Three ways to understand if a liturgical composition make sense

Three ways to understand if a liturgical composition make sense March 2, 2018

I am asked often to give my humble opinion about the quality of a composition for the liturgy. It is not an easy task and full of possible troubles, but maybe few things may be said to help those that want to know if something they are using for the liturgy is good or not.

  • Personal taste is not a good parameter. Let me explain this a little bit, things are not necessarily good because you may like them. Your taste may be corrupted, so every evaluation should be compared with a tradition. Tradition is the best antidote against arbitrary judgments. Something is good because conform to a process and maybe go even beyond, not because of my little and unimportant opinion about that.
  • Consistency is important. And first of all consistency with the liturgy. You may be able to compose a triple fugue with all the possible contrapuntal devices, but if that piece is not consistent with the liturgical moment it is composed for, it is useless. And this consistency leads also to other consistencies, harmonic, melodic and rhythmic. If there is not a circular logic that regulates the composition, and there is no reason for that, that composition may be not worthwhile.
  • Maybe it may seem strange what I am going to say, but another parameter may be considered is the way the composition looks on the score. Yes, the score indeed is nothing in itself; let us not forget that the essential nature of music (and of worship music) is improvisational and oral. But indeed there is a sense of the written music coming from the score that cannot be not considered. I remember one day I show some of my compositions to a very famous and important composer of liturgical music; he considered for few seconds and then he told me that it looked good to him. It was not a way to sent me away, because he mentioned that he can see that the structure coming from the notation make sense. So, I affirm, to judge a good liturgical composition there is a pre-auditory element. In Italy we say “carta canta” (the paper sings). And in a certain way, this is a deep truth.


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