Organ Secular Concert in a Sacred Space
  • ClaymanClayman
    Posts: 2
    Hello! I wanted to know your opinions on a certain matter. I know canon law prohibits secular music in sacred places(churches). But as organists where May we practice essential music such as Bach fugues without infringing canon law?
  • If it's practice, and there isn't a liturgical function occurring in the church at the moment, I think you're good. Secular music, I believe, is only prohibited from being used at services - in theory anyway . . .

    You might be considerate of those who might possibly be praying in the church at any time, but who knows? Some people actually enjoy listening to organ music even as they pray.
  • ClaymanClayman
    Posts: 2
    Thanks! I guess I was never able to see the distinction. I will make sure to bring this up with a canon lawyer I have met.
  • This of course brings into question whether music that is not explicitly sacred (eg. non-texted absolute organ music) can find a home in a sacred context.

    Personally, for me, the fact that this music was composed with sacred use in mind, its connection to the most sacred of all instruments, and the fact that its musical content is divine in a different, but no less excellent, manner than sacred choral music makes it eminently suitable for church use.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 156
    There are no doubt more recent documents (I am no expert of the Church's teaching), but probably even the 1958 instruction De musica sacra sections 54 and 55 applies here: which inspires its hearers with religious sentiments, and even devotion, and yet, because of its special character cannot be used in liturgical functions, is nevertheless worthy of high esteem, and ought to be cultivated...
    ...if [...] the local Ordinary judges that a concert of religious music might be advantageous for the spiritual welfare of the faithful, he may permit a concert of this kind to be held in a church...
    Practicing is not explicitly mentionned, but I guess that goes without saying; whether it be for a concert planned in that church or not.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,161
    Coming from an organist who doesn't care much for Bach, I see no harm in it. Where do you find most organs anyway? In churches. Where else could you play except in schools that have organs? Many towns don't have such schools. I often tell other organists that Bach is harmful to the instrument, but they know I am just kidding.
  • Bach Preludes and Fugues were written to be played. As is all the other music he composed for performance on the organ.

    They are neither sacred nor secular.
  • Noel,

    I grant you that the Preludes and Fugues are intended to be played, and that he (therefore) had performance, rather than academic study, as the principle mode of expression.

    You've piqued my interest in another question (which is related). Just as there is music appropriate for Mass and music not appropriate for Mass, is music of some specific time period or compositional form which is more appropriate for Mass? I advanced the case that fugues were well suited to the Extraordinary Form, but that modern music (in which dissonance is the substance, rather than an accident of the piece, frequently) is for that reason mostly unsuited to the Extraordinary form.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,935
    Palestrina's dissonance is hardly accidental. Or are we about to argue taste?
    Thanked by 2Schönbergian Elmar
  • Are we to exclude Poulenc, Villette, Messiaen, Vierne, and even Franck from the EF on those grounds? (To say nothing of Carlo Gesualdo and Monteverdi!)
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Richard,

    I must find a way to express, therefore, what I mean. In Palestrina, dissonance is a means to an end, not the end itself.

    Fugues are orderly by their nature, it seems to me, and therefore more suited to the order of the Mass. The purely emotional stuff is not well suited to Mass.

    Does that make more sense?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,929
    It seems odd to suggest that Bach organ preludes and fugues aren't sufficiently religious in character to be performed in church. Weren't they intended for performance for the glory of God alone?

    I know he wrote some orchestral-choral secular music (e.g., cantatas to celebrate royals), but can't we separate that from his organ works?
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,935
    Let's just say that I've yet to be impressed by an algorithm for "suitability".

    Are works specifically composed for the EF by Krenek and Messiaen more suspect stylistically than the mildly-spiced triads of Glass or Paart's Anglican service music? (I'd actually accept any of the 4, though I admit to stacking the deck a little here.)
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,161
    So what did they play in the nearly 1500 years in the EF when there were no fugues? I identify fugues with the Baroque period and haven't seen them much earlier than that. Bach's pieces were written for use at lengthy Lutheran services. A modern day congregation wouldn't sit for a 4-hour church service. They would be bailing out the windows after the first hour.

    Of course, I did forget there was no EF until shortly after Trent.

    Some Romantics wrote fugues, but they seemed more of an exercise in composition than their primary forms of music.
  • Chris,

    I think that, while some modern music is indeed inappropriate, the era as a whole is no more or less sacred or "emotional" (in your words) than any other. As composers like Messiaen show, a modern compositional language can be adapted to serve a very sacred purpose.

