The Gregorian soul

4 07 2021

Some time ago, I became fascinated with French organ music from the late 19th and early 20th century. I am not sure why, because it doesn’t really appeal to me aesthetically. Honestly, the organ hasn’t really been a favorite instrument. I suppose I am more interested in this music as tradition. At least in the recent past, the organ has played a substantial role in Catholic music, so in order to properly understand the evolution of the Catholic liturgy over the last two centuries, one inevitably encounters the organist and their instrument. In France in particular, with the likes of Charles-Marie Widor, Cesar Franck, and Louis Vierne, you have not only famous organists in prominent churches but figures who played an influential role in the emergence of the music of the modern French school. One of the last figures of this school, one whose life spans the ascent and decline of the Catholic cultural revival in France between the wars, was the organist and composer Maurice Duruflé.

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Nadia Boulanger

14 01 2019

In connection to finding the last post, I began to meander for similar videos and came upon this remarkable one of Nadia Boulanger. It contains footage from her analysis classes given in her apartment as well as an interview with a journalist. What is notable here for me is how little of use this would be to an advocate of right-wing culture war. In her class, Boulanger says that things have been said one way for a long time, but now things are changing, and they as her students would find new ways to say the things that must be said. The interviewer tries to peg her down concerning a favorite style, music that she objects to, etc. Boulanger doesn’t take the bait. She sees her role of a pedagogue as giving her students the tools to say what they want to say, not one of imposing her vision on others.

This is perhaps to be expected of someone who knew everyone from Stravinsky and Faure to Quincy Jones and Philip Glass. She knew the history of 20th century music like few could, and thus her optimism at the collective ability to continue to creative impulse unencumbered is not surprising. I can’t say that I agree with her sentiments, perhaps there is now a stagnation in the air that she could have never expected. But I consider her impartiality refreshing nonetheless.





Lili Boulanger’s Catholic Modernism?

11 12 2018

I have recently delved into the music of Lili Boulanger, a promising composer struck down in her mid-20’s in 1918. She is also the sister of Nadia Boulanger, the famous pedagogue of the 20th century who taught composition to some of the greatest composers in recent memory. Both she and her sister were believing Catholics, though interestingly enough, Lili composed vernacular settings of the Psalms as well as setting sacred texts from other religions.  Read the rest of this entry »





Hegel on Catholicism

6 04 2011

Catholicism does not claim the essential direction of the Secular; religion remains an indifferent matter on the one side, while the other side of life is dissociated from it, and occupies a sphere exclusively its own. Cultivated Frenchmen therefore feel an antipathy to Protestantism because it seems to them something pedantic, dull, minutely captious in its morality; since it requires that Spirit and Thought should be directly engaged in religion: in attending mass and other ceremonies, on the contrary, no exertion of thought is required, but an imposing sensuous spectacle is presented to the eye, which does not make such a demand on one’s attention as entirely to exclude a little chit chat, while yet the duties of the occasion are not neglected.

-Hegel, The Philosophy of History

One should keep in mind in the above quote that Hegel was actually very much a Francophile. Maybe he did not appreciate the religion much, but he liked the French, and even quipped to his wife that they should go live in Paris. Also, from the description, it is not hard to imagine Hegel actually gracing the doorstep of a church in France or witnessing a procession through the streets of statues or the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t think he is particularly bigoted, even if many of his dismissals of entire continents in this work show that he is, in his core, a bigot.

But of course, now we live in a different world. I have often called Vatican II, “the clericalization of the laity”. Many hardened traditionalists call it the “Protestantization of Catholicism”. Perhaps it is both, but not for the reasons commonly thought. If anything, the clergy were supposed to be the ones who “spiritualized” the popular rites and ceremonies of the people. Most clergy were probably just functionaries, and failed to do so. (This is why Jansenism was so popular amongst many sophisticated quarters in urban France: it attempted to “interiorize” religion, and not just make it the obligatory ideology of the State.) With the modern resourcement, the Liturgical Movement, Vatican II, etc. these rites could no longer be cultural and political obligations: they had to “mean something”, be assimilated by the Spirit,, etc. even if what they meant had to be made up on the fly.

I think the average Catholic, the real average Catholic, has the last laugh in all of this. Our rites still don’t take much “exertion of thought”, people still chat in church, and so on. (Makes you less nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”.) And there are still at least some “cultivated people” (I’ll go out on a limb and put myself in their number) who still find Protestantism hopelessly pedantic and captious. While we may miss the “spectacles for the eyes” and bemoan the frivolity and lack of gravitas in current Catholic ritual, we still might choose a parish based on church architecture and decoration, music, and so on. Plus ça change





Some music for the weekend

5 11 2010





Lully: Cadmus et Hermione

7 05 2010





Generic weekly music post

16 04 2010

And… Pandit Jasraj sings a raga





Regina Coeli

4 04 2010





Dance of the Sun King

13 11 2009





De Profundis

4 09 2009

-Michel Richard Delalande