What is Beautiful Music?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The headline says it all. I've asked this hundreds of times and haven't gotten an answer besides that if I don't know I'm a horrible musician. What exactly is objective beauty? How can you say that X is objectively beautiful but Y is objectively not?

    I can look at music (let's use chant and Be Not Afraid for examples, they are relevant) and decide its merits quantitatively. I can decide that "Be Not Afraid" is too rhythmically complex for a congregation and thus know not to use it. I know chant is the music of the Roman Rite, so I know it is more suitable than "Be Not Afraid". I can judge that the text is often musically irrelevant, while chant is always relevant. I can point to its irregular harmonic rhythm to say it is not the best music for church, as opposed to a solid hymn. I can say that it's not suitable for funeral use since its purpose is more for emotionalism than as a part of the Mass.

    However, I can't point to BNA and say it's objectively not beautiful. Where could I find support for something like that in the music or text? What qualities could I look at to find objective beauty? Now I can tell you I don't think it's beautiful. And I think that because of the irregular harmonic rhythms, slow tempo, and inconsistent text. But that's my own private judgment. It may be informed by scholarly opinion, but ultimately I judged which qualities I find beautiful. There are many well-trained musicians who would judge BNA as beautiful, not to mention the many old ladies who do. It certainly is overwhelmingly evidenced that beauty is subjective.

    (I'll add the unnecessary analogy of beer. I love craft-brewed beer because it has stronger hop and malt content, is often carefully made, and comes in wide varieties made from carefully designed recipes. And yet I can't tell someone who drinks Miller or Budweiser that his beer is inferior because we don't agree on what constitutes superior beer. And I can't even say mine tastes better because this person may reject my Rogue beer for their tin can. So while I, by any logical estimation, have the better beer, I can't prove it objectively to the Bud swiller.)

    And if you can prove some music is objectively beautiful, why is the non-beautiful music still being used? If someone requests BNA at a funeral, why not say, "that piece is not objectively beautiful because of A, B, and C."? Or when your pastor tells you to knock off the chant at Mass, can't you say, "but chant is beautiful. See? Look at that quilisma, beauty!"? If there is some objective standard of determining musical (or artistic) beauty, I'm not aware of it. And frankly if you can't tell me how to judge it, I'm not inclined to believe in musical beauty. As with the beer, I can point to the hops and malts and Bavarian yeast but Joe Sixpack will just respond "well yeah, and those things taste bad!" I have no problem telling a funeral family that "Amazing Grace" isn't the best song for a funeral because it may offend some. I know to never play "Gentle Woman" at Mass because it has one chord in it, and I can say so. But I have no idea how I as a musician am supposed to argue, from a Christian standpoint no less, that a song is not beautiful.

    So those of you that believe in objective beauty, fill me in. Give me your apologetic for why one piece of music can be said to be beautiful and another cannot.
  • Ah! The entire issue of SM for Winter is devoted to this question!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    And, as usual, the answer to every liturgical music question is "Read Sacred Music"! I'll be looking forward to reading that issue, as I do with every one!
  • ha! I wish i could summarize it, but that would be unfair
  • To be honest, I've always felt the "beautiful" argument to be the most difficult to defend. There are ways, as Gavin says, to describe beauty (turn of phrase, elegant harmonic movement, or formal symmetry), but to most people this is a highly subjective term. I've always been more comfortable defending chant and polyphony as the preferred music of the Church due to its official status (chant) and traditional application. I prefer to say "this text has a melody or group of melodies assigned to it by the Church." These melodies have stood the test of time and connect us to the communion of the saints in a way that few other things can. They are beautiful because the Church has deemed them "sacred" or set apart from the music of the world. Dr. Mahrt was quite right in saying that chant has no parallel in the secular world. It conveys a sense of the eternal without effort and that's why it is better. Popular music OTOH sends a mixed message. Are we singing prayer or music for our own enjoyment?