    I would think the Romantic era would be where more fingers are pointed. (Not that I would.)
    Thanked by 3CharlesW CHGiffen Liam
  • One thing organists need to consider is that pipe organs in Catholic Churches are blessed and set aside for sacred use. While it doesn’t seem that playing Bach would be an issue, but I cringe when people post videos of grossly secular music (ie: Star Wars, Bohemian Rhapsody, Etc) being played on organs in Catholic Churches.
    Thanked by 1mmeladirectress
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,155
    What a hilarious question! Why in the world would you consider a fugue "secular music"?
  • where May we practice essential music such as Bach fugues without infringing canon law?

    The obvious answer is that you practise such music on the instrument where you will be performing it: I guess that might be in a theatre, ball-park, school, etc. And if you will not be performing it anywhere, it's not essential.

    I'm finding this whole discussion pretty hilarious: the idea that there is one type of music for leading people into praying and worshipping God, and all other types cannot be used for that purpose strikes me as <<gets out charitable-words dictionary>> unlikely. Obviously posters here aren't all agreed on whether Bach fugues are "in" or "out. But pretty much all of you seem to think that it's OK to play them in church at least sometimes. Somehow the quality of the composer means that it's "unsuitability for liturgy" is less significant that the "unsuitably" of other works.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,935
    With a little contortion, I can see one problem with JSB fugues. But you really don't want to know what sometimes happens to 'sacred' music.
  • <<gets out charitable-words dictionary>>

  • <<gets out charitable-words dictionary>>

    Ha! For years, I've utilized the exact opposite kind of book - my the-sore-us.
  • doneill
    Posts: 185
    By all means, yes, practice and perform the pieces in the church. It doesn't have to be definitively sacred music. There is a small amount of organ repertoire intended for academic institutions apart from churches that may have explicitly secular content, but I'm guessing that's not what you're talking about. There are basically three levels we're talking about: (1) Music that is appropriate for the liturgy. (2) Music that is appropriate to be played in the church apart from the liturgy (concerts and private practice). (3) Music that is entirely inappropriate to be played in a church at all. When you're talking about organ music, that third category is quite small.
  • >> (3) Music that is entirely inappropriate to be played in a church at all. When you're talking about organ music, that third category is quite small.
    well, maybe until recent years.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,337
    Bach... I don't play much for the Mass... however, after the Mass is over, and before it begins is another story altogether
  • (3) Music that is entirely inappropriate to be played in a church at all. When you're talking about organ music, that third category is quite small.

    well, maybe until recent years.

    Heard (from a reliable source) of an organist - reasonably talented - who in a fit of pique played a variation on a Lady Gaga piece for the postlude at the church he was getting ready to leave. He was upset about something and wanted to make a point... although it's hard to imagine what point he actually proved.
  • Pius XII, 1958:

    "Sacred music for organ is music composed for the organ alone. Ever since the pipe organ came into use this music has been widely cultivated by famous masters of the art. If such music complies with the laws for sacred music, it is an important contribution to the beauty of the sacred liturgy."

    I'll add: there's no more famous master of the art than JSB.

    We have a hard time unpacking these documents nowadays, because we use them to try to whittle the twig of church music into an abstract ideal form. That was not, in my opinion, the purpose of these documents. Rather, they were intended to curb abuses by strongly stating the ideal, not to encourage the generational self-immolation of sacred art whether out of fear or obsession with perfection.

    They were needful: read The American Organist's June 2016 article on the music at Rudolph Valentino's high-profile funeral if you have any doubts.
    Thanked by 2tandrews JonathanKK
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,607
    Not hearsay, I remember the monks of Ealing Abbey processing out to improvisations on 'Colonel Bogey'. This was in the early fifties, before the theme was used in the film 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. I saw no sign that the monks had noticed.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • Not hearsay, I remember the monks of Ealing Abbey processing out to improvisations on 'Colonel Bogey'.

    It would make for a great Benedictine recessional hymn:

    Bene-dicamus Do-mi-no/
    That means - it's time for us to go/
    Ora - et more Labora/
    then here tomorr-a, for more-a the same.
  • The Renaissance imitative vocal tradition is the Gold Standard for non-chant sacred music. The fugal tradition grew out of that Renaissance imitative tradition (e.g. ricercars and instrumental motets), so in a way it has a claim to be more suited to sacred use than other forms.

