Historical Recording: 1961 Christmas Mass (Peloquin)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,713
    In 1961, Alexander Peloquin was the music director and organist at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence, Rhode Island. (It's a really grand church which I recommend, if you've never had the chance to see it.) He arranged to have the Christmas midnight Mass recorded that year, so that it could be released in its entirety as an album by the Gregorian Institute of America ("Christmas at the Cathedral").

    This link leads to my MP3 files of the album:

    The music begins with a carol program. The Mass propers are mostly Gregorian and the Mass ordinary is mostly from the Missa Gregoriana by Hermann Schroeder, whose movements are based on Kyrie XVI, Gloria XV, Sanctus X, and Agnus Dei X. The Credo is from Peloquin's Missa Pentatonica.

    I suppose this recording was presented as an example of the best available practice in the early 1960s, but I can't help thinking that many choirs and Gregorian scholas now have a more refined sound and better pronunciation. Maybe we've benefited from early music research.

    I hope you'll enjoy listening to this album.
  • trentonjconn
    Posts: 201
    An interesting recording to be sure. Why is the offertory "Tollite Portas" instead of "Laetentur Caeli"?
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,778
    It's "Christmas at the Cathedral", not "Christmas Eve at the Cathedral". Maybe there was an issue with the recording of Laetentur, or they liked Tollite better.

    That Schroeder was the new shiny thing then (and NOT published by GIA). Other than that, it seems to be a pretty unadventurous program. The choral sound is typical and even excellent for the time, and a vast improvement on the 20s-30s (Listening to the "Arcadelt", I couldn't help comparing it to Montani's 1928 recording with its gracial tempo.)

    I think Chonak is onto something with the early music comment. The choral sound is not just that; we've also had some changes in vocal science and pedagogy. But we don't tolerate the type of vibrato that comes with full-bore operatic production. And that's largely due to the English cathedral tradition and the early music choirs that flowed out of that.

    And our expectations for this music are different. We have 3 generations of adults who have grown up on modern-style (!) recordings of polyphony, and these have shaped our expectations of music in the Mass. Not only do we want repertoire that was probably only heard at elite establishments, but we want it at a performance level that was probably never achieved at those establishments. Even out best church choirs can't fully meet the auditory image, just because they're performing live. Wanting more and better is fine. But it means that people have to come up with money, because amateurs aren't going to produce it.

    Aside: the early music revival had a strong choral component, from the French Schola Cantorum onwards. And just as it was getting well underway, Vatican II happened. Where would we be now if early music singers had passed freely into church work, and the actual task of recovering authentic performance styles had happened in an authentic context? What if something like Cinquecento's residency at St. Roch in Vienna were the rule rather than the exception?
  • NihilNominisNihilNominis
    Posts: 671
    I can think of a couple old-timer choristers who would argue that this is easier to understand than the way we sing and enunciate today.
  • davido
    Posts: 517
    Thanks Chonak, very interesting to hear. Some beautiful singing.

    This recording does not approach any of this music as "early music" or "late music," rather the same aesthetic and choral style is applied to all the whole program of music. It is an aesthetic style to my ears illustrative of mid-twentieth century church choir sound. Very similar to the recordings of the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal with the Regina Fryxell liturgy settings.

    I'm not sure that early music style has changed church singing as much as nearly all genres of music now favor a more neutral, white sound. I think this is true in pop music as much as in sacred music.
    I can't comment on the diction, other than to say I'm not sure how it is different from contemporary pronunciation. There may be some regional dialect in this New England choir...?
  • davido
    Posts: 517
    Jeffrey, just listened to that Montani recording for the first time. Also very indicative of aesthetic practices of it's own time.
    What I really don't understand from it is the short choral phrases. There seems no interest in spinning a long phrase, which belies the operatic influence as bel canto is all about spinning long, beautiful phrases. I wonder if they didn't rehearse together much?
    Although this same practice features in the old sistine chapel choir album.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,778
    Davido, part of that's a function of the slow tempo, though they sound like they have enough bodies to stagger effectively.

    Their Latin "o" is interesting. It's as if they wanted something brighter than "aw", but they end up with something indistinguishable from "ah". (Aremus...) At least it's not the thing I refer to in rehearsal as "the Simpson 'o'".
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 885
    "aw" is not helpful for most Americans as it does not give an actual [Ɔ] sound. The correct sound is that of holy, to be distinguished from hoe (inappropriately closed) and holly (which is what Americans think of as "aw") I suspect that these pronunciation "shortcuts" were devised in Britain, where their "aw" sound is a true [Ɔ].
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 514
    A very nice Christmas carol program, I particularly enjoyed hearing Adeste fidelis which I haven't heard sung in a long time. It was interesting to hear the mass parts; What I remember singing was Christmas Carol Mass by Korman, so it's nice to hear something a little different and before my time. Thanks for sharing.