Wednesday, 31 December 2008

From The Tablet

From the article Carols old and new, in The Tablet, 20/27 December 2008, by Nicholas Williams.

Paradoxically, our exposure to genuine tunes, whether folk songs, carols, hymn tunes or even lowly nursery rhymes, has surely diminished relative to the torrent of music that now overwhelms our senses. And though there's never been a better time for melody, it may also be time to reassert the tune — symmetrically patterned, shaped by rhythm, rhyme and tonal cadence — as the ground of our listening and the essential pattern of Western music since the Renaissance.
A similar awareness lies, perhaps, behind the movement for reforming liturgical music, with the structures of chant as the ideal vehicle for sacred observance. Unstated, too, is surely the perception that some styles and forms are better than others —"better for being listened to" in every sense of that phrase—that only the best is sufficient for the service of God, and that the man-centred ethos of the guitar Mass and worship song is simply not good enough.
In the meeting of art and faith, matters are rarely straightforward. While espousing the cause of Palestrina and a cappella singing, for example, elements of the nineteenth-century Cecilian Movement for the reform of Catholic music would have also prohibited the Masses of Haydn and Schubert. But for all those entrusted with the duty to revive the quality of music for worship, Vaughan Williams, Hely-Hutchinson and others point in the right direction. Confronted with both the riches and the false authenticities of our musical scene, bishops, composers and choral directors will need artistic clear thinking, particularly in furnishing music of lasting worth for the forthcoming English Mass translation. What these modest, carol-based works remind us is that, for a wise outcome, the example of history should count quite as much as easy accessibility, or fashionable sociological precepts about music, in determining their choices.

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