    I would say that most organ music, by virtue of being written for an instrument in a church, is by default suitable to a church. In our cathedral wedding and concert guidelines, though, I warn that organ music that quotes well-known secular melodies (such as broadway or movie soundtrack themes) will not be allowed.

    I would also argue that unresolved, unremitting dissonance does not fit well with a Catholic eschatology, since we believe that all the dissonance, pain, and tension of existence will in fact be resolved. Does that mean everything has to end with a consonant triad in a PAC? Certainly not. But grating 20th and 21st century music with no telos or hope doesn't belong in churches, in my opinion. I don't accept that something is a good choice for church simply because the composer gave it an extra-musical title about the "sublimely scented oils of mystical union with the trinity" or something. Some extremely Catholic-titled music risks sharing in Mark Twain's assessment of Wagner: "His music is much better than it sounds!"

    That's also why I prefer the Saint-Sulpice school of organ improvisation to the Notre Dame school (speaking of the current titular organists). While I can admire the technique at Notre Dame, I often wonder if the crashing waves of dissonance are a good match for the entrance procession at Mass.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,337
    In my final service as a musician to the NO, (which I decided to abandon as a DoM once for all), I performed this piece as the 2nd postlude on soft flutes on the Pasi Opus 5, which was the instrument I had as the Choirmaster and Organist at the church.

    I will forever miss playing the Pasi... greatest instrument... ever, and that piece of music is also one of the greatest compositions... ever.

    You might say this arrangement is somewhat akin to me 'walking into the distance'.
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 421
    My organ teacher (Lutheran) told me that, on her last Sunday as organist for a certain church, she played for postlude a Bach chorale on "In peace and joy I now depart".
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,161
    It used to be fun to fit some of those works to departures and other occasions. Unfortunately, so many folks are too musically illiterate to recognize those works.

    I will forever miss playing the Pasi...

    I'm sure it misses you too! Those are good instruments.
  • It is not acceptable to play (or sing) obviously secular music that can be recognized in the church - unless the building is locked and no one is in the church who might intend to pray.

    That's it. And nothing more.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,161
    And here I was all set to do a fugue on "We Are Many Parts."

  • Which makes us especially pleased that you have an organ at home to play it on.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,161
    I have never played that song and I don't know of anything that would convince me to do it. LOL

    Yes, I have the mighty Rodgers. It is nearing 30 years old now, so I suspect if it goes I will retrofit the console with Hauptwerk.
  • Precious stones, such as rubies, emeralds, or less precious ones, such as lapis or turquoise, are amongst the rarest and loveliest artifacts of human art. They are inherently neither sacred or secular, but by their rarity and beauty, are often elected to grace chalices, reliquaries, monstrances, gospel book covers, and more - even vestments are adorned with such natural stones and woven with cloth of gold. The same may be said of gold, silver, and other precious metals; or the stone and wood which are fashioned into works of human art. Then, there is architecture, which is graced with monstrous gargoyles, carvings of humourous choirmen or crotchety abbots on choir stalls, and no end of carving and statuary that isn't exactly inherently 'sacred' in character. Why, in the Sistine Chapel itself Michaelangelo thinks nothing of painting a serpent devouring the balls of a wicked pope - right near the altar! How unholy and crude can one get?

    The same is true of art, sculpture, and (now we get to the topic at hand) music. There is no reason that a 'non-sacred' example of music should not be played in a sacred concert or recital as long as it has no specifically secular or profane dedication or reference. Thus, the organ music of Bach, Franck, or Howells, et al., is certainly fitting to be offered in sacred concert, if not at liturgy itself. It is akin to bringing a precious stone or a fine carving, the craftsmanship and rarity of any music or object can rightly be brought in and offered to God - because it is beautiful and worthy. and is the rare 'work of human hands'. Alain's Le jardin suspendu comes to mind as a not 'sacred' work of musical art. But, so long as it does not reflect a purely secular or profane nature, it is appropriate to bring it into the courts of the Lord and 'show it to God', perform it for him and his assembled people - as an example of precious and holy human musical craftsmanship - musical cloth of gold which is more precious than precious stones - sound woven into fine art worthy of the Lord's house and his people. All here is said with this qualification: that taste, grace, and common sense will inform as to what is appropriate for liturgy as opposed to a sacred concert-recital.
  • It is not acceptable to play (or sing) obviously secular music that can be recognized in the church - unless the building is locked and no one is in the church who might intend to pray.

