CONTEMPORARY RELIGIOUS MUSIC: CAN SECULAR (PROFANUM) BE SACRED?

Danutė Kalavinskaitė

Abstract


Throughout the ages, Christians have imposed certain requirements on the music of rites, from which the criteria for sacred (church) music developed. According to documents of the Catholic Church, dance, humour, noise, theatricality, platitudes, idle talk, experimentation, disturbing strangeness and entertainment are inconsistent with the sacred purpose of church music. The idea is that music should be noble, serious, meditative, harmonious and in tune with the spirit of religious services, according to the example of Gregorian chant and classical polyphony. These criteria are at least partially applicable to new genres of religious music that developed in the 19th century.
In the 20th century, more religious art appeared, particularly in secular spaces. The fading concept that God and what was sacred could only appear in the Church is consistent with Catholic theology after the Second Vatican Council. Liturgical reform opened doors for new church music, according to liturgical texts in native languages. The inculturation of religion began – every nation can worship Jesus following its own traditions. Folklore and popular melodies also appeared alongside traditional styles of Catholic Church music, with jazz, folk and other types of mass created (such as the Missa Luba, Missa Criolla, Missa Flamenca and Hootenanny Mass). Nowadays, various styles of music are performed in churches.
Contradictions are increasing. On the one hand, researchers study the influence of various styles of music on people’s physiology and psychology as a physical irritant (see Basil Cole’s study “Music and Morals”, 1993). On the other hand, Christianity is first of all based on the word (text), so hard rock fans are convinced that they can also preach Christian truths: “powerful idea is consistent with the powerful music” (Benas Ulevičius). Their opponents claim that hard rock and similar music have a destructive influence on those who listen to it “through the melody, rhythm, the performers’ behaviour, what the stage and concert locality look like and the sound intensity”, so “Christian hard rock” is an impossible thing (Rev. Oskaras Petras Volskis).
In the 20th century, the sphere of professional music art also underwent essential changes. According to Robert Liebrand, the painful experience of the two world wars and opposition to the culture of entertainment influenced the change in aesthetical paradigms, with noise, shouting, dissonant sounds and other things not usually linked with divine harmony appearing in religious music. The change in aesthetical criteria created new possibilities for expressions of religious music (even in liturgy); expressiveness that enables us to demonstrate existential human experience not only helps us to cope with them, but also to expand the narrow frame of “beauty” as one of the interesting musical constructions, technological exercises or pleasant sounds. As Feliksas Bajoras, the composer of Missa in Musica, claims, “nowadays man is so confused, has such wide experience that he cannot speak in an ordinary voice. It is hard to imagine that rosy notes can express our suffering, hard life”.
In the contemporary religious music of Lithuanian composers (such as masses by Feliksas Bajoras, Vidmantas Bartulis, Remigijus Merkelys, Jonas Tamulionis, Vytautas V. Barkauskas and Alvidas Remesa), the following interpretational characteristics of canonical text that might traditionally be considered profane can be seen:
1. Unreserved (an expressive, theatrical or hysterical) demonstration of feelings;
2. The primacy of dance rhythms;
3. Music-making as a pleasant play;
4. Unclear, inconsistent styles (eclecticism).
In all these cases, the importance of sacred canonical text can be reduced if it is considered secondary (only as a pretext for music), treated only as a means for the communication of information and words, or completely distorted, misunderstood ignoring how noble it is. On the other hand, “unreservedness” can also be an expression of maximal authenticity, with “dance rhythms” or “play” seen as heralds of a heavenly delight. Even eclecticism, although rarely, can have a purpose as a consciously chosen way of expressing religious experience.
The features of 21st-century music cited above should therefore not be considered real enemies of sacrum, but what is caused by the author’s unprofessional view – such as trite expressions, superficialities and clichés.


Keywords


Roman Catholic Church, liturgical reform, Lithuanian contemporary composers, religious music, inculturation, musical language, profanum, dance, theatricality.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13165/SMS-18-10-1-01

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236