Monday, March 12, 2007

Monet, Monet, Monet...

MONET - ROUEN CATHEDRAL

My modest collection of recordings includes almost none of the Romantics. I mention this gratuitously, to reassure those who detected a whiff of something incongruous and unsavoury about the Evil Denizen of the Undercroft weeping like a milkmaid under great waves of Richard Strauss as matter of routine. I make an exception for the Four Last Songs as a kind of sublime summing-up of something that ought to be kept mostly in quarantine, for all of the reasons ably presented by the visitors to my combox on the posting below. There. I'm glad I was able to clear that up. A pint of milk, please barman - in a dirty glass.

I mentioned similarly ambiguous feelings about Duruflé, organist and choirmaster of the great Cathedral of Rouen in the period just before the Council, whose characteristic ouevre, exemplified in his Requiem, is liturgical plainsong tastefully re-clothed in exquisitely respectful orchestration and subtle polyphonic variations. Duruflé himself provided two scores for the Requiem - one for choir and orchestra, another for choir and organ. It is therefore eminently useable liturgically, as its composer, a genuine lover of the liturgy, had intended.

So far so good. Like the high altar and canopied cathedra of Rouen Cathedral itself, reconstructed after war-damage in fine, minimal late-Liturgical Movement style (infinitely preferrable to the baroque monstrosity squatting in the chaste sanctuary of Chartres), but now a mere repository for the dust stirred by rarer visitors to that abandoned cul-de-sac east of the cuboid People's Altar under the crossing, it represents a kind of culmination, abandoned almost in the instant of its appearance; a sad, evocative glimpse of a discarded vision.

I loved - still love - the Duruflé Requiem; but along with related manifestations of the pre-Conciliar Liturgical Movement I have begun to regard it with a certain resentment. The feelings of longing and wistfulness it conjures are not, I fear, related to that holy fire kindled in the soul by the Gregorian originals; more a kind of fuzzy, naturalistic, emotional mirage or impression. And now, whenever I hear those Gregorian melodies in their proper liturgical context, my mind involuntarily fills them out with Duruflé. I can't quite get rid of him, and I'm not pleased. He's interfering with my prayers for the departed, and wafting me off somewhere quite remote, I suspect, from the Rex tremendae majestatis.

TTony wonders whether Duruflé has enhanced or merely adulterated the plainsong setting of the Requiem Mass, superimposing a dubious romantic sensibility on its gothic austerity. I don't think that's quite right. I think he's Monet-fied or Debussy-ficated it, which might be something even worse.

12 comments:

Ttony said...

I don't think it's worse - worse, that is, as an absolute - so much as differently-just-as-bad. An Impressionist Durufle is making HIS own point, imposing himself on the Universe, while a Romantic Durufle is saying how it's all about him and his reaction to the Universe.

We need a theology as well as a philosophy of music. (I think that's a royal "we" there.) How music affects and effects (in fact all the interrogative pronouns: Who? Whom? What? Why? Where? When? as well as How?) us is a great mystery.

Londiniensis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Londiniensis said...

... now, whenever I hear those Gregorian melodies in their proper liturgical context, my mind involuntarily fills them out with Duruflé. I can't quite get rid of him ...
Along with all the other of life's continuing irritations, offer it up (as my old primary school teacher, a benignly formidable Irish nun, used to say) for the Holy Souls.

But why should Romantic music be "incongruous and unsavoury" and rigidly quarantined? (I presume you mean even outside a liturgical context.) And how often do passages of purely romantic sensibility creep into Mozart, or Haydn, or even Bach? I am not sure that the barriers are that rigid. The best romantic music can make us reach into ourselves, maybe sometimes through layers of "fuzzy, naturalistic, emotional mirage", but always touching at the real soul within.

hilary said...

Last month was in Chicago. Saw there some of the great masterworks of western art from the middle ages on. Gazed intimately and adoringly at Renoirs, Manets, Botticellis etc.

Got to the Monet room and said to my companion, "I. Just. Can't." And we motored through without glancing up.

I don't know why exactly, but Monet just gives me the willies. Maybe it was all those coffee mugs and posters in the '80's

hilary said...

always touching at the real soul within.

Sr. told us in school that it was a sin to touch that. That's for God alone.

Is more subjectivism what we need now?

hilary said...

Wait, isn't the pre-VII liturgical movement contemporary with the Pre-Raphaelites? Aren't we talking really about the same sort of false romanticism? A morbid self indulgence of the deChristianized middle class?
Perpetual teenagers painting pictures of Lancelot and Guinevere? Is it me or does it remind one a bit of all the interchangeable fantasy novels written by and for teenage girls these days?