    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • Beauty in the arts such as painting and sculpture can be identified at times due to certain factors such as the presence of the "golden ratio". (I have always been fascinated by this -- truly remarkable!) But is there any sort of golden ratio or similar standard of proportion/measure in music? I would say yes, in a sense... but it is more complex. Here there is a tension not only between the melody/harmony but also with the lyrics. Think of your favorite English hymn and how beautiful the words are, how marvelous the quality of the poetry is. With few words it encapsulates a profound mystery. That is one element -- and how does one define it? Then there is the element of harmony; most people react against a lot of the modern music, but musicians will defend it on the basis of its structure and logic (I have to say that this has always annoyed me: the fact that something makes sense does not make it beautiful, and sometimes I sense a sort of gnosticism in musicians -- if you knew more about music you would "get it"; yet I would argue that beautiful music should be more readily apparent).

    Then, as moconnor has said, there is the question whether the music has an element of the eternal -- whether it raises the mind/heart above this world. Certainly it would seem that Gregorian Chant does this.

    All of this to say, in an unorganized and probably not very helpful way, that I think there is so much more at stake with music in order to determine its objective quality of beauty. I look forward to reading more about this in Sacred Music.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    The Pastoral Relevance of Beauty by Tracey Rowland. Good pointers.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Moconnor: I'm glad you understand my point. I'd argue further, however, that the things I listed don't define beauty since they are merely cultural norms pertaining to music. As any theory prof would point out, we don't learn theory so that it's the only way to write music, we learn it to understand when things go by the rules and see when they don't. And as any modern music enthusiast will tell you, some of the best music is that which rejects the rules (until those rules become a rule themselves... but that's a more philosophical discussion!)

    bjerabek: I would shy away from the Golden Ratio or mathematical means of defining beauty unless we have them in the context of revelation. Not to sound like a fundie, but there's nothing in scripture about the Golden Ratio. Indeed, I suspect a Golden Interval would be quite dissonant (440 and 440*phi at the same time? yeesh.) And our musical forbears DID use mathematics to evaluate beauty: the fifth is consonant, the octave is consonant. Eventually the smoke of Satan crept in and the third was accepted. But are we still to refuse the demonic tritone? Goodbye V7-I progressions! So we see from simply looking at history that one generation's mathematically ugly sounds may be the future's beauty. So even mathematical standards are judged subjectively. If any of that makes sense...

    Pes: thanks, I'll take a look at it tonight.

    All: A thought on the side of beauty: The old maxim says "Truth is beauty". Could this be true? We know God is holy, that holiness is beautiful, all God says is truth (and indeed we can speak of the Truth Himself as God) so does it not follow from a theological standpoint that truth must be beautiful? If this is so (and it may just be a bunch of shoddy leaps in logic) then we may define that music as beautiful which contains truth. Of course music does not make statements of fact - but Gregorian chant is bound up with the texts of Scripture and Tradition! So does it not follow that chant, since it is so interwoven with revealed truth, is beautiful? That seems to be a shoddy argument, but I think I could be on board with that. Of course no one would argue that chant is the only beautiful music, so there must be more to beauty than that. But it's a start. (Additionally, it would follow that music which is connected with chant or in the tradition inherits its beauty from the chant)
  • One of the biggest problems facing the definition of beautiful music is the post-modern view that sees beauty in the everyday and the mundane. It's a nice sentiment, but it turns the idea of beauty on its head. Of course this is one of the goals of post-modernism in its never-ending attempt to redefine the world. The folk music of the 1960s was considered beautiful because it was somehow more "pure" than Western art music. It allowed the congregant to pray more directly through music. Alas that well-meaning attempt was subverted by the pop music industry when people got tired of one after another I-IV-V-I folk tune. The very fact that people tired of the pure folk music reveals that it wasn't the right idea to begin with. Suburbanites are not "folk" in the folk music sense. They live in the popular cultural world and popular styles are the most comfortable music for them. So, yes, sacro-pop is the authentic music of the middle class, but somewhere the reason for music in the Mass got lost. It wasn't there for comfort and familiarity. It was there as heightened prayer. Sure, chant can become familiar, but it never loses that sacred sense that I spoke of before.

    Well, that was a late-night ramble!

  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    I remember having a hard time coming to any conclusions about the nature of beauty when faced with the variety of beauty.

