Friday, April 14, 2017

Heavy music on a joyous day

screengrab of ad for Easter clothes, from 1916 newspaper
This ad appeared on the same page of the
April 21, 1916 Pensacola Journal as the
article about Easter music at St. Michael's.
Catholics tend to fall into two camps when it comes to church music - traditional or contemporary. Me, I like Gregorian chant. Some was performed at Easter services at St. Michael's in Pensacola a century ago. Along with a great deal of other music.

First, a digression. In case you're wondering why the blog illustration depicts Easter finery instead of something music-related. I had nothing to accompany the musical selections listed below, is one reason. The other is that the illustration appears on the same newspaper page as the article about the St. Michael's Easter service. Both are on Page 3 of the April 21, 1916 edition of the Pensacola Journal. At first glance, I thought I was looking at 1950s fashions. I rechecked the newspaper date, and sure enough it's 1916.

Pensacola has many strengths but it's hardly a hotbed of fashion forwardness. I'm intrigued enough to add women's fashion trends of the 19-teen years to my "future explorations" file.

Back to the music. The newspaper reporter said the choir "prepared a brilliant musical program for its part in the divine services Easter Sunday." The music was set to begin a half-hour before solemn High Mass. Another performance was scheduled for Easter evening, and the entire community was invited, including non-Catholics. The article makes a point of noting that fact. A crowd was expected, and extra chairs brought in.

Here's the musical program:

  • Vidi Aquam (Gregorian)
  • Regina Coeli (Giorza)
  • Kyrie (Emerson)
  • Gloria (Ganns)
  • Credo (Ganns)
  • Sanctus (Emerson)
  • Benedictus (Gounod)
  • “Pilgrims’ Chorus” and “Evening Star” from Tannhauser (Wagner)
  • “Sweet Reverie” (Tobani-Getz)
  • “As God Ordained,” quartet for strongs (strings?) (Muted)
  • “Largo” (Handel)
  • Postlude, “The Heavens Are Telling” (Handel)
Instruments were five violins, a cornet, flute, cello, bass, clarinet and organ. The musicians were mentioned by name. The violinists were O’Brien Motto, Bertram Coleman, Bertram Dannheisser, Max Heinberg and Fred Fairchild. On the cornet was Robert Diaz, with A. Distasia on flute, A. Diaz on cello, Benj. Fairchild on bass, a Mr. Brown on clarinet and A.C. Reilly as organist. No word on individual members of the chorus. Perhaps too many to list. The congregation was expected to sing even at the evening program.

The performances at the church were said to be the continuance of a "time-honored custom." St. Michael's in 1916 was already a historic parish, having been established in 1781. Today, St. Michael's is a basilica.

After reading such a glowing write-up, I dug up renditions on YouTube of several of the selections. Oh, my. Just about all were quite heavy. Much has changed in Catholic church music over the last century. For the better.

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