Thursday, May 22, 2003

Since we are rehearsing the music for St. Philip's Day tonight..
I thought I'd post this....(It's from the site of the Birmingham Oratory, but a direct link does not work, so I am posting it here...)
Saint Philip and Music
by Father Guy Nicholls, C.O.

Those who come regularly to the Birmingham Oratory know what store the Catholic church sets by music and art. The sixteenth century provided the very best of both. Yet it is important to recall that the sixteenth century began in turmoil in western Christendom. The reformation period was one of crisis for the Catholic church, and art, music and architecture all suffered as a result. Yet by the end of that century the church had regained her confidence, and we can all marvel at the wonderful achievements of the Baroque which was the outward expression of this new era of growth and confidence.

Undoubtedly one of the key figures in bringing about this change was Saint Philip. Although he was not himself a practitioner of the arts, excepting his poetical skills, of which, alas, little remains because he caused most of his sonnets to be destroyed, Philip was nonetheless an enthusiast for the arts. He encouraged many artists and musicians in their work. But there can be no doubt that he held music in especially high esteem. As one Oratorian biographer writes:

Our saint was profoundly convinced that there is in music and in song a mysterious and a mighty power to sir the heart with high and noble emotions, and an especial fitness to raise it above to the love of heavenly things.’

Saint Philip attracted a fellowship of young men around himself each day to pray. The pattern of this prayer was largely informal and devotional. From the very beginning musicians were among their number, and Philip never lost an opportunity to employ their talents in order to give spiritual refreshment to the meetings. In the early days of the Oratory, soon after Philip’s priestly ordination in 1551, the music was usually in vernacular Italian, suiting the informal nature of the gatherings. These were simple pieces known as laudi spirituali or ‘spiritual praises’, familiar from his Florentine youth, though new to Rome.

Sometimes, especially on Sundays and feast-days, Philip would take his band of followers out on walks, often to some of the churches in the nearby countryside close to his beloved catacombs. They would sing laudi and litanies on the way, and stop to play games and have a picnic liberally spiced with prayer and music. The musicians, who often came from the Papal choirs, would sing some of their motets for the group. First among these was Giovanni Animuccia, who like Philip was a Florentine by birth, and had come to Rome to seek his fortune with the Papal Court. In this he was successful, since in 1555 he succeeded the great Palestrina as master of the Capella Giulia , the choir which sang daily for the services in S. Peter’s. Animuccia remained Philip’s closest musician friend until his untimely death in 1571, and Philip was able to tell his sorrowing widow that he had seen Animuccia’s soul leave purgatory for the joys of heaven.

As the Oratory became more famous, the music became more elaborate. Instrumentalists added splendour to the meetings. Sometimes Palestrina himself came to direct the choir, and it is believed that Philip was present with him when he died in 1594, the year before Philip’s own death. Some of Palestrina’s own music seems to have been inspired by Philip; for instance, his madrigali spirituali and the wonderful settings of texts from the Song of Songs, a book which Philip especially loved to expound in the Oratory.

Some of his musical followers became priests. The Spaniard Soto de Langa, who was renowned for his beautiful voice and writing laudi, joined Philip in his priestly community. Another Spaniard living in Rome at this time was the great Tomas Luis de Victoria. Although he was never formally attached to S. Philip’s community, he lived with S. Philip at San Girolamo for several years after his ordination in 1575, and it is more than likely that he took part in the musical activities of the Oratory held in the very house where he lived until his return to Spain in 1587.

Saint Philip’s friendship with these giants of Church music reminds us once more that he played a significant if hidden rôle in the Catholic revival. Philip lived in Rome throughout the period of the Council of Trent, which was to reinvigorate Catholic life. This renewal of Catholicism owed much to S. Philip’s untiring apostolate among both the laity and clergy. Many of the great churchmen of the day became his close friends and admirers. They modelled their own lives as pastors on his. But there is no doubt that it was his spiritual appreciation of the power of music that helped to bring about the great flowering of liturgical and devotional music that has never been surpassed.

It is well known that the Fathers of the Council of Trent considered a drastic reform of church music in the light of some of its more elaborate and unspiritual manifestations. There is a familiar, though apocryphal story that Palestrina composed the great Missa Papæ Marcelli in order to show that church music could be both magnificent and spiritually profound. As Italian’s say: ‘se non e vero, e ben trovato’, which can be roughly rendered: if it’s not true, it ought to be. It certainly is the case that composers under Philip’s spell were able to produce music in no way inferior to any that had yet been composed for the worship of God, which could be a wonderful vehicle for prayer and praise, and ‘for the consolation and needs of many’.

The musical oratorio, which was to become the vehicle for some of the most profound spiritual expressions of his own and later ages, although not exclusively conceived of in Saint Philip’s Oratory, was nevertheless a happy invention of the Rome he helped to reform.

Finally, however, we cannot forget that a new generation of composers was to arise to build on the magnificent foundations of Palestrina, Victoria, and the undeservedly neglected Animuccia. Also disciples of S. Philip were Giovanni Francesco Anerio and his brother Felice, who both were to become Papal choirmasters, and they were sons of Mautizio Anerio, who was one of Philip’s earliest followers in the Oratory. Their mother, Fulginia even did Philip’s laundry all her life. When Giovanni Francesco published his collection of spiritual madrigals in 1619, he wrote an introduction which contains a clear indication of their origin in the Oratory services and beautifully sums up S. Philip’s own philosophy of music. Having praised Philip for, ‘drawing souls to the perfect love and fear of God, . . making known to them the ugliness of sin, . . the beauty of the blessed souls, and the reward of eternal glory,’ he is then moved to address his dear patron in person:

And to attain the desired aim so much more easily, and to draw, with a sweet deception, the sinners to the holy exercises of the Oratory, you introduced music there, seeing to it that the vernacular and devotional things were sung, so that people, being allured by song and tender words, would be all the more disposed to spiritual profit; nor was it your idea in vain, since some, coming at times to the Oratory only to hear the music, and then remaining, moved and captivated by the sermons and the other holy exercises that were done there, have become servants of God.’


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