    Some of my friends tried to convince me that beauty had no independent existence: it was really a statement of my own preferences ("in the eye of the beholder"). But this meant that beauty was somehow "in" me, such as a personal idea or feeling that I then projected outwards. "Beautiful" was whatever I myself construed (or rather, "constructed") as beautiful. Did beauty have no reality outside the habits of my own thoughts and desires?

    This became puzzling because other people called things "beautiful," and I often agreed with them. Weren't we then agreeing on something that existed outside of each of us? Maybe not: perhaps this consensus was simply due to our investing the same things with the same values and feelings: i.e. we agreed to project in the same way onto the same things. Therefore, "beauty" was just a social consensus.

    This didn't mean that beautiful things became less interesting or desirable (ahem). And it was certainly interesting to discover that other people had thought in detail about beautiful things. It turns out there was in fact a lot to talk about, if you wanted to.

    I enjoyed for example hearing topologies of beauty, such that there were some things called "sublime" (things so huge they exceeded perception and produced awe and even varieties of terror), other things "beautiful" (with pleasing proportions and grace), still other things "pretty" (associated with fine details), and even, Lord help me, "cute." In contemporary Japan, the latter is actually an important marketing category. My favorite discussions were by Japanese authors, since they seemed to have (or so it appeared to me at the time) a greater variety of concepts, often very precise ones such as sabi, which describes "the irregular and natural beauty of aged and weathered things." I figured these were people who were at once precise and broad-minded, a nice combination.

    And yet all these things really said nothing about reality. They were just refined descriptions of our own conceptual projections. A misshapen earthenware pot suddenly became "beautiful" because I happened to invest it with my own feelings of dissatisfaction with mass-produced replicas and my own reactionary nostalgia for Pre-Industrial Society, Inc. So I wasn't looking at "beauty": I was contemplating part of myself.

    Consequently, there was no shortage of people who took notions of the beautiful and then spun out all sorts of ideas about what those notions of "beauty" themselves represented. Once we granted that beauty was simply a social consensus, for example, we were open to constant assault by people who thought our consensus represented oppression. How dare we say something or someone was beautiful! Didn't we know the hideous genealogy of this idea? The horrors of its exercise? The shame it brought on us even to think in these terms? Off to the re-education camps with you!

    Then there were discussions of the functions and effects of beautiful things, on what it the perception of beauty did to us. Most often, these were positive things. Beauty was said to draw us away from ourselves, heightening and elevating our cognitive faculties, integrating our intellects and wills, quieting our appetites in favor of contemplation, bringing us closer to God or some notion of "Being" -- or simply put us in touch with our deep evolutionary urges.

    I have to say, all of these concepts had their day in the sun in my own experience, some with longer tenure than others. But those which have continued to resonate with me are those that take seriously the idea that beauty is in some way part of objective reality, because then you can speak about beauty as a relation that produces effects.

    In sum, it does no good to look for objective features (like chord progressions or particularly delicious dissonances) and label them as "beautiful." Nor does it do any good to look only at one's subjective feelings, which are too impinged-upon and changeable to be even remotely useful as a measure. Instead, I believe we should ask things like, what conditions are necessary for an experience of beauty to occur? Especially divine beauty.

    Note that this does not sideline the question of craft.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Pes, I read the article you sent me and found it lacking. There's plenty commending beauty, but I see nothing in there about what beauty is. And therein lies the problem - I can't acknowledge the existience of external, objective beauty if I cannot recognize it.

