Crittenden discussing the apparent anomaly of an old Italian manuscript of Gregorian Chant being held in the State Library of New South Wales’ collection. And Crittenden did so in very respectful tones. A recognition of a great artform, no less.
The twist is, that the manuscript has been “brought to life” through a series of secular concerts so popular, that more are having to be scheduled.
“This is not surprising”, might you say, Dear Listener. “It’s great music and a great artform, what’s the issue”. Hasn’t every Pope and Congregation responsible for the Liturgy and Sacraments exalted Gregorian as a priceless treasure?
But these days the only place you are likely to hear any Gregorian Chant is in a concert hall or some Anglican churches.
Thing is, the majority of Catholic bishops, priests and Liturgy Committees, have in a practical sense FORBIDDEN the use of Gregorian Chant in church. The tawdry tale is repeated in parish after parish all over the Catholic world. In the Catholic world, you’ll find Gregorian Chant at the Vatican and in some of the more important churches and Catholic Cathedrals, but only where the Archbishop or Dean has orthodoxy and taste to boot.
Driven by the egregious modernistic tendencies that seem to interpret the Second Vatican Council as establishing almost a new church that ditches everything that came before, those people revile Gregorian Chant (and its language of Latin). They are things to be shunned and expunged from all use in the liturgical life of the Church because it is foreign to the modern mentality, stands for another faith. And are just a bit too-Catholic. We don’t do that here. We won’t even raise the issue of the complete drivel that has replaced it.
These views have been driven by the - at best - neglect - or more likely, deliberate program to destroy – this destroy this great art form and its accompanying language that both the Second Vatican Council and every Pope and Congregation responsible for the liturgy has exalted as a priceless treasure.
Not that Crittenden would tell you this of course, because to do that would actually give you a window on the authentic role and power of the Greogorian chant in authentic Catholic worship AND Greogorian Chant is, of course, most readily associated with…THE TRADITIONAL LATIN MASS and there is no way that there should be an publicity for the riches of that, should there dear Listener (cf Crittenden’s contemptuous tones on the liberalisation of the Traditional Latin Mass).
For the record, and before we look at the interview, let’s see what the Second Vatican Council really thought about Latin and Gregorian Chant. From its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium):
“116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”
And, what about Latin?
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
Yep. That’s right.
Hang on, Vatican II didn’t abolish Latin and the Gregorian Chant?
Nup, Dear Listener, on the contrary: when the Fathers of Vatican II voted for the Constitution on the Sacred Litrugy, they sought to ensure that what was promoted was the congregation's authentic (not superficial) involvement in the prayer of the Church - their prayer - and the Mass, to encourage their profound prayerful "interior" participation and thereby to encourage their authentic understanding of the Mass, so they could derive the maximum fruits from it. They also wanted the congregation to play the role proper (ie special) to them in the appropriate external by singing their chants and praying the Mass with the Priest. When it comes to singing, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy said:
“54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.
Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”
In your ordinary Catholic parish this does not happen. Why? The reasons you’ll hear are:
1. we don’t do that any more / we don't believe that any more
2. Vatican II abolished all that old stuff
3. we don’t do that in Australia
4. the people don’t understand
5. the people don’t sing
6. the people can’t sing
7. we don’t have the resources
8. no one knows Gregorian Chant
In other words, everything is being done on the practical level to ignore official directives and the Church’s tradition and timeless heritage, which belongs to ordinary Catholics in the pews as much as to anyone else.
Were this a question of taste, we would call it the appalling lack of taste.
But it's much more important than that. It has the effect of killing Latin and Gregorian Chant, depriving Catholics of their birthright and heritage and giving the ordinary Catholic the misleading impression that we just don’t do that any more.
Wethinks what is really happening is the individuals (Bishops, Priest, Laity, Liturgical Committees, Liturgical Commisions etc) involved either:
1. have no idea about what Vatican II said; or
2. don’t want to know about what Vatican II said; or
3. have an ideological position that they refuse to do what Vatican II (and every Pope since, including Pope Paul VI) said; or
4. will use every excuse in the book to keep the people in the dark, and finally kill off Latin and Gregorian Chant for good, given the evil these modernists perceive Latin and Gregorian Chant represent: Catholic faith and tradition.
“We don’t do that here”.
Let’s look at the interview:
Stephen Crittenden: Well that's Gregorian Chant from a manuscript that's thought to be one of the oldest European manuscripts in Australia, the Rimini Antiphonal of 1328. It's owned by the State Library of New South Wales, which has had the bright idea of not only giving the public a rare opportunity to see this beautiful illuminated manuscript in an exhibition, but giving the music its first Australian performance. So far there have been two sold-out concerts in the vestibule of the State Library, and we're told that demand is such that there'll be at least one more, possibly two.
The music archivist of the State Library of New South Wales is Meredith Lawn, and she's here in the studio with Dr Neil McEwan who lectures at the Conservatorium of Music and conducts the concerts. Meredith, a Franciscan manuscript from Rimini; describe it to us.
