Umbrian Music Festival opens in Perugia
must meet the sacred
This year the Umbrian Music Festival opens with a reflection on the
relationship between art and transcendence. On Saturday, 10 September, from
10:30-5:00 p.m. in the great hall of the University for Foreigners in Perugia,
the “Colloquium: Music and Faith”, will be chaired by Marcello Filotei, a
composer and the music critic of
L'Osservatore Romano Italian daily
edition. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for
Culture, some of whose thoughts on the topic we present here, will preside at
and open the meeting. Also taking part in the discussion are composers Salvatore
Sciarrino and Giorgio Battistelli, musicologists Quirino Principe and Giovanni
Carli Ballola, a philosopher of music, Giovanni Guanti, and the director of the
New College Choir of Oxford, Edward Higginbottom, whose report, entitled
well means keeping time”, we are publishing on the website in advance.
Flaubert used a vivid image to describe the state of the art of making sounds: “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms to make bears dance, whereas we long to make music that will melt the stars.”
This is more or less what happens in the liturgy on some occasions, especially in recent times. And it is unjust to accuse the reform of the Second Vatican Council because, in Sacrosanctum Concilium (nos. 112-121), important guidelines are offered, starting with the basic assertion: “the musical tradition [...] is a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy […] making prayer more pleasing, promoting unity of minds, or conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred rites […], the treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated”.
The specific directives then continue, passing through chapters that should not only be shared but also fully implemented: the role of scholae cantorum, the serious musical training of the clergy and pastoral workers, the role of Gregorian chant, the exaltation of the organ as the main instrument for Catholic (and also Protestant) worship, and dialogue with people today.
This last chapter, which is crucial, has unfortunately – and often – been badly and hastily interpreted; yet in itself it is necessary, as the great heritage of tradition has testified. Only think, to cite just one example, of the impressive (and perhaps at the time also shocking) innovation introduced by polyphony in comparison with the monodic purity of Gregorian plainsong. However, this occurred at a high level with composers of great originality with an exceptional training and it is this that is lacking in our time. Contemporary music, with its new grammar, must encounter the sacred which has its own canons, texts and themes for a cross-breeding that will enable it to flourish anew. Of course, the route is long and arduous: because of the separation of worship from high- quality music and because of secularization and society's radical distancing from every religious perspective; and because of the liturgy's self-confinement in shortened or superficially innovative forms or its mere retracing of the past. Hence serious commitment is necessary precisely in order to prevent what in the sixth century was already impending, causing such an original Christian writer as Cassiodorus, in his Institutiones Divinarum, to warn us: “If we continue to commit injustice, God will leave us without music”.
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