    You and bjerabek mentioned the experiential beauty - in a nutshell, that beauty is that which draws one to the divine. I am no stranger to such "beauty". I experience it in a well-done liturgy, I see it in a Michigan fall (or winter or spring or summer) or sunset on the Great Lakes. However, I find such conceptions of objective beauty dangerous. My boss once gave a sermon on beauty asking the congregation to allow the beauty of chant and the liturgy draw them closer to God. What immediately drew my attention was Islamic chant, a beautiful tradition to my ears. Yet if I allowed myself to be drawn in by that beauty, I would be subjecting myself to the poison of the Koran and Islamic teaching, which is anti-Christ. Perhaps more reasonable, Pes, you yourself are a Lutheran convert. Are you telling me that you never experienced beauty until your conversion to Rome? In the tradition of Bach, Walther, Buxtehude, and everyone you never had beauty bring you to the divine? And Rome provided that for you with the guitar Masses, pastel vestments and cantor-leaders? Even if you provide the common-sense response that you experienced true beauty in the Lutheran tradition, did that beauty not draw you away from Christ's Real Presence? All the Lutherans I know who are sensitive to musical excellence are firmly committed to the Lutheran version of the Real Presence and by no means driven to Rome. (although I traffic in LCMS circles, ELCA seems to lose many more members to Rome) And you recall the disagreement on NLM over the Pope's remarks on Beethoven's 9th. For some, the "ode to joy" is such an experience of the divine. For many more, however, it's a triumphant affirmation of secular humanism. In short, I can't accept an "objective" "beauty" which draws men to Lutheranism, Islam, Catholicism, Orthodox schism, and secularism. And this is only referring to those works largely agreed upon to be beautiful, avoiding what passes for "beauty" in Catholic churches (Gentle Woman, On this Day O Beautiful Mother, etc.)

    I'll add that your article shed a lot of light on the discussion on the "length of music" thread. I found the idea of the importance of aesthetics being disputed to be particularly relevant. To reiterate, I'm not saying beauty is unimportant, but rather maintaining that I remain unconvinced of its existience outside of a subjective (although important) judgment.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Gavin, true, that article isn't exactly a monograph on the subject. I thought Groeschel's suggestions at the end were interesting. You say:

    I remain unconvinced of its existence outside of a subjective (although important) judgment

    Reading Aquinas might be helpful. The more one thinks about the nature of God, the clearer some things become.

    Here's my take, for what it's worth:

    I believe 'beauty' to be an experience, and yes, this obviously involves what we ourselves bring to the experience. 'Beauty' is what happens in this relation. You're interested in both sides of the relation. Quickly, here's how I'd sketch it out:

    1. 'Beauty' is, for a human being, a form of pleasure.

    2. Necessary to this particular form are three things in a unity: excellent form, goodness, and truth.

    3. Accordingly, things which lack one or more of these attributes are not 'beautiful' but something less. Not necessarily bad, mind you. I'd say that something that has goodness and truth but not excellent form is 'virtuous' (e.g. some contemporary religious music). Something with excellent form but no truth can be 'pretty' (e.g. heretical but well-crafted music). Something true and having excellent form is 'admirable' but may not be especially desirable. Something with excellent form alone is just 'pleasant.' Obviously, it's hard to be very exact about all this, there being different degrees of each, but you can see the general point, which is that it's worth reserving the word 'beautiful' for something more than just virtuous, admirable, or pleasant. It must be all these things, and more.

    4. So to me, 'beauty' is the experience of this highest combination. And if I experience it, I am thereby put in a condition where I am much more receptive to making an inward assent to faith in the infinite, loving Being that sustains these elements in their unity. That makes me feel enormously grateful and re-orients me toward divine love. It is momentarily transforming, and it obviously taps into that earthly restlessness that Augustine spoke about.

    5. To speak about the objective reality of beauty: I believe beauty to be the sum total of instances of pleasurable experience that put one directly and perceptibly into the infinite Act of true divine (Trinitarian) love. Those moments, and those alone, are 'beautiful.'

    Now, you ask:

    if ... you experienced true beauty in the Lutheran tradition, did that beauty not draw you away from Christ's Real Presence?

    Just the opposite: it drew me toward the Real Presence as something I knew was lacking. The beauty I experienced there was sometimes certainly real. (Protestants are not wrong 100% of the time.) What I felt was lacking, though, was something like 'focus.' Nothing so focuses the spirit as the Catholic understanding of transsubstantiation. I'm not a theologian, but my understanding is that in the Lutheran Church, if you ask "Where is Christ?," people give you a fuzzy answer, and usually a reactionary one against the Catholic view. At the Mass, though, you can ask that question and be pointed directly to the Host: there! It is an incredibly bracing, challenging, frightening, profoundly comforting thing.

    So it wasn't that the beauty at a Lutheran service drew me away: it made me look all the harder for the source of it. And the source, of course, was where it has always been: on the sacrificial summit of that eternal hill where one experiences beauty with the most transcendent and compelling clarity.

