Wednesday, May 23, 2012

AN EXAMPLE OF LITURGICAL ANARCHY AND SACRED WORDS SET TO SECULAR MUSIC

I don't mean to mock this as I would recommend anyone to see it. I love this kind of entertainment on stage! But it does give you insight into the times of the 1960's and what happened to our Mass, how it was highjacked by the entertainment industry and from which we have yet to recover! Although at the end I do prefer that English version of the Confiteor even to our revised English one today! What do you think?


Leonard Bernstein's Mass is set to the traditional Latin Mass, can't you tell from this scene?



Leonard Bernstein's Mass is not meant for the Mass. It is a performance Mass or opera meant for the stage. I saw it at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC around 1978 (which is right next to that famed Watergate Complex and intrigued me to no end when I went to that center as a seminarian). I couldn't believe I was sitting at the epicenter of political intrigue and scandal as I watched this Mass unfold on stage.

This is a review of this Mass from 2008 which I copy for your reading pleasure. Does it indicate some of the problems of the Church of that period and problems today that still exist in the Liturgy and the Church? I report, you decide.

Revisiting Bernstein's Immodest 'Mass'

by Marin Alsop

Marin Alsop was a Leonard Bernstein protege. With his Mass, she has championed her mentor's most controversial piece.

September 27, 2008 - Leonard Bernstein, for me, was the greatest risk-taker in 20th-century classical music. He thrived on conflict, and this is nowhere more evident than in his most controversial composition, Mass.

Bernstein composed the piece, on commission, to memorialize John F. Kennedy, America's first Catholic president. The occasion was the grand opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1971.

Bernstein chose the structure of the Roman Catholic Mass, complete with a celebrant playing the central role. But this was a far cry from your ordinary Mass. Bernstein used the traditional Mass as a framework on which to hang all of his beliefs and questions. The music embraces Broadway and opera, rock ballads and blues, with a narrative that blends Hebrew and Latin texts.

Provocative and innovative to some, appalling to others, Mass is first and foremost a celebration of human faith, but it also questions the relevance of ceremonial rituals and immutable "truths" in an increasingly faithless modern world. Audiences leapt to their feet at the premiere, reacting to a work that felt so anti-establishment and so real.

To me, Mass contains the essence of Bernstein as a complex man and artist. Sure, the music is intoxicating, but beneath the showiness on the surface is a profound statement of faith. Bernstein was a nimble composer. He moved comfortably between high art and pop culture, not confined by stylistic boundaries. This was long before "crossover" became trendy.

Today, 37 years after its world premiere, Mass seems even more vital and relevant. Political volatility, an unpopular war seemingly without end, and our ongoing struggle as individuals to find faith and spirituality in contemporary society — this was the backdrop for Bernstein's portrayal of a modern-day crisis of faith. And while the music and the text may have less shock value to our contemporary ears, the message of Mass has enduring significance.

I'm proud to be conducting this defining work of Bernstein's career with the Baltimore Symphony in October, celebrating the life and legacy of my friend and mentor in what would have been Bernstein's 90th birthday year.

When I was 9 years old, I saw Bernstein conduct at one of his New York Philharmonic Young People's Concerts. That moment convinced me that conducting was the only thing in the world that I wanted to do. That alone would have been enough of a gift; but when I was 31, he took me under his wing and imparted to me the heart and soul of the craft.

Bernstein always told me that a composer spends his entire life writing the same piece, trying to answer the same unanswerable questions. Mass was his journey in search of an answer for all of society, then and now.

Marin Alsop is the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She's the conductor laureate of the Colorado Symphony and conductor emeritus of the Bournemouth Symphony.

And more delightful memories! Actually I thoroughly love this kind of entertainment with a very deep spiritual signficance for the times and it is a time warp that is very valuable for today's generation of Catholics to understand so much that has transpired in the Liturgy since the 1960's. This I find very enjoyable and much of it sends chills up and down my back and in a good way! Although I understand that some would find this sacrilegious but it wasn't intended to be at the time at all, far from it! But in a nut shell, liturgical composers of modern Masses for the actual OF Mass today were very much influenced by this genre. Can you tell????????



21 comments:

rcg said...

Well, Pin mocked me for attending this concert and I fell into a two latte funk. In all seriousness, this my be the link we are looking for to figure out why people migrated so energetically away from the traditional Mass. They lost faith when they examined their beliefs. Similarly as Mother Theresa who famously could not find God, the answer is that what these people thought was God, was not. They had confused their own vanity for God and country, and ironically ran after the false God and country rather than self assess their view of the world. Noticing the space in their world where they thought God was they stepped in to place themselves at the centre of the universe and nation. Recall the priest at the end of 'Mass'?

The good news is that, crucible like, we have burned away everything and all that is left is the gold.

William Meyer said...

For me it is a bit like watching Godspell set in a more classical mode. And it exemplifies the spirit of experimentation so deeply embraced, even clung to, by the aging liberals in the church.