Londiniensis said...

Hilary, I think that God touches our souls in many ways, not least through the intensity of our emotional responses to the beauty and grandeur of Nature and Art. Why should such feeling be shunned as "subjectivism"?

And I'm thoroughly confused if il miglior fabbro Monet gives you the willies but Renoir moves you to adoration.

Moretben said...

Wait, isn't the pre-VII liturgical movement contemporary with the Pre-Raphaelites? Aren't we talking really about the same sort of false romanticism? A morbid self indulgence of the deChristianized middle class?
Perpetual teenagers painting pictures of Lancelot and Guinevere?


No Hilary, not at all. "Pre-Raphaelite" medievalism of the kind you describe, as well as of the finer, genuinely Christian variety (Pugin, Comper, Burne-Jones) was a phenomenon of the middle-to-late nineteenth century. The "liturgical Movement" style I'm identifying as exemplified by the disused 1950's sanctuary and high altar at Rouen was certainly not "gothic revival". I would say it developed (insofar as it really exists outside my imagination as an identifiable coherent "style") from about the 1920's right up to the Council. Insofar as it consciously drew on a particular period, it’s "patristic" or more specifically "Gregorian" in inspiration. It aspired to "noble simplicity" in the period before that phrase aquired its post-conciliar connotation of ugly-on-purpose bourgeois-modernist kitsch. It is severely Roman, but not classical; simple but not minimalist; it emphasises fine materials and craftsmanship and absolutely eschews theatricality or any kind of "profane" ornamentation. It revives and renews older forms and furnishings, but does not descend to abstruse archaeologism - it subordinates itself absolutely to the requirements of true and correct liturgical practice, emphasising the mystery and the Presence without straining for effects. Wherever it is applied in the context of an older builidng, it is respectful of its surroundings; indeed, it is often seen at its best in older, perhaps unremarkable churches renovated during the period, rather than in contemporary buildings where the influence of modernism in the architecture often weakened and compromised it. A few salient characteristics:

- Absence of clutter or superfluous ornamentation.
- Fine materials, visible as themselves (wood, stone, metal, textiles)with a strong emphasis on craftsmanship.
- Use of inscriptions (Latin, of course)and traditional symbols (e.g. the Chi-rho, the Greek Cross)in strong Roman characters.
- Full, but elegant proportions (rejecting rationalism and minimalism): large altars with free-standing, fully veiled tabernacles; big, strong candlsticks and realistic crucifix; large, beautifully proportioned but otherwise auster altar vessels (chalice and ciboria with broad base, large node and wide, shallow bowl; “breadbasket” paten); altar curtains and frontals, "gothic" vestments.
- Everything geared to emphasising the nobility of the Temple (rather than the "worship space") and presenting the Sacred Liturgy as fully and correctly as possible.

Moretben said...

Londiniensis

You mustn't take my crabbed Caledonian Jansenism too seriously. I identify grey areas solely for the purposes of sweeping them away. It's a congenital infirmity and I can't help it.

However I'm with Hilary on the matter of Monet versus Renoir. Give me frank sensuality over girlie wallpaper any day of the week.

hilary said...

I think that God touches our souls in many ways,

But my dear, you didn't say anything about God. What you said was:

The best romantic music can make us reach into ourselves, maybe sometimes through layers of "fuzzy, naturalistic, emotional mirage", but always touching at the real soul within.

"make us reach into ourselves...touching the real soul within..."

Or are you trying to tell us that there is no difference between "us" and "God". Don't worry, it's a common idea and very popular. I'm sure you feeeeeel very good about yourself as God. But could you tell me please what it has to do with anything but crass modern narcissism?

I realize that in our self-worshipping age, the idea that we are not God is a heresy, but do give us a demonstration, if you please, of your divine powers: make a rabbit appear on my desk. I'll be convinced.

Londiniensis said...

Hilary, Please don't chop logic with me. The context, I hope, was crystal clear: when great art touches the soul it vibrates in sympathy with what is best in us. It is like prayer which catches us unawares. We recognise, with the eyes of the soul, and with the help of the Holy Ghost, le Dieu caché. We are in the foothills of a mystical experience, even if when we started the journy we were not consciously seeking God.

Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1.Cor.3:16)

If you want me to produce a rabbit by magic, I would have to consult a grimoire and consecrate my soul to the devil: to prove my sincerity by imperiling my immortal soul might be just a little too extreme, even if you did call me "my dear".

hilary said...

No rabbit. Not convinced.