    Hope that answers your question about my view, at least. Sorry for going on at such length.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,372
    A lot of interesting and inspiring stuff said, I would only add that appreciation of beauty is part of on-going catechesis. (as my pastor said) One's ideas and reception about beauty are formed over an extended period. GH
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    We might usefully expand on your question what conditions are necessary for an experience of beauty to occur?, by asking it in relation to a particular tradition, where that's defined in terms of a given art, genre and purpose. That's not to deny that there's something in common between a sense of beauty in different contexts; rather, it recognises that individual and collective judgements about beauty are made within particular traditions of thought, practice and reception. In the context of this forum, such an approach might allow us to get a better handle on discussions of beauty in particular kinds and instances of liturgical music. That's even useful when discussing those works (e.g. communion motets) we find especially moving, over and above what we can explain in terms of compositional technique and liturgical appropriateness, because it allows for the development of opinion amongst skilled and experienced practitioners.
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    Pes, I never fail to get something out of your posts.
    Thank you.
    Without wanting to dump on any one work of art -"There are many well-trained musicians who would judge BNA as beautiful," - are there really?
    I have honestly never met one.
    Surely the clumsy prosody resulting from its rhythmic oddities are recognized by anyone with the tiniest bit of musical or vocal training.
    But I agree with moconnor that a judgement that an object or piece of music possesses beauty, or lacks beauty is difficult to defend, (although one can subjectively discuss unity, variety, harmony,) and in our line is, frankly, not usually material -- it might be a later question, to be confronted only after determining that a piece is or is not suitable liturgically, is or is not well constructed, is or is not within the capabilities of those who will need to sing or play it.
    And Pes, while Beauty can be a form of pleasure, not only is the pleasing not necessarily beautiful, (I know we all know that,) but the Beautiful may not be all that pleasing on first acquaintance, its pleasures may not be instantly accessible, and gratification may be delayed.
    Our society's impatience has impeded our perception of much that is Beautiful, (and much that is True, and much that is Good.)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Pes, thank you for the explanation. I'd say I understand your view and assent to many of its premises, although I still am iffy on the whole thing. Given a couple days of considering it I may come to agree.

    I do have a couple questions on it. Can you elaborate more on "goodness" in music? I take that to mean the same as morality, but how can music be moral? Surely we could use the example of a children's taunt-song on the minor third. This song has truth: maybe Jimmy does have a big nose. But there is no morality in saying so or using the music as a weapon against Jimmy's good name or ego. Beyond that, however, I question how music can have or lack goodness. Or, perhaps for another example, if I play chant at the funeral of some old Glory & Praise hippy's funeral out of spite, is the music then not beautiful, however well it is performed?

    Not to pick apart your conversion, but I still question that beauty would lead one away from the Lutheran Real Presence. I've hung out with LCMS Lutherans too long, so I'm tempted to just blame it on your having been ELCA :P But I think in particular of one of my friends, Sean. He's an outstanding organist who's now in seminary hoping to become an ordained Kantor. He loves the Lutheran tradition of theology and music, and finds them inter-related. AND he's a strong devotee of chant. And yet despite being surrounded by so much beauty it only increases his Lutheran faith rather than making him question its sufficiency. To repeat: the beauty of chant convinces him all the more of the truth of Sola Fide and the Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence. While it's true that many who are devoted to the Lutheran theological and liturgical tradition wind up going East since it is a self-defeating tradition, there's many for whom the beauty (which we would find mostly harmonious with an idea of objective beauty, would we not?) reinforces beliefs we would consider heretical or at best "incomplete". How do we explain this in light of beauty being caught up with objective truth?

    Or perhaps, if I understand you correctly, the beauty can only reinforce that within another tradition which IS true - IE Jesus being present in the sacrament (even if they are wrong on how or which sacraments), transcendance of worship, etc. I think these 2 points could use some expansion.

