This week the repertoire for Sunday’s Organ Mass has a Marian theme. It was such a shame not to celebrate the feast of the Assumption with solemnity today and while the Mass of the day will be XI Sunday after Pentecost, in Scotland the bishops have transferred holy days that fall on Saturdays to the following Sunday and before the 1962 Missal, the Assumption had an octave (yes, I realise that Sundays are not included…) So, those are my excuses, if any are needed for a dose of hyperdulia, for paying musical tribute to Our Blessed Lady, Assumed body and soul into Heaven and reigning as Queen over all!
Introit- Chorale, Suite Gothique, Leon Boellmann
Offertory- Prier du Notre Dame, Suite Gothique, Leon Boellmann
Communion- Ave Maria, Op. 65 Alexandre Guilmant
Communion of the Faithful- Versts on Ave Maris Stella, Improv and Op. 65 Alexandre Guilmant
Programming music for liturgy is a delicate business- the last thing that we want is to have consecutive items which clash in key or style. Although most folk don’t realise it, which is kind of the point, I always programme music that is from one particular style and try to ensure that consecutive items are related in key so as to avoid any subtle yet distracting gear changes!
The current covid-compliant liturgical arrangements have some bearing on the music chosen; mainly that rather than an uplifting ‘sortie’ a second communion piece is required after Mass as the people ‘receive and leave.’ Timing is also a factor since usually I only programme the Prelude and Postlude with only improvisations after the offertory and communion motets (unless we don’t have enough singers for motets in which case I do programme organ music.). This makes timing the end of the music to the end of the liturgical action quite straightforward. With full pieces, there may be a need to improvise an ending if the priest is ready earlier than expected, especially at the moment when playing for Low Mass with no ceremony (no incense etc).
Recent organ Masses have been in the French Classical (what we call baroque) and French Romantic styles with all of last week’s music being by J.S. Bach. This week we have an English flavour with music by the 18th Century London composer John Stanley.
Introit- Adagio, Voluntary IV, D Minor, Op.VII
Offertory- Andante, Voluntary IV, DMinor, Op.VII
Communion- Adagio, Voluntary VII, E Minor, Op.VII
Communion of the people- Voluntary VII, G Minor, Op. V
As we return to public Mass and we labour under continued restrictions, music directors are trying to figure out what is possible when it comes to liturgical music. Here are a few possibilities.
A Sung Mass with one Cantor. In Scotland, the guidance from the bishops allows for a cantor to be used ‘at a distance.’ I am not a scientist but as a singer, I know that for possibly centuries, we have been using a breath control exercise which involves singing without extinguishing a candle at mouth level. If the candle does not go out, I wonder how much singing really propels droplets. Anyway, due to the inability to have servers and therefore incense etc, a Low Mass with the ordinary and propers sung by one cantor/organist is possible. The congregation are not allowed to sing and should not join in with the ordinary of the Mass- under the guidelines.
An Organ Mass. This is not the alternatim practice of baroque France but rather an instrumental version of what would have been the most common practice in preconcilliar Scotland, a Low Mass with Hymns. Where once hymns would have been sung, up to the Introit, during the Offertory, Communion and at the end of Mass, organ music is played (Fortescue, pg 177). This is a long standing tradition in Catholic music which the French call it a ‘Messe Basse’ and there are pieces of music written for the purpose. I have even read that the French symphonic repertoire, with its four movements or parts in each opus were written to fit the Procession, Offertory, Communion and Sortie of the Mass. Organ music can also be played between the elevation and the Pater Noster and adapting music written for an alternatim Mass such as Couperin’s Messe pour les couvents can be effective as can the elevation toccatas of Italian composers like Frescobaldi and Zipoli. An accomplished organist may also improvise these pieces of music as is done every Sunday at the weekly Organ Mass at St Jame’s, Spanish Place, London. It should be pointed out that while my default is the Traditional Latin Mass, it is possible to achieve a similar effect in the Novus Ordo although with some alterations because all of the prayers except the offertory, if you are lucky, are read aloud. The ‘Introit’ piece/improvisation would have to end when the priest reaches the altar and the offertory would not be as long but communion and ‘sortie’ music should work without issue.
