Council of Trent on sacred music
  • I have tried searching on this forum, on and on google on this topic. I can't find specific information and am hoping someone can point me in the right direction. If this has already been discussed, please send a link. Thanks in advance.

    I have heard for years that the Council of Trent codified the liturgy and that it lasted for 400 years. I heard it forbade the use of the vernacular. I heard that Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli "saved" sacred polyphony from being banned by Pope Marcellus II. I heard that the council permitted polyphony, so long as it was not profane or impure, and that the words are intelligible. I never questioned this information.

    I recently had to start preparing a presentation on the development of sacred music, with a mind to convincing those in attendance that our choir's use of occasional chant and polyphony was not only legitimate, but preferred. So I started digging for quotes. I have the recent quotes from Sacrosanctum Concilium, ch 6, Musicam Sacram, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. And I have pre-conciliar quotes from Musica Sacra, Mediator Dei, Divini Cultus, Tra le sollecitudini, and even Annus Qui. But I can't find strict documentation for the Decrees or Canons from the Council of Trent related to sacred music.
    All references I've seen point to a Canon 8: "Everything should be regulated so that the Masses, whether they be celebrated with the plain voice or in song, with everything clearly and quickly executed, may reach the ears of the hearers and quietly penetrate their hearts” (Monson). The Council makes it known that if music is to be sung, it needs to be clear what the text is in one way or another. It continues, “In those Masses where measured music and organ are customary, nothing profane should be intermingled, but only hymns and divine praises. If something from the divine service is sung with the organ while the service proceeds, let if first be recited in a simple, clear voice…". There is also a pdf from a book by K.G. Fellerer, and he quotes A. Theiner. That translation is similar to that quoted above.

    Is there a site where this Canon can be referenced in its entirety? Also, is there an official translation, or will I just have to take the Latin text and pass it through google translate?
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,896
    NOt even sure that counts, because it's not a promulgated canon but a proposed decree that never got fully adopted it seems:
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,647
    Here is a translation into English (by a 19th century Anglican scholar) of all the decrees and canons of Trent, the relevant page is . The reference to music is at the end of the third paragraph.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,956
    First, do you have Hayburn's book, "Papal Legislation on Sacred Music"? It includes a nine-page chapter on Trent.

    For your presentation, it might be worthwhile to indicate some of the music that preceded Trent, and which might raise concerns, and contrast it with your choir's work.

    We can think back to the high medieval works of Perotin and Leonin (1100s), in which the singing of the sacred text is slowed down tremendously at times, to the point of unintelligibility, while decorative music is sung in another vocal part.

    Some early Renaissance works presented two different texts simultaneously, as in this performance of a Mass setting by Jacob Obrecht (late 1400s), in which a Kyrie is overlaid with a hymn to St. Donatian:

    On the other hand, here is something closer to what you probably do at times: a re-creation of a Mass as it would have been conducted in a simple country church in 1450, sung by the priest and a cantor, shown in a program from Swedish regional television:
    (The presentation is probably unrealistic in one aspect: the congregation probably would have known the melodies for the fixed portions of Mass well enough to sing along sometimes.)
  • You should start with Craig Monson's article "The Council of Trent Revisited" from JAMS 2002.

    Turns out, a lot of thoughts attributed to the council of Trent are either not there, or were only found in the draft documents circulated to the voting members. The actual decrees of the council on music are actually quite limited.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,647
    From the abstract of Monson's article:
    In the Council's immediate aftermath, reformers such as Paleotti and Borromeo once again focused on the issue of intelligibility, affording it a quasi-official status that seems to have quickly become widely accepted as “iuxta formam concilii".
    So even the Spirit of Vatican II is a tradition.
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 811
    Check out Catholic Music through the Ages: Balancing the Needs of a Worshipping Church
    by Edward Schaefer