    You have a benefit in dialogging with me on this because I accept the premise of objective truth. But I think we can agree your average person-in-pews does not. What then? It seems nigh impossible to get such an idea through to a typical American Catholic. How do you think you would make an apology for beauty with them?
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Gavin, if I say more, I shall probably embarrass myself in front of philosophy and theology types. But that has never stopped me before, so I'll venture a bit more. At some point I'll stop and go no further without the aid of footnotes, quotations, and other forms of homework to buttress the shaggy mass of ideas I'm creating here.

    1. Re: "goodness" in music. By this I don't mean the morality of music itself. I was mainly thinking of lyrics. So that, for example, however formally excellent the melody may be to Qur'an:9:5 -- "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war" -- I could never bring myself to say that it (music + words) is "beautiful." I don't believe it is ever "beautiful" to urge our brothers and sisters to murder.

    I question how music can have or lack goodness

    This is a more interesting question, isn't it? Let me offer a hypothetical. Let's examine the process of composing something. If it's a conscious process, writing music can be thought of as the manipulation of musical material. You do things with lines of melody, for example. Let's say you take as your raw material a chant melody, say, the Resurrexi. This melody and text has significance. What does your music do with it? I can see an atheist fundamentalist composer taking this melody and subjecting it to all kinds of manipulations: first stating it, then dismembering it, distorting it, eventually exploding it into motivic fragments that are then inverted, etc. Then, the composer would rebuild a new melody that would be offered in place of the Resurrexi. I don't think it's abusing language to say that this music would not be "good" because it consciously deconstructs a sacred melody so as to offer an anti-Christic alternative. If we understand music to be symbolic activity, then we can, I think, begin to talk about the morality of musical form. I don't know how far this would get us (probably not very), but it is not, to me, nonsensical to begin such a discussion.

    2. I should clarify something about my "Lutheran past." I was never a Lutheran, really. I was always a Catholic, just one who was insufficiently catechized, particularly regarding ecclesiology and the Eucharist. (I know, those are surprising insufficiencies for a Roman Catholic, but there we are.) You yourself have hit on what my answer would be to your question about beauty and truth and Lutherans: that your organist friend does indeed have experiences of real beauty, and that the reality of these experiences is grounded in God's Infinitely Beautiful Act. It's very difficult to tie any theorizing about his experience to specific doctrinal questions. I'm a little at a loss there, because how one acts as a result of an experience varies quite a bit. When I sang Bach chorales with them, I have to say that I discerned no untruth in what we were singing. In fact, I don't think we ever sang a text that contravened the Catholic catechism. (But then, I was far from being an expert.)

    In fact, what puzzles me more about my own thinking is this. Everything that exists is supported in its existence by the loving and infinite act of existence called God. He is present to everything that exists. If that's true, what distinguishes moments of Beauty from other moments? If we saw everyday existences (like that sunset of yours, or like an old hippie singing BNA at his friend's funeral) in light of God's sustaining presence to them, then potentially everything is thereby transfigured into Beauty, right? Well, to be consistent, I would have to say not quite, and then prepare for an onslaught of complaint. God is present to things without excellent form. He is present even when someone lies, though He is certainly not in the lie. But is being aware of these things' radical dependence on God an experience of Beauty? Again, no. I would call it something else. Sometimes it's "poignant." Sometimes it's "touching." Things like that.

    So what I think is that a moment of Beauty is like opening a window to the light, bright composite of formal excellence, goodness, and truth.

    How do you think you would make an apology for beauty with them? [American Catholics in the pews]

    Man, you sure ask the hard questions. I don't know. I would say, start with where they are and lead them gradually into experiences that they can embrace in some informed way. Always be sincere. Give some concerts. Explain some of the thinking behind the music. I've often found that people are often more willing to learn and be open to new things that you might think. What they don't want is sneering and dictatorialisms. Personally, I'd like to lead people to embrace a much more open sense of harmony. There's so much beauty to be had if you just give up a little bit more of your preferences! But this can only happen by degrees. So I would try to make Beauty happen and let that be the main vehicle of persuasion -- but I'd try to educate along the way, without it seeming like Education.

