Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sweet singing of the priests...

This is a response I'm cross-posting from a conversation with Gavin over at Catholic Sensibility.

I’ve never researched this, but always pondered the need to canonically prohibit the Eucharistic Prayer from being accompanied. The prevailing documents, it can be argued, generally provide for multiple options on what can be sung at specific moments, who can/should sing them, etc. We know that some of these canons have heirachical priorities as well.I’ve supposed, as have many others, that a simple rationale is that all celebrants’ singing faculties aren’t equal in quality or tessituras, and so in deference to that reality, we will just legislate that their intonations of the EP shall remain unaccompanied through the preface to the Sanctus, and either a pitch or an introduction will establish the tonality of the corporate singing, and so forth.If someone knows that this prescription or prohibition has its origins in a tradition, I’d like to know of it.

Barring that, what of those priests who can intone on key, whether they’re singing in Dorian from the Sacramentary that can be tonally linked directly to the Sanctus, or an EP preface set anew by a composer that whose musical elements are congruant throughout the whole ordinary?I’ve always read the prohibition of such accompaniment as a matter of fact, not subject to interpretation. But in my musical heart, I don’t get the “why” of that? Sure, a musically gifted celebrant can find or be provided a pitch, then chant unaccompanied and maintain the modality/tonality that leads to the next ordinary movement; but if accompaniment adds to Mahrt’s “paradigm of beauty,” why banish it?And, IMO, a celebrant singing with competent accompaniment (austere, minimal) would also lessen the notion of clericalism, in that there is a real collaboration between him, the accompanist(s) and eventually the choir and congregation.

Regarding your (Gavin's) contention that original composed settings of the preface and the EP’s relegate the celebrant to the role of a secular performer, I think that somewhat depends upon whether there is an appropriate (sacred or liturgical) melodic/harmonic/rhythmic construct that is self-evident in the setting. When you mentioned the celebrant as secular performer, my mind didn’t reference that to, say, the canon in MoC or MoL, but to Leonard Bernstein’s MASS. That _would_ be bad. That, as a first and foremost artistic work, must call forth attention unto itself.For myself, I prefer the celebrant to use the Sacramentary chants. I just also think they can be easily, modestly and yet beautifully accompanied as well. YMMV.

1 comment:

Lyn F. said...

Perhaps the objection comes with the like of MOC/MOL, etc.? I've heard my share of priests who either start dropping or raising the pitch as soon as they start in on the chants. It's the rare one from my experience, who are able to stick to the pitch, and if the organist plans well, he would have given the priest the intoning pitch, and by the time the chant is completed, he would still be on pitch as the Sanctus is sung.

Is there any sort of problem with providing chords underneath the chant (using soft stops of course) so as to keep the priest on pitch?

That would be the question this naive person would have asked ...