Sacred Music and Secular Culture

March 5th was the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the instruction Musicam SacramTo mark the occasion, Pope Francis gave a speech to an international conference on sacred music. In his speech the Holy Father points out the central tension involved in debates about sacred music since the Council. On the one hand, sacred music should heighten the solemnity and glory of the liturgy, it should help manifest the “hierarchic and communal nature” of the liturgy, and raise minds  “to celestial things through the splendor of sacred things,” and help the liturgy prefigure “more clearly the liturgy, which is carried out in the heavenly Jerusalem.” But on the other hand, sacred music should be “fully ‘inculturated’ in the artistic and musical languages of the present.” The “rich and multi-form patrimony inherited from the past” must be preserved, but it must be preserved in a balanced way that avoids “the risk of a nostalgic or ‘archaeological’ vision.” The Holy Father is very forthright about the difficulties involved in such a balance: Continue reading

Ferdinand Rebay

The Austrian composer Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953) had been a choir-boy here in Heiligenkreuz, and after his death a great many manuscripts of his compositions were entrusted to our music archive. My confrère, P. Roman, and the musicologist Dr. Maria Chervenlieva-Gelew have been bringing some of those compositions to light. A few of them, including the Ave Maria embedded above, were sung at conventual Mass here on November 15th, the Feast of St. Leopold, by the Wiener Schubertbund. Rebay’s music strikes me as being suffused by a deep sadness.

A Review of Die Taubenwirtin

On November 9th was the long-awaited premier of Eric Peters’s opera Die Taubenwirtin in the Kreuzherrenpalais in Vienna. It was so brilliant that I went again on the 11th. Eric Peters’s achievement is really astonishing— sparkling, inventive music, with a great range, from comic to tender to noble. It is in the style of Mozart, but listening to it I was reminded of something that Msgr. Ronald Knox remarks of the satyrical poems that Hilaire Belloc had written in the style of Alexander Pope:

… to be capable of such pastiche is to be capable of something beyond mere imitation. One who could so master the secret of Drydan and Pope could, given the opportunity, have written as they did. (Literary Distractionsp. 203).

I hope that Eric Peters will be many more opportunities to compose as Mozart did.

The performers entered into the spirit of the piece with great élan. Johanna Kräuter was charming as the titular innkeeper. Ágnes Jordanov gave great presence to the cook Ludmilla with her powerful sophrano. Ali Magomedov was tender and expressive in the role of the Spanish slave escaped from the Moroccan ambassadors, who eventually falls in love with the Taubenwirtin.

The élan of the singers was supported by Clemens Fuchs’s scenery and Leni Fuchs’s costumes, which were just right. And above all by Ralf Siebenbürger’s libretto, which not only caught the style of 18th German, but was also genuinely funny and clever. It had just enough arch references to “future” events to remind us that it was written in the 21st century. As an example of his style, consider Ludmilla’s portrait of the Viennese character in her aria Ach, liebe Herrin (no. 6):

Ach, Liebe Herrin, seyd doch froh,
Ihr wißt, die Wiener sind halt so.
Sie sind gern wichtig, nörgeln gern
Doch sonst gemütlich sind die Herr’n.

Sie schimpfen, machen alles schlecht,
Und kommen wieder — alles recht!
Drum thut Euch nur nicht ennuyirn.
Bey ihrem Grant thut nix passirn.

Cardinal Burke’s Visit

On Tuesday in Vienna Cardinal Burke presented the German Translation of a book on the family to which he had contributed. I moderated a panel discussion with him video and audio of which is now online.

As planned, before the discussion I gave an introductory talk in which I talked about Mozart and Richard Strauss. And Prof. Stark had given a brilliant lecture on the philosophical presuppositions of Cardinal Kasper’s theology, analyzing Kasper’s book An Introduction to Christian Faith, and showing how its historicist teachings undermine the dogmatic claims it is supposed to support. Stark ended on an ironic note with the following quote from Kasper: Continue reading

The Synod on the Family and the Opera

Cardinal Burke is coming to Vienna this week at the invitation of Una Voce Austria. On account of the recent Synod on the family they have organized a presentation of a volume on the family to which Cardinal Burke contributed, the highpoint of which will be a panel discussion with the Cardinal Burke. Before that Prof. Thomas Stark is going to give an extended critique of Cardinal Kasper’s theology. I am to give a brief introduction explaining the context. I should probably make some sort of reference to the genius loci of Vienna, and so I have been thinking that I might mention the opera. Continue reading