.  The classical music shop in Manuka, Canberra, whose name escapes me, also closed recently - I discovered this one morning after Mass at St Christopher's Cathedral - a wine bar is now in situ.  Support the remaining independent classical music shops, otherwise they shall all disappear for good!)

Our local libraries are doing their part to disseminate excellent music - this picture from Stanton Library in North Sydney, close to my humble abode, where the procurement officer has fine taste:

In fact, you should be able to spot three other Westminster Cathedral Choir CDs in the photo as well.  All the libraries that I have visited in northern Sydney have extensive classical music collections, and perhaps the biggest collection is to be found at the music library of the Sydney Conservatoire de Musique, part of the unrivalled University of Sydney (although situated right near the celebrated Sydney harbour, the Opera House and Royal Botanic Garden).

A special mention must also go to Hyperion Records - how wonderful that a record company takes the time and risk to publish such important music.  Hyperion has lenten liturgical music well covered now, in Latin and English.  Here is St Paul's Cathedral Choir singing the Lent Prose from the New English Hymnal (the Latin original Attende, Domine featuring on Miserere) on the CD Passiontide at St Paul's:

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Update from Köln Cathedral

Two more excellent videos from Köln Cathedral (forgive their unseasonal nature):  

All Saints 2012, Kyrie and Gloria from Vierne's Messe Solennelle, with the Cathedral's stupendous organ:

Christmas 2012, Introit for Christmas Day: 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Holy Father resigns: long live the Pope

Listen to the Holy Father make his announcement in Latin.

Full text in English.

From the AFP:
Pope Benedict XVI says he will resign on February 28 because his age prevented him from carrying out his duties, an unprecedented move in the modern history of the Catholic Church.
He is the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years and the decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new Pope before the end of March.
The 85-year-old Pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals on Monday morning.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," the Pope told the meeting.
"In order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," he said.
"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is," he said.
Pope Benedict had hinted in a book of interviews in 2010 that he might resign if he felt he was no longer able to carry out his duties.
The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.Benedict called his choice "a decision of great importance for the life of the church."
The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn’t have to be observed.
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner as was the case when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
And see the London Telegraph's report.

One commentator says: "He will be intensely missed by those of us for whom he was, in his quiet way, the most inspiring Pope of our lifetimes."  Quite so.  There has been a radical brilliance about Pope Benedict and his papacy that makes his departure in this way rather apt.

Another commentator says: "I can only say that from the bottom of my heart, I am grateful. This good priest and bishop, who tried to resign from the CDF multiple times, who has not been able to retire, put himself at our constant service for seven years, "a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord." The changes he has made for all of the Church will have lasting importance, perhaps in no other field as much as liturgy. He has given us an example of humility and goodness that could have no possible origin other than saintliness. I will miss him, and I am grateful."

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral II and related matters

So much to write about, so little time.

As cantors in Catholic Churches around the world were preparing to sing the Announcement of Easter and the Movable Feasts on Epiphany, Miserere, the new recording by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral under Martin Baker (Hyperion), was being shipped to the Antipodes, including to Sydney's best shop for classical music, the superb Fish Fine Music in the Queen Victoria Building (saved from the wrecking ball, unlike so many other beautiful buildings in Sydney of a similar vintage which were left to fall into disrepair thereby precipitating their demise - think of the mindset behind those seeking to obliterate the Vieux Ville in Lyon only with a less happy ending - but I digress). 

Like the Choir's earlier CD of music for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, this CD is a "procession" of music, moving through Lent, St Joseph and the Annunciation, combining chant and polyphony, and modern music styled on the same.  It is also a glorious celebration of music conceived and directed by successive Masters of Music at Westminster - Malcolm and Mawby - hence the title of the Advent CD.  The one piece I wish had been recorded is the Malcolm processional piece for Palm Sunday, Ingrediente Domino.  Happily, we can catch a glimpse of that piece being sung by the same choir on Palm Sunday in their Cathedral:

And for a full recording, sung in deliciously wholesome German choral tones, watch the following video.  One cannot but marvel at the high musical standard of this parish choir. 

One can hear hints of that piece in the Veritas mea, track 15, at the words "exaltabitur cornu eius".  It is probable that several of these pieces are being recorded for the first time.  All are performed with exquisite phrasing.  The year is young, but it I would not be surprised if this choral disc is not surpassed in 2013, and it should be a strong contender for the Gramophone record of the year, for the recorded rarity of much of the repertoire and the quality of the singing.  For Catholics with an interest in restoring music of transcendent beauty and in the best traditions of the Roman Rite (hence also liturgically most appropriate), this disc is a must.  The reading of the Parsons Ave Maria is striking.  The Byrd achingly beautiful.  The Guerrero passionate.  There is a good mix of chant, accompanied and unaccompanied, which must always form backbone of liturgical celebrations in the Roman Rite. 

