Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Palestrina's "Stabat Mater" and Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta

     “At one time it was understood that liturgical music should lift us up from this world and direct our hearts and minds toward The Lord.  Is that asking too much?”  I made the following comment last week in reference to a beautiful and, yes, uplifting “Sanctus” by the English composer William Byrd.  Beautiful music and beautiful art has a power to move us emotionally, and beauty has a way of moving us toward God that the unbeautiful, alas, cannot match.  I am fortunate to attend a church that has a good chorus, led over the fifteen years I’ve been here by a series of talented and faithful music directors.  Several times a year, at least, I have the opportunity to hear Sacred Polyphony as part of the Mass: what a blessed experience!  Most of the other music is very good, and appropriate for the Liturgy as well (with a few clunkers thrown in, but why dwell on the negative?).
      It was with all this in mind that I recently found myself, as I was listening to one of these beautiful pieces, thinking to myself “How did they ever abandon this for all that Happy Time nonsense?”  Well, it seems to go with the mundane language of  “dynamic equivalence” translations (see here), ugly, chaotic church buildings (see here for more on that), and the rejection of traditional devotions for innovations that tend to direct our attention to the here and now (and US), rather to the above, beyond and HIM.
     This is all a lead-in to the clip below, an overflow from yesterday’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  The video’s creator beautifully combined the incomparable Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina’s setting for the Marian Hymn “Stabat Mater” with visuals of Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta (also known as the Deposition).  This sculpture has a interesting history (see here), which along with its atypical (for Michelangelo) style and composition make it a fruitful object for a meditation on the suffering of Mary, and suffering in general. So here we have beautiful visual art working with beautiful sacred music to lift up our prayer. What could be better?