Some may ask, why bother, why not just have a Low Mass. Well, the Church has been the primary patron of the arts for most of Her history. Why? Because God is worth the maximum beauty that we can offer and because sacred music lifts the heart and mind to God- the chant most fully as is clothes the sacred silence and provides an exposition of the text in sound, and other music after that. Sunday is different. We can steep ourselves in the silence of the Low Mass during the week but Sunday is the Lord’s day and deserves the most solemnity that we can achieve.
So, there are my thoughts on Sacred Music in Lockdown Liturgy.
I will be playing an Organ Mass tomorrow, with the following music.
Introit- (Up to the Introit)- ‘Duo’, Suite du Premier Ton, Louis Nicolas Clérambault
Offertory- ‘Récit de Nazard’ Suite du Deuxieme Ton, Louis Nicolas Clérambault
Communion- ‘Récits de Cromorne et de Cornet séparé en Dialogue’, Suite du Premier Ton, Louis Nicolas Clérambault
Sortie- ‘Grand plein jeu’, Suite du Premier Ton, Louis Nicolas Clérambault
Clérambault was organist of the Church of St Sulpice, Paris. He died in 1749.
A great prayer exercise for those involved in sacred music is to meditate on the texts of the propers (the changing prayers of the Mass) using the chant.
The western chant repertoire of the Church is an amalgamation of chants belonging to the different western rites, the final corpus being delineated by Pope Gregory the Great in the late 9th Century- giving it the nickname ‘Gregorian Chant.’ It would be a mistake to think that this is the beginning of the chant repertoire- the same mistake as thinking that the Tridentine Mass originates from the Council of Trent which simply codified and standardised the Latin Rite which can be traced back to the Apostles. Continue reading “Exaudi Domine, V Sunday after Pentecost”
1. Although every organist should aim to accompany chant directly from the neuems, the following link contains full Nova Organi Harmonia harmonisations of the Gregorian Ordinaries and Propers and more!
2. Chant Talk– Patrick Torsell, is Director of Music at Mater Dei FSSP Parish, Harrisburg, PA. He has some useful video tutorials on effective chant accompaniment in different modes.
We have gone through a very difficult few months. In addition to the physical and emotional suffering caused by Covid 19, many people of faith have suffered the spiritual pain of the closure of places of worship for the common good. We have all made sacrifices.
As the situation is developing, however, many people of faith are questioning whether or not the place of churches is appropriate in relation to non- essential leisure activities in the plans of the Scottish Government. See below the communication which I have put out as Chairman of Una Voce Scotland and please take action if you are able.
It has been an extraordinary few months for all of us and while many parts of life have moved online, my musical life as moved offline for a while as other things have taken priority. I am sure, however, that as life returns to normality, I will once again have the chance to continue my own study and practice as well as sharing what I learn with anyone who stumbles across this blog.
There have been a number of developments in my professional life. I have completed and Additional Teacher Qualification on Religious Education at the University of Glasgow and achieved full registration with the GTCS as an RE specialist in addition to registration as a music teacher. I have also been appointed Principal Teacher of Religious Education at Turnbull High School after 18 months acting in the job. This brings a new emphasis to my teaching career which I am very excited about but I have no intention at all of hanging up my organ shoes and baton! I will be continuing my work as a liturgical musician with Schola Una Voce and the Schola of Immaculate Heart Parish, Glasgow and will continue to be one of the organists of Kelivngrove Art Gallery.
In the meantime, the Pearce family are preparing for the arrival of our second child in the next few weeks and so the divine craftsman of life’s rich tapestry continues to weave new and vibrant patterns before my eyes.
I’ll end with something fun from one of my recitals at Kelvingrove!