Meredith Lawn: Well it's an antiphonal and it contains music for the commons of the saints, which are Gregorian chants used in the service of the office. What it looks like, it's covered in hard oak wooden boards, and inside the pages are vellum. There are 155 folios which in today's pagination would be 310 pages because they're front and back. The music on the page is in the old style of notation, square black notes on four red lines, and we have illuminations on some of the pages, the most beautiful, brightly coloured illuminations with gold leaf, and they're by an artist called Neri Da Rimini.
Stephen Crittenden: Right. So this is not an anonymous manuscript, it's somebody we know.
Meredith Lawn: The artist has been identified. We even know the scribe who did the music and the text, and that was someone called Bonfontino da Bologna, but in the 16th century the manuscript was revised on some pages by an unknown scribe who actually scraped away some of the old notes and text, and wrote over the top of them, sometimes even pasting a piece of paper over the old text.
Stephen Crittenden: And 1328 by this time I guess in the history of music, we're into some quite spectacular polyphony starting to emerge.
Neil McEwan: By a longshot, yes.
Stephen Crittenden: By a longshot, but this is not polyphony this is pure, monophonic chant, isn't it?
Neil McEwan: It is, yes. It's just one line, could be sung by a soloist but I would suggest it would be sung by a schola of, you know, a number of people.
Meredith Lawn: I just think it's interesting to comment on the contents of the antiphonal for the different groups of saints. It doesn't come with a table of contents, but we could say that we start of with chants for the apostles. And then we have martyrs, several martyrs, and then we have confessors who were bishops, confessors who were not bishops, and it gets quite specific. Then we have virgins, virgins non-martyrs, non-virgins non-martyrs, and then it goes into the office for the dedication of the church and the office of the dead.
Stephen Crittenden: They loved classification, those people, didn't they? Meredith what can you tell us about the provenance of the book? Who owned it and how did the Library come to acquire it?
Meredith Lawn: Yes, a lot of people are surprised that this mediaeval Italian manuscript could end up in the State Library of New South Wales, but we received in 1928. It was a bequest from an English gentleman called Nelson Moore Richardson, and it was part of a collection of 300 rare early English bibles. But why did this Englishman choose to send them to Australia? Well, I've looked back through the correspondence files, and in a letter that Richardson wrote in 1917, he explains that there was an Australian army camp based on his land in Dorset, and he got to know the Australians that were passing through that camp. Many of them had actually been at Gallipoli, and this was a convalescent camp. So he writes in his letter:
'It occurred to us that it would show in a small way our appreciation of the Australians and of the noble way in which they have come forward to help us in this war, and of all the sacrifices they have made. If we were to arrange that these Bibles should eventually find a home in Australia.'
Now apparently Richardson was not sure whether they should go to Sydney or Melbourne, but the Chaplain at the Australian army camp, Reginald Pitt-Owen, he was from Sydney and he suggested Sydney, of course, so that's how they eventually came to us.
Stephen Crittenden: Neil, there's been surprising public interest in the concerts around this exhibition. There have been two sold-out concerts so far, I understand public demand is so big in Sydney that you're planning a third and perhaps even a fourth concert?
Neil McEwan: That's correct.
Stephen Crittenden: What's behind this level of interest, do you think?
Neil McEwan: Well I think that in much of what we do in life, everything's geared towards the future and the present, but within all of us there's a sense of wanting to know about mediaevalism. Gregorian chant seems to capture the imagination of people who don't know anything about it, and you'll remember some years ago where it hit the top of the hit parades in England.
Stephen Crittenden: The monks in Montserrat in Spain.
Neil McEwan: That's right.
Stephen Crittenden: Is it a straightforward matter to perform the music, or is that a matter of detailed reconstruction?
Neil McEwan: Well we're actually singing exactly what's on the page, in terms of notes. But by the time of the Rimini manuscript, practically all the semeology - that means the musicality and the expressive musical side of singing chant - had practically disappeared, because we got four lines and we can read the music. But I went back to the 10th century when those four lines of pitches hadn't been invented, and I crossed many of the manuscripts, but the important manuscripts of the 10th century are this proliferation of signs which tell us how to sing the chant, and that was just recently discovered by a Solesmes monk who published a book in 1979. But what's important is that I transcribed the 10th century nuances onto the manuscript which would give us pretty close to maybe what a performance practice was like, singing from the Rimini. But how they actually sang it and what the sound was like I have no idea. But I think we might be, well, pretty close.
Stephen Crittenden: Dr Neil McEwan of the New South Wales Conservatorium, and Meredith Lawn, of the State Library of New South Wales. There'll be one more concert in the coming weeks, perhaps two, and if you're interested in going you'll need to register your interest on the State Library's website. Details are on our website.
We think the good Dr McEwan is being a little reductionist with the emphasis on mediaevalism. Sure, that might be right in the secular sphere, but in the Catholic Church it's more an integral part of the Catholic Liturgy, and how beauty evangelises.