    What is the definition of secular music, please?

    I'm thinking of a hymn like "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say". It is often enough set to the tune KINGSFOLD. Now, I don't know if this tune was used for religious purposes before it was used for Star of the County Down. But that song was how I learned the tune, so it my mind at least it's first and foremost a non-religious tune.

    Even must that was originally written for sacred purposes - it it get co-opted by the world for something non-religous ... does that somehow make it secular?
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,191
    KINGSFOLD descends from a very old Irish folk tune, but neither that nor the setting of "Star of the County Down" (late 19th century) to this tune makes it so secular that it is inappropriate for use as a hymn.

    More glaring might be THAXTED, by Gustav Holst, which is extracted from the Jupiter movement of the famous tone poem "The Planets" - unabashedly secular in origin, but turned into a hymn tune. Does that make it a non-religious tune or a secular tune? I think not.

    Or, how about GREENSLEEVES ("What Child is this")?

    One could go on, but I think you get my drift.
  • Charles,

    Greensleeves is hundreds of years old, and has been wedded to "What child is this" for many many years.

    That said, I don't think it should be sung at Mass in either form.

    On the subject of something which is unabashedly secular in origin....
  • My previous pastor semi-seriously asked me to play the Lady Gaga fugue as a postlude one Sunday. I felt very conflicted when I refused.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,191
    The text "What Child is This" was written by William Chatterdon Dix in 1865, hence within a decade or so of "Star of the County Down." But, indeed, GREENSLEEVES is quite old, going back at least as to 1580, when "A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves" was first registered (and from which the tune title is derived). The text is certainly secular, even promiscuous. I wouldn't use "What Child is This" for Mass, either.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,858
    I would (if I still possessed such authority/power, which I've not had in many years) at a Mass where Christmas carols are being used as hymns (which is most places), but with the right text, not the simplified one with the static refrain. I don't have much of an issue with tunes that don't have their fons et origo in sacred music as such; it's more of an issue of avoiding tunes that yet retain too much of a profane association. YMMV.
  • That's it, ladies and gentlemen. There shall be no more improvisations on L'homme armé!
    Thanked by 2Liam tandrews
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,337
    I have played greensleves many many times... God forgive my ignorance... but hymns were expected in the place of GC, so, I conceded to play hymns and got quite good at it to the point where... well... another story for another day.

    Meanwhile... don't think I will be playing hymns any more at any Mass.

  • I have GREENSLEEVES in the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church, and it might well go back a little further, but it's a very odd match for "What Child is this?" if one thinks about it: "…the-is[hic], who … la-ap[hic] is". Certainly the pairing is not immemorial:
  • In another thread, MJO had observed that in many cases the association of music originally secular to sacred music, was something that changed over long periods of time. Among several examples, he mentioned the Lassus Mass on Je ne mange poinct de porcq.

    Most auditors would not think of the lyrics of the original song when hearing "What Child is This" (one of my favorite carols), although they might be vaguely familiar that the tune is based on Greensleeves. Most auditors would not think of the original text (which is significantly less edifying than the Ordinary) Je ne mange poinct de porcq on hearing the Mass by Lassus.

    On the other hand, most people would (I think), associate the common tune of Joyful, Joyful with Beethoven's 9th.

    As with so many things, we all have our own individual lines in the sand. From my perspective, the Church has not been remotely hesitant to take even pagan symbols and concepts and sanctify them to present the truths of the Faith in a more digestible way. I guess my own personal line is where I believe people will most likely fall in terms of association. If the association is with the secular rather than the sacred, check back with me in another 150 years. :)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,337
    Well, we live in an imperfect world, and the Church is run by humans... (how did God ever think that was going to fare well?)

    So, He knew how it was all going to pan out, even in the 21st century... (yea, he gets recrucified (ok... not a real word) all over again through his own... go figure.

    So here we are, singing mostly protestant hymns (and worse... greensleves) during a Mass where the priest is a 'celebrity' when he should be facing the altar and minding his own God.

    On with the show.

    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Just to be clear, being EF, we don't sing hymns at Mass (perhaps at a Low Mass, but those are less commonly sung.) :)
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,858
    Well, here's the text set to GREENSLEEVES in 1871, as with several other examples between 1870 and 1880, which appears to be the earliest examples readily available online and was before Dix died:
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Richard Mix
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,161
    We sing "Greensleeves" once a year on Epiphany. That's it.