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Sandro Magister interviews Domenico Bartolucci, long-time director of the papal choir in the Sistine Chapel, dismissed during the pontificate of John Paul Ii and, some say, subtly and symbolically brought back to the fore by Benedict.

Q: What are the initiatives that Benedict XVI should take to realize this plan in a world of discotheques and iPods?

A: The great repertoire of sacred music that has been handed down to us from the past is made up of Masses, offertories, responsories: formerly there was no such thing as a liturgy without music. Today there is no place for this repertoire in the new liturgy, which is a discordant commotion – and it’s useless to pretend that it’s not. It is as if Michelangelo had been asked to paint the general judgment on a postage stamp! You tell me, please, how it is possible today to perform a Credo, or even a Gloria. First we would need to return, at least for the solemn or feast day Masses, to a liturgy that gives music its proper place and expresses itself in the universal language of the Church, Latin. In the Sistine, after the liturgical reform, I was able to keep alive the traditional repertoire of the Chapel only in the concerts. Just think – the Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina has not been sung in St. Peter’s since the time of Pope John XXIII! We were graciously granted the permission to perform it during a commemoration of Palestrina, and they wanted it without the Credo, but that time I would not budge, and the entire work was performed.

Q: Do you think that the assembly of the faithful should participate in singing the Gregorian chant during liturgical celebrations?

A: We must make distinctions in the performance of Gregorian chant. Part of the repertoire, for example the Introits or the Offertories, requires an extremely refined level of artistry and can be interpreted properly only by real artists. Then there is a part of the repertoire that is sung by the people: I think of the Mass “of the Angels,” the processional music, the hymns. It was once very moving to hear the assembly sing the Te Deum, the Magnificat, the litanies, music that the people had assimilated and made their own – but today very little is left even of this. And furthermore, Gregorian chant has been distorted by the rhythmic and aesthetic theories of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day.

Read this entire interview – there are a number of marvelous observations, pithily stated:

A: In Germany, in the Protestant arena, the children of the composer of the Brandenburg concerti jealously safeguard their identity. Verdi rightly said that the Germans are the faithful children of Bach, while we Italians are the degenerate children of Palestrina.

And

Q: And do you like Mahler?

A: He’s like Bruckner – some beautiful moments, but rather repetitive. One would like to shout at him at a certain point: knock it off, we get it!

And

Q: Do you envy the Eastern Churches at all?

A: They have not changed anything, and rightly so. The Catholic Church has renounced itself and its particular makeup, like those women who have plastic surgery: they become unrecognizable, and sometimes there are serious consequences.

Let’s try to keep the interview and his observations as the focus of our discussion and not drift off into "I hate On Eagles’ Wings." 

If anyone can provide us with a little bit more elaboration on his point on the difference between the  Solesmes type of chant and what he prefers, please do.

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