Creativity and the Liturgy

By Poterack, Kurt | Sacred Music, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Creativity and the Liturgy


Poterack, Kurt, Sacred Music


The historical development of liturgical music in the Latin Church is perfectly encapsulated in this passage from the third article of Pope Pius X's 1903 motu proprio on sacred music:

   On these grounds Gregorian chant has always been regarded as the
   supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to
   lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for
   church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the
   Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the
   more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy
   it is of the temple.

   The ancient traditional Gregorian chant must, therefore, in a large
   measure be restored to the functions of public worship, and the
   fact must be accepted by all that an ecclesiastical function loses
   none of its solemnity when accompanied by this music alone.

The very last clause in the above quotation that "the fact must be accepted by all" that a liturgy with only Gregorian chant is in no way incomplete is key to me. Why is this so? It is so because every religion has classically had a ritual music--that is, a music that is so closely associated with it that it is an integral part of its cultus. At least this was the case until--as far as I can tell--the Protestant Reformation.

There is, for example, no "Lutheran Gradual." There are, of course, many famous Lutheran hymns and compositions by composers such as Bach, Buxtehude, and even Hugo Distler. There are musical settings in the official national hymnals, but these can change when these editions change every generation or so. Thus, there is no truly official set of melodies for all of the Lutheran service texts which span nations and generations to which one can "default."

Two summers ago, I had the experience of hearing Anglican Evensong sung in Westminster Abbey. The visiting choir did a good job, but what surprised me was that quite a few parts of the service were recited. …

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