I do like Bernstein, but would rather enjoy Candide or his interpretations of Mahler, than to suffer through his Mass, which seems too much to display the celebration of self so evident in liberal communities.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Certainly this style of religious art on stage set the stage for Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and later Joseph and His Technicolor Dream coat. Joseph and his...was much more enjoyable of course and will transcend I believe the time warp of the other three. I think Joseph...producers knew that and tried to avoid the time warp thing.
But the trailer I post shows you so much of what actually happened with the Mass, all kinds of instruments and styles of music, dance, anarchy and exuberance. Oh my, I have found a valuable treasure sunk deep with the internet to help explain so much and even to PI!!!!

Carol H. said...

This may not have been intended to be sacreligious, but it is. This reminds me of the golden-calf scene in The Ten Commandments. I know precisely what Moses and Aaron would have done with this lot!

Marc said...

Yes, I first heard the B. Mass (via a record! in the late 70s) before I converted and rather enjoyed it, until I paid attention and realised it is actually rather blasphemous and sacrilegious. Of course, it can be argued that the theatre and the other arts can deal with such things etc etc: but that realisation pretty much killed my fondness for Bernstein's Mass.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I posted the 2008 review of it because it certainly can come across as "demonic" in some ways, but it is capturing the essence of what is going on in the world and the Church of that period and therefore I believe to be very important for us to understand today and especially from the liturgical point of view. It is art though and does what art should do in terms of what Bernstein was accomplishing at the time. But even at the time and maybe more so at the time, this "Mass" was extremely controversial and for the same reasons that many traditionalists would feel offended by it as it takes the sacred and does to it that which had not been done by a popular medium in quite some time and it found respectability in many "spirit" of Vatican II Catholics including me at the time. Those who were into the iconoclasm of the time, redefining the sacred by destroying the older form of it were quite please and elated with this.

Marc said...

Yes, Fr McDonald, indeed.

I was not aware, back then in 1975/76 of what was 'going on' in the life of the Church, coming from outside and a totally uninformed religious background. I had no idea that an iconoclasm was in progress.

Knew that changes had been made following the Council, which in docility I was ready to embrace as 'Catholic'. Looking back, yes, it was already the 'spirit of Vatican II' working in my parish and local church, not just the actual Council.

rcg said...

By the way, if B.Mass is performed in full orchestra, there is a part for Banjo.

William Meyer said...

Father, I agree that the video illustrates very well a sense of what was happening at the time--perhaps that is why I find it so very hard to watch. Oddly, I recently watched Godspell, and was not offended by it, as I am by Bernstein's Mass. That may be because Godspell was simply a musical, while Bernstein's composition represents itself as a Mass. The former bears no obligation to form, but the latter does.

I also find it a chilling reminder of how easily popular culture may mislead.

John Nolan said...

The fact that Bernstein, a Jew, thought it appropriate to write a parody of the central element of Christian worship, says a lot about his monumental egoism and crass insensitivity.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Someone forgot to take the garbage out at the concert hall...

Carol H. said...

Sorry off-topic, but have you been to Rorate Caeli today? Kung has made a statement that, well, lets just say it illustrates the mindset of the left. It is hard for me to be coherent at the moment. You'll understand if you read it.

Templar said...

I love it Carol. Nothing can cheer me up like a Liberal throwing a nutty. In fact the ONLY redeeming thing of the Church's 40 year wandering in the desert has been the joy of watching it all come crashing down and watching them gasp for air like fish in a bucket

Carol H. said...

Thank you, Templar! Seeing it in that light makes it much more bearable.

rcg said...

J. Nolan, If it makes you feel worse, the work was commissioned by the Kennedy family to commemorate JFK. I don't really think he was using it simply to bash the Church, although I am certain some of his personal attitudes leaked through. HE actually performed for JP II and served on some groups in the Vatican (by 'served' I mean worked for a small fee or gratis, not that he helped out with Mass.) That last bit may explain the state of music these last 40 years.

Anonymous said...

Point taken, Father. Now please don't torture us any further with, say, his Chichester Psalms.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Be reminded that, when I attended two major Protestant grad schools of religion, Hans Kung's books, "The Church," and "On Being A Christian" were required, I say required, reading at both. He was hailed as the wave of the wonderful ecumenical future.

Joseph Johnson said...

OK Father,

I finally had time this afternoon to watch the "Mass" trailer. It reminded me a lot of what I have seen of "Godspell," kinky afro-style hair and all, definitely not my "cup of tea." As for musical stage entertainment--they don't do my kind anymore--I would much prefer George M. Cohan/vaudeville early 20th century up to World War II style musicals. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is probably my favorite musical movie.

I do, however agree with your preference for the form of Confiteor used (the older form with references to Blessed Michael the Archangel and the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul) to the current version. The current version, while an improvement on the recently discarded older translation, is still more abbreviated than the EF version used in Bernstein's "Mass." I never have understood why this prayer, even in its Latin Novus Ordo original, was shortened in the OF as compared to the EF.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Now that I'm celebrating the EF regularly, why certain prayers were changed in the OF Latin are beyond me. I think there was real embarrassment about the Catholic "cult of the saints" which had made its way into the Mass and thus for the most part these were eliminated even in Latin. What I do like in the revised confiteor is "what I have done and what I have failed to do" which was lacking in the other. But I think the elimination of the saints in this in other prayers was to placate Protestants and move ecumenism forward.

ytc said...

Of course it was, Father. We have to be embarrassed of our Catholicity to attract other people to convert. At least, some people think so.

rcg said...

Fr Dawid better start practicing.