Pope Benedict praised for appreciation of classical music

By David Kerr

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The Catholic Church is blessed to have a Pope who shows such a deep appreciation of classical music, says composer James MacMillan.

“We are lucky that we have a pontiff who values the true pinnacles of human civilization and creative achievement,” MacMillan remarked to EWTN News, Aug. 10.

His comments followed a gala concert in honor of Pope Benedict’s 60th anniversary of being ordained a priest. It was held on the evening of Aug. 9 at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
 
Performing before the pope and his brother Georg - who is also marking his 60th year as a priest – were the German oboist, Albrecht Mayer, and Arabella Steinbacher, a young German-Japanese violinist. They were joined by an ensemble composed of six musicians from different international orchestras.

The evening’s repertoire was drawn exclusively from the 18th century, with works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi being performed. In his words of thanks, the Pope highlighted the Christian faith permeating both composers’ work.
 
He said the works of Vivaldi, an Italian priest, were “an example of brightness and beauty that conveys serenity and joy,” revealing “his deeply religious spirit.”

The Pope also recalled how the Bach would always sign his compositions “SDG,” meaning “Soli Deo Gloria” in Latin, or “the Glory to God Alone” in English. This, said the Pope, reflected the composer’s “religious conception of art” and “strong faith” which “sustained and illuminated his entire life” and produced sacred music that “almost groped to reproduce the perfect harmony that God has imprinted in creation.”

“It is marvelous that Benedict can delight in the secular outpouring of the western canon of ‘classical’ music as well as the sacred,” said MacMillan, reflecting upon last night’s concert.

“The great composers were like angels who fell to earth to give the rest of us a glimpse of heaven. The fact that many of them were faithful servants of the Church, too, creating the finest music for our sacred liturgies is a double bonus which should excite and exult all Catholics.”

MacMillan’s own work hasn’t escaped the cultured ear of Pope Benedict in recent years. The Scottish composer created much of the music that accompanied the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom last year. This included the “The Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman” which was sung at the papal liturgies in Glasgow and Birmingham as well as the grand processional “Tu es Petrus” which heralded the Pope’s entrance into Westminster Cathedral in London.

More recently, MacMillan was one of only 60 artists from around the world asked to create works to mark the Pope’s 60th priestly anniversary. He feels Pope Benedict’s promotion of a classical Western culture has a much deeper significance beyond mere artistic appreciation.
 
“There is much talk within certain quarters of the Church about ‘inculturation.’ Some use this as a pretext for attacking the Western, Hellenistic, European, classical and Gregorian roots of Catholic culture. This subterfuge is wrong-headed,” he warned.
 
“What the Church should fear most is the de-culturization of society. Results of this are playing themselves out on the streets of the U.K. as I write.”

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