Why the World Should Thank the Church for “Classical” Compositions | Catholic National Register
CHOICE OF BOOKS: Brief introduction to Western sounds available in time for the feast of St. Cecilia
The Music of Christendom
By Susan Treacy
Ignatius Press / Augustine Institute, 2021
235 pages, $ 16.95
It would probably come as a shock to many people today, but Gregorian chant is the founding music of the Western world. Although monophonic, this type of music is anything but monotonous. There is variety in the modes of the songs themselves and in the various forms of music that flow from them.
This centrality of the official music of the Catholic Church forms the basis of Susan Treacy’s new book, The Music of Christendom, Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute. A convert and singer herself, Treacy is a board member of the Church Music Association of America. Previously, she taught music history and sacred music courses at Ave Maria University, where she was also director of male and female schools.
His professional specialties in general form the most interesting parts of The Music of Christendom specifically. The first nine chapters address three main topics: the great importance that the ancient Greeks placed on music for character building and authentic happiness, the cultural source of Gregorian chant, and the development of polyphony.
These chapters are the most overtly Catholic, while the others are often implicitly Catholic. Treacy relates how the practice of musical composition and performance in Christian Europe was “born” in the Catholic Church and developed there over the centuries. For much of Church history, there was such a connection between sacred music and secular music that the two were often one and the same.
Although there are some similarities with doctrinal development, musical development does not offer an exact parallel, as seen in The Music of Christendom. When the Catholic Church was torn apart by the multifaceted rejection of the faith in the 1500s, known collectively as the Protestant Reformation, secular music began to develop separately from Catholic music. While Catholic worshipers worshiped by a set of musical standards, Treacy points out, the cultural listening material of the day often pulled them in another direction.
Towards the end of the book, Treacy expresses hope that his presentation will encourage further research into western world music – not only in the pages of other books, but in the music itself. Three examples in literature are Edward Schaefer Catholic music through the ages, Joseph Swain Sacred treasure and Mgr. that of Robert Hayburn Papal legislation on sacred music.
On the record side, one of the best essential Gregorian chant albums is Lux Beatissima, sung by Cantores in Ecclesia and available from Oregon Catholic Press. Among the most popular songs on the album are the Veni Creator Spiritus, Pange Lingua and Regina Coeli – in addition to Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, sure.
Gloriae Dei Cantores albums offer a listening tour through the main sacred and secular aspects of European music. The Massachusetts-based Ecumenical Choir has several song recordings (including Treacy’s highest recommendation “masterpiece”: the songs of the traditional Christmas Midnight Mass) as well as Renaissance polyphonic recordings (including one album entirely dedicated to the 16th century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina) and recordings by Johann Sebastien Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sergei Rachmaninoff (who, although Russian, was influenced by Western musical ideals, explains Treacy).
Of the groups active today that provide opportunities for musical immersion, the Church Music Association of America, of which Treacy is a leader, is the oldest. The St. Gregory Institute of Sacred Music (founded by Nicholas Will), Corpus Christi Watershed (founded by Jeff Ostrowski) and the Christopher Mueller Foundation for Polyphony and Chant also offer related opportunities.
The feast day of Sainte-Cécile, patron saint of musicians, is November 22, so it’s the perfect time to learn more and participate more widely in the beautiful music that emanates from the heart and mouth of the Church. . These “classic” sounds have helped shape not only Church history, but world history. A first step in learning more about this abundant treasure is The music of Christianity.
Record correspondent Trent Beattie writing from Seattle.
His book Fit for paradise (dynamic Catholic, 2015)
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