Saturday, July 11, 2015

Benedict XVI on the origins of music.

One week ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received a pair of honorary doctorates from two Polish institutes of higher education, John Paul II Pontifical University and the Krakow Academy of Music. The address given by the Pope Emeritus at the conferral ceremony in Castel Gandolfo is worth reading, even if you have to rely on imperfect translations like this one posted by ZENIT. (I thought about making my own translation to share here in place of the infelicitous one by ZENIT, but I've been busy enough in Paris that I can't spare the time right now.) Having posted previously on Benedict XVI and music, reading the Castel Gandolfo address reminds me of an off-again, on-again desire to write something more serious and systematic on the subject. Other writers with qualifications greater than mine have already written on Benedict XVI and music - indeed, there have been entire conferences on this theme - but I may still try to find the time to say something unique and original on point. In the meantime, here are some particularly striking paragraphs from last week's address:
At this point, it is right, perhaps, to pose the basic question: What is music in reality? From where does it come and what does it tend to?

I think that three "places" can be localized from which music flows.

One of the first sources is the experience of love. When men are seized by love, a new dimension of being opens in them, a new grandeur and breadth of reality, and it also drives one to express oneself in a new way. Poetry, singing and music in general stem from this being struck, by this opening of oneself to a new dimension of life.

A second origin of music is the experience of sadness, being touched by death, by sorrow and by the abysses of existence. Opened also in this case, in an opposite direction, are new dimensions of reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone.

Finally, the third place of origin of music is the encounter with the divine, which from the beginning is part of what defines the human. All the more so here in which the totally other and the totally great is present, which arouses in man new ways of expressing himself. Perhaps, it is possible to affirm that in reality also in the other two ambits – love and death – the divine mystery touches us and, in this sense, it is the being touched by God that, overall, constitutes the origin of music. I find it moving to observe how, for instance, in the Psalms singing is no longer enough for men - an appeal is made to all the instruments: reawakened is the hidden music of creation, its mysterious language. With the Psalter, in which the two motives of love and death also operate, we find directly the origin of sacred music of the Church of God. It can be said that the quality of the music depends on the purity and the grandeur of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and of pain. The more pure and true this experience is, the more pure and great also is the music that is born and develops from it.
To read the rest, click here (or, better yet, read the original). AMDG.


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