23 July 2005

Palestrina, Contemporary Liturgy, and Very Short Fingernails

Yes, I am being a copy-cat. Matt has blogged about starting work on his thesis, so I’ve decided to go ahead and blog about having started on mine, even though the topic was settled on sometime around mid-April and this is old news. If you’re not particularly interested in liturgical music, the following explanation will probably bore you.

The title given in the proposal that the music faculty approved was something like “The use of the motets of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina in contemporary liturgy.” It’s a little unwieldy, perhaps, but not as bad as some of the thesis titles I’ve read. It’s basically in three parts. Two of the parts are settled. The first: a listing of Palestrina’s motets which are based on the Proper of the Mass along with which days they belong to--both pre-V2 and post-V2, since the Propers were rearranged a little, and a short list of where the motets may be found (i.e. the three complete works editions, and possibly editions from a few major publishers which are currently in print).

Part the second: a couple of Palestrina’s many, many SATTB works arranged for a voicing more practical for a modern choir (SSATB, SAATB—there are a lot more women in the average parish choir than men) as example pieces. Nearly all of Palestrina’s Offertories, probably the most easily-employed pieces, are SATTB, and I believe this keeps them from more frequent use.

Part Three: a lot of writing, probably involving a history of how the motets were used in history, and why it is important that they continue to be used in the liturgy.

Whatever else you may say about why you like Victoria or Lasso better, etc., Palestrina is the one that everyone held up as the model of church music—to the point where he was even set down in legend as the “Savior of Church Music.” He’s tremendously important, and though those of us who sing his music regularly are in danger of thinking him a cliché, his music really is sublime.

I don’t really know if anyone will be interested in reading my thesis, but my advisor has hopes that I will be able to submit it for publication when it’s finished—if I do a decent job and don’t completely muck it up. I suspect that it is a topic of more general interest than some music theses I’ve read about. Anyone for the history of Jamaican music in London, or common medical problems of french horn players?

I’ve done some of the work on Part One already. As a surprise, my mother bought me a copy of Haberl edition of Palestrina’s Complete Works on microfilm, then sent it off to a company that copies microfilm onto CD-rom. I will soon possess what just might be the first CD-rom of the Complete Works ever (there certainly are none for sale). Muahahaha. When I get the CD, I can continue work, and should have Part One finished by the end of the summer, with hopefully some research done for Part Three. Part Three must be finished (as in, edited, revised, reviewed and ok’d by my advisor) by mid-December, because it will be shipped off along with my grad school applications. Yes, that is the sound of me biting my fingernails a la “Looney Toons,” complete with typewriter sound-effect.

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