Cardinal Bartolucci on the Restoration of Sacred Music

ZENIT has published an interview with the long-time (and now-retired) director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, the recently elevated Domenico Cardinal Bartolucci. A brief journey through the Interwebs reveals the 93-year-old composer to be a feisty advocate for sacred music, particularly the “classics.” In this interview, he reveals his belief that “for sacred music, the great patriarchs are Palestrina and Bach,” which endears him to me greatly.

This exchange, in particular, caught my attention:

ZENIT: Do you think sacred music will be able to go back to what it was?

Cardinal Bartolucci: Time will be needed. The maestros of other times are no longer there because the need for their existence is no longer seen. We live in hope.

Benedict XVI loves Gregorian chant and polyphony very much and wants to recover the use of Latin. He understands that without Latin the repertory of the past is destined to be filed away.

It is necessary to return to a liturgy that makes room for music, with a taste for the beautiful, and also to return to true sacred art.

ZENIT: What do you think of the singing and the assembly during liturgical celebrations?

Cardinal Bartolucci: It is necessary to be careful and not generalize. I’m not against the people’s singing — of which some have accused me.

What is more, already before the council I wrote songs of the people for the liturgy in Italian. They were very widespread in the parishes.

Hence, there are contexts where a Schola Cantorum is required or in any case a choir that can do true art. Let us think, for example, of the repertory of Gregorian chant that requires true artists to be done as it should be, or to the great polyphonic repertory.

In these cases the people participate in all the rights, being nourished and listening, but it is the singers who put their professionalism and competence at the service of others. Sadly, in these years of novelty, many have thought that to participate means to “do any old thing.”

Over at The Anchoress’ blog, there is a fascinating, related post involving Jeff Ostrowski’s new English setting of the Gloria, which he composed in an effort to “create a dignified setting that was not too long, would not become tiresome over the years, yet was easy enough for an average congregation to sing well.”

Much of the discussion has centered around the “singability” of Ostrowski’s work, and on the benefits and drawbacks of the congregation’s participation. And, of course, the is the omnipresent question of Latin. Both are topics on which the cardinal has definite opinions. Much food for thought.


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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