In a sense, Westminster Cathedral rightly should be the template for other Churches, especially Cathedral churches, to use.  Its pioneering first Master of Music, Sir Richard Terry, seems to have implemented those principles laid down by Pope Pius X in Tra le Sollecitudini (1903).  (Readers will know that I am particularly concerned with the part that reads "Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times", and equivalent exhortations in the documents of and following the Second Vatican Council, at least insofar as the celebration of Mass is concerned).  Many Churches have not adopted those principles to date.  Sydney's Cathedral of St Mary first acted on the moto proprio in the 1950s by re-establishing the choir as one of men and boys, and more closely adhering to the styles of music most appropriate to the liturgy. 

A few incidental and little-known facts about the St Mary's Cathedral Choir:

  • It was once directed by Don Mario Pettorelli, an Italian priest-musician who was present at the Eucharistic Congress when it was held in Sydney in 1928.  In that year, he wrote the motet Ecce Deus and dedicated it to the Brigidine Convent at Randwick.  He returned to Italy after the Congress, but was to visit Sydney again in 1930, overseeing the installation of a small Milanese pipe organ (Balbiani) at the aforementioned Convent.  His motet was sung at the ceremony.  Pettorelli remained in Sydney until 1933, during which time he directed the Choir of St Mary's Cathedral.  The Balbiani organ has been since restored (by the Wakeley company) and now resides in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Carlton, Melbourne, being used by the Melbourne Archdiocesan Seminary (Corpus Christi College).  Relatively simple though it may be, the Seminarians (!), directed by Dr Paul Taylor (Organist at St Patrick's Cathedral Melbourne and now also the Executive Secretary of the Australian Bishops' Commission for Liturgy), sang the Pettorelli Ecce Deus at a service there in 2011 for the blessing of the organ, which I was fortunate to be able to attend.  The motet was unearthed by Dr Geoffrey Cox, Director of Music at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne (also celebrated for its excellent liturgical Choir and strong tradition of chant), and he has written an article from which I have gratefully drawn the foregoing information.  
  • During the aforementioned Congress, there was a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, led by Papal Legate Cardinal Cerretti and finishing at St Mary's Cathedral.  When the Host was carried into the Cathedral, the Choir, comprising a staggering 430 voices (one is reminded of the gargantuan Handelian choirs of the Victorian era), sang Stadler's Ecce Sacerdos Magnus - see page 7 of this document.  Of course, this was not the size of the usual liturgical choir at the time, which must have been able to fit in the choir stalls clad in soutane and surplice - stalls which I gather were not much bigger than those of today notwithstanding the greater amount of space in the sanctuary prior to a permanent free-standing altar being erected. 

More latterly, David Russell was the director the Sydney choir, and built up a sound choral tradition at the Cathedral for the Sunday liturgies, which has now been expanded to include week day Masses and Vespers, and brought very much more sharply in line with the liturgical principles expounded at the start of the twentieth century and championed in the documents of and following the Second Vatican Council, but rarely realised across the Catholic world.  The Choir's Director is Thomas Wilson, and he is assisted by Oliver Brett.  Dominic Moawad is the Organist, and Michael Butterfield the outgoing Organ Scholar.  Starting from a solid base, the Choir must now be regarded as one of the finest musical institutions in the country.  One of the most pleasing developments has been the introduction of more Chant - the Propers from the Graduale for example, which has been a revelation even to those who were appreciative of the polyphony at which the choir already so excelled.  The liturgies at Sydney are now not only even more beautiful and cohesive, but also more edifying, in the true sense of being instructive, theologically, scripturally and liturgically.  Another of the many notable legacies of Cardinal Pell and his staff.  One should add, for completeness, that the average age of the Music Department is well under 40 - a new generation championing the "new" liturgical order long called for but seldom realised - a liturgical order that is faithful to the Latin Rite, orthodox and beautiful. 

Don't waste your time, like I too often do, reading the crass and ideological verbiage found on some blogs (whatever the merits of other aspects of such blogs).  Buy the new Westminster CD instead.  And then read Pope Benedict's learned pronouncements on the subject of Sacred Music, sophisticated, eloquent, coherent and authoritative as they are.  Between the music on the CD and His Holiness's writings there will be a concordance as harmonious and delightful as the singing of the choir. 

And the best part about this new CD is not that we have beautiful music sung well.  No, the best part is that this is the music sung daily at Mass and Vespers at Westminster.  One day I hope to write about the tragedy that very nearly befell this musical institution - its second disbandment, in the early 1970s, ostensibly for financial reasons, but one suspects also for erroneous and harmful ideological ones (the choir was disbanded during the Second World War but was restored by George Malcolm, under whom the Choir developed its celebrated 'continental' sound).  After many influential musical figures protested about the planned closure of the Choir, including notable Anglicans like the late Sir Philip Ledger, and some financial reallocation, it was Cardinal Hume, appointed as the Archbishop directly from his position as Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, who, fittingly, secured its future.  If you want to read about the debacle, the Catholic Herald's archives are a mine of information - you can track the whole affair there.  But for now, savour the Choir's continuing fruits.