    As always, G talks sense: the Beautiful may not be all that pleasing on first acquaintance. Sometimes things just sorta grow on you. That just takes time.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623

    [what conditions are necessary for the experience of beauty] in relation to a particular tradition, where that's defined in terms of a given art, genre and purpose

    That's a tough one. I immediately think this relativizes the question too strongly. Maybe not. What do you think?


    an apology for beauty

    Maybe start by collecting everything you can find about what the Church has said about beauty. It's not your (or my) opinions that count, but those that are sifted out of the great process of Catholic thinking over the centuries. Your average person in the pews might not listen to you, but the wisdom of the ages? One would hope so.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    My intention was to help us define our terms. We use the word 'beauty' in so many different contexts, across which there is a wide range of meanings and connotations. If we explicitly focus on consideration of musical beauty in the context of the Roman liturgical tradition, then we have a framework within which we can analyse, assess and discuss. This framework isn't either unduly restrictive or overly relativistic: it is a tradition of liturgical and and musical thought, teachings and practice, within which we select, perform and listen. The more we immerse ourselves in that tradition, and the wider musical traditions with which it has a close relationship, the more likely we are to encounter beauty in it.

    Monsignor Philip Whitmore's broadcasts on Vatican Radio are a good example of the fruits of this approach. He's a music historian who discusses aspects of liturgical music in an intelligent, illuminating and enjoyable way. A number of the talks can be downloaded from the Vatican Radio Site.
  • Here is a link for an interesting article on InsideCatholic.com :

    Good Hymns, Bad Hymns by Todd Aglialoro

  • That article has obvious weaknesses, like holding up "How Great Thou Art" as a great hymn hmmm
  • Agreed... but if you eliminated that particular example, his logic is pretty good.

    "Good hymns focus on God; bad hymns focus on self"
    "Good hymns use words and themes from Scripture or Tradition; bad hymns use words and themes from 1960s psychobabble."
    "Good hymns treat transcendent concepts; bad hymns treat immanent concepts."
    "Good hymns employ sacred diction; bad hymns employ vulgar diction."

    In his words... "So, as an admittedly average man in the pews with no special training, I examined what I thought were good and bad hymns and tried to come up with elements common to each." I'm guessing he isn't a musician himself... and even so... he has identified some quantifiable qualities that could be used to distinguish basic differences.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,930
    I am somewhat daunted on even trying to talk about this one.

    Opinion or Truth?!

    Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is an objective truth. Anyone who says differently subscribes to relativism. So too in art, music, and life. If someone THINKS something that is actually ugly is beautiful, I believe it has to do with the corruption of conscience. After all, con-science means to 'go with science' or is in touch with reality! When one struggles against the moral law, especially in a state of pride or indifference, one is given over to their own thinking. Everything becomes relative, and beauty becomes a subjective state of life.

    Let's remember. Lucifer was the most BEAUTIFUL thing that God had created until he went south. So one of his greatest ploys is to deceive us all into this notion that all things are beautiful. Sin is ugly. (ie, Pornography... taking one of the most beautiful elements of reality and corrupting it's purpose.} The world tries to repackage 'beauty' and tries to steer us south in the process.

    OK, francis, get on with the music!

    BNA is the example at hand. Let's dissect the piece. Words, melody, chordal structure, lyrical lines, phrasing, etc. If I examine each part, (and let's be truthful and totally objective) I can find something beautiful in each part. Those moments (and they are far and few between!) glimmer like stars in the galaxy, even if they are dim ones. Something 'resonates' in all of us (most of us, anyway). Whether it belongs in the liturgy or not is an entirely different question. Everything beautiful doesn't belong in the liturgy. But ANYTHING UGLY definitely does not!

    I suspect I could write entirely new harmonies for BNA (such as a polyphonic treatment) and make it even more beautiful. I could change the words entirely and maybe make it more beautiful, but don't know if I want to spend the time trying since the melody is so-so to begin with.

    The very sad reality about chant is that its apparent beauty is somewhat cloaked. Truth is a lover. It is not cheap, or fast, or full of glitter. Chant is probably the most beautiful and sacred of musics because it was forged in love. But to know its beauty, one must 'love with it' over time, live with it (Him), know it (Him) deeply, daily, and realize its (His) unexhaustable complexities, its (His) depth, its (His) overwhelming reality. Perhaps it IS The Song of the Lamb. Everything else is a dim reflection of that song, some dimmer than others.