Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Counter-Reformation: The Musical

As the Protestant Reformation spread, the Catholic Church responded with a series of initiatives, called the Counter-Reformation, made ever more pressing by the impending loss of England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Poland and Hungary. Part of this counter-reformation included a purging of the abuses rampant in the Magesterium, which was initated by Pope Paul III. At the same time, St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits (The Society of Jesus), which established schools and taught doctrine among Protestants in Europe and non-Christians in Asia and the Americas. They were a major force of revitalization in Poland, France and Germany.

The Council of Trent (1545-1564), the formal response of the Church to the challenges posed to traditions and philosophies by the Protestants, did not compromises on matters of Faith and doctrine, but did pass regulations on the clergy meant to purge them of their abuses and excesses. Music, while only a small part of the discussion at Trent, had major ramifications for the liturgical practices of the Catholic world, and for all music history. The Council did state that  music should "keep away from...compositions in which there is an intermingling of the lascivious or impure, whether by instrument or by voice," but interpretation and application of this was left to the local bishops.

   Some argued strongly for the elimination of polyphony all together, deeming it unintelligible. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, according to legend, saved sacred polyphony through the composition of the Pope Marcellus Mass, a piece remarkable for its sophistication and clarity. Since Luther and Calvin called for simplified music, labeling polyphony as extravagant and papist, Palestrina is not given the title "the Savior of Music" for nothing.

In Spain, the Catholic community prospered, protected by the monarchy. The music of Spain became a major source of evangelization for the spread of Catholicism in the new world. The music of the Aztecs and Incas was a rich tradition mostly associated with dancing, and into this world the Spanish missionaries brought the masses of Morales, Victoria, Guerrero and Palestrina. While most of the works were sung in their original Spanish, may composers also wrote for local languages, such as Hanacpachap cussicuinin, a processional in the Quechua language of Peru.

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