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Music in the Eternal City

Recently, I wrote about my trip to Rome as a member of the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We provided music for two Masses in the Basilica di San Pietro and gave a concert at Santa Maria Maggiore (pictured), as part of the seventh edition of the Festival Internazionale di Musica e Arte Sacra. There is an interesting report on the festival in an article (Grande musica nelle chiese di Roma. Ma in Vaticano sono sordi, December 3) by one Sandro Magister on the Web site Chiesa. The title translates as "Great music in the churches of Rome, but in the Vatican they are deaf."

Organized by the Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra, the festival is intended to restore great sacred music to its authentic context, the churches: a context that may not be as acoustically perfect as a concert hall, but is the right one for revitalizing music originally created for the liturgy. "My dream," says Hans-Albert Courtial, president of the foundation, "is that on each Sunday of the year, in one of the churches of Rome, there would be a Mass accompanied by the masterpieces of sacred music, Gregorian and polyphonic, with performers of the first rank." [...]

There is a sort of musical paralysis, in Rome, around the celebrations of the pope. Benedict XVI's thought on liturgical music is very well known, it has been presented in his writings, very critical of the decline that has taken place. But almost nothing has changed, in more than three years of pontificate. The Vatican still has no office with authority on sacred music. The Sistine Choir, conducted by Monsignor Giuseppe Liberto, is a shadow of its glorious former self. And when the Sistine Choir is not singing at the papal Masses, what dominates is the theatrical style of Monsignor Marco Frisina, director of the choir at the Lateran, the cathedral basilica of Rome.

In this sense, too, the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art taught a lesson. To perform the Masses and motets of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Luca Marenzio, Claudio Monteverdi – in short, the illustrious choir directors at the cathedrals of Rome and of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the choir of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, conducted by Peter Latona, came from the United States, and from Germany the choir of the cathedral of Speyer, conducted by Leo Krämer.
December, of course, continues to be very busy for the Choir, a month that is far from restful or holiday-like for any musician. This Friday we will take part in the 20th annual Christmas Concert for Charity (December 5, 7:30 pm), and we will help celebrate the Basilica's patronal feast, the Immaculate Conception, at the noon Mass on Monday, December 8. We also continue to perform every Sunday at the noon Mass, and throughout the season of Advent, we are singing at special Vespers services, on Sundays at 4 pm.


Anonymous said...

Hi Charles,

could you please recommend some good Christmas Mass? That is, musically speaking.


Charles T. Downey said...

Well, without any attempt to be complete (and mostly just focusing on the places I know), here are a few suggestions with professional choirs. Please feel free to add others!

4th St. and Michigan Ave NE
Solemn Mass of Christmas Eve
10 pm Concert
10:30 pm Mass, Great Upper Church
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States

Solemn Mass of Christmas Day
12 noon Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

727 5th St NW
Midnight Mass (December 25, 12 am)
Tridentine Rite with Gregorian chant and polyphony

1725 Rhode Island Ave NW
Midnight Mass (December 25, 12 am)