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Online Edition - Vol. IX, No. 4: June 2003

Heritage of Catholic Music restored to Catholic Worship

The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale

by Richard M. Hogan

This article, reprinted with permission from Saint Agnes parish, was originally published in German in the Austrian church music magazine Singende Kirche (XXIV, no. 4, 1976 -1977, pp. 157-160). English translation by the author. Edited and updated for the Saint Agnes web site by Jason Miller (1998).

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The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale was established by Monsignor Richard J. Schuler in 1956, with about sixty charter members from the cities and surrounding suburbs of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. At that time Monsignor Schuler was teaching music at the College of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, so the new choir made use of the practice rooms at Saint Thomas. Eventually, the college was regarded as the home of the choir.

Initially, the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale was not affiliated with any parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, but it accepted invitations to sing on parish feast days and at important archdiocesan functions. In addition, the chorale performed orchestral compositions at its annual sacred concerts, usually with the assistance of members of the Minnesota Orchestra. These concerts provided an opportunity to sing some of the Viennese classical Masses. Many American Catholics were under the (false) impression that the Motu proprio [ Tra le sollecitudini ] issued by Pope Pius X had forbidden the performance of orchestral settings of the Mass texts within the liturgy. The annual concerts given by Monsignor Schuler allowed his choir members to study and appreciate the riches of the liturgical music of eighteenth century Vienna.

After the Second Vatican Council many parish choirs disintegrated. Many priests believed that everything during the Mass, including the music, had to be said (or sung) in English. Since there were very few artistically adequate settings of the English Mass texts, parish choirs discovered that the liturgical reform had deprived them of their repertoire. They had nothing to sing and nothing to practice. Their membership dwindled and finally, in most cases, they disbanded.

The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale continued to sing settings of the Latin Mass drawn from the treasury of sacred music either in concert or, when invited to a parish, at liturgical functions. Thus, the chorale was able to survive these "lean years" of Catholic Church music.

Monsignor Schuler was not opposed to new liturgical compositions employing the English Mass text. In fact, the chorale has at least three or four English Masses in its repertoire. However, the few new liturgical compositions which are of high artistic quality are usually not readily received by the congregation because of their modern musical style. They do not, for the most part, establish the proper atmosphere for prayer among the members of the congregation. Therefore, the chorale continued to sing Latin Masses, but it received fewer and fewer invitations from pastors because most of them had adopted English to the complete exclusion of Latin. One concert per year is hardly sufficient reason for weekly practices. If the choir was to survive, it would have to develop a new program, devote itself to a new and unique project. The chorale's journey to Salzburg in 1974 for the Sixth International Church Music Congress, organized by CIMS ( Consociatio Internationalis Musicae Sacrae ), suggested a program which many choir members believed could succeed in Minnesota.

Old World Opens New World

The European experience opened a new world to most of the choir members. In Italy, together with the Dallas Catholic Choir, we visited Florence, Assisi, and most importantly, Rome. In Germany, the tourist areas surrounding Cologne and Munich attracted the choir. The Austrian cities of Linz, Lienz, imperial Vienna, and Salzburg charmed the Minnesota visitors as they have others from around the globe.

In all these areas, but especially in Bavaria and Austria, the choir members experienced the high tradition of Catholic Church music which continues even after the council.

We envied the yearly programs of the Austrian and German cathedral choirs. One of our most memorable experiences was hearing the Mozart Requiem sung by the Salzburg cathedral choir. Most of us had heard this work often, but usually not at Mass. This masterpiece of sacred music produces a wondrous effect when heard outside of its proper liturgical setting, but within the liturgy, it is transformed into a profound musical prayer for the souls of the faithful departed. The baroque cathedral of Salzburg was a perfect setting for this liturgical drama.

However, the chorale did not travel to Europe only to listen. We sang Joseph Haydn's Missa in Tempori Belli , the Paukenmesse , on the feast of the Assumption in St. Peter's in Munich. Under Joseph Kronsteiner, together with his Linz cathedral choir, the chorale sang the Bruckner E Minor Mass in Linz. In Salzburg at the pilgrim church of Maria Plain, the chorale sang Michael Haydn's Requiem .

After three weeks, we returned home -- with the firm resolve to implement a program of classical orchestral Masses in the Twin Cities similar to the efforts of Bavarian and Austrian church choirs.

There were two major problems to address. First, we needed a parish where we could sing regularly. Second, we needed funds to pay the costs of hiring professional musicians. The first problem was resolved relatively easily. Monsignor Schuler had been appointed pastor of St. Agnes in St. Paul a few years before the choir made its European trip.

Saint Agnes parish was founded in 1887 by German-speaking immigrants to the United States. The church is a baroque structure as its "onion" tower, one of the hallmarks of the baroque style, clearly indicates. The Masses of the Viennese classical period belong in such a parish. They could only serve to heighten the previously existing baroque, south German atmosphere.

Since the predecessor of Monsignor Schuler, Monsignor Rudolph G. Bandas, had not abandoned the Latin high Mass, the chorale could sing the classical Viennese Masses at any Sunday high Mass. The Masses of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and Beethoven would be a pars integrans of the Latin liturgy at St. Agnes, because the language of the altar and the choir loft would be the same. If, as in some churches, the ministers at the altar employ the vernacular while the choir sings Latin, the music seems separate from the liturgy that is unfolding on the altar. When choir and ministers use the same language a unity between the altar and choir loft is established. Thus, the Latin high Mass at St. Agnes gave the chorale an opportunity to implement its program in accordance with sound liturgical principles. (The choir director had no problems whatsoever with the clergy. The pastor was also the choir director!)

Friends Organization Supports Chorale

Funding remained a challenge. In the first year, 1974-1975, the chorale sang seventeen orchestral Masses and in the second year, 1975-1976, twenty-five. We needed a relatively steady annual income which would provide the funds for the professional musicians, members  of the Minnesota Orchestra. In order to announce a program of twenty-five Masses we had to have some solid financial backing. On the average, we hired fifteen musicians for each Mass, but during the second year we added four professional vocal soloists. The need for a firm financial base thus became even more pressing. Although St. Agnes parish had a budget for church music, this fell far short of what the chorale's project needed.

In September 1974, we announced a program of five Masses and organized Friends of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale. Not only were we able to finance the five Masses, but were able to plan twelve more. The Friends of the Chorale have generously supported the efforts of the chorale during its entire history.

Why have these people, who certainly could make use of their hard-earned money in many different ways, donated it for Church music? The only possible answer to this question is that these people want to hear good Church music sung within the liturgy. If we recall that the Viennese classical Masses have rarely been sung within the liturgy in this country, perhaps it is possible to imagine the new world which was opened to the people who attended the Latin high Mass at St. Agnes. Seldom, in this country, has such music been sung regularly in its proper setting. The Friends of the Chorale realize the significance of the effort which Monsignor Schuler, the members of the chorale and the Minnesota Orchestra, are making and want it to continue.

It is clear that the incomparable music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert should only be sung as part of a liturgy which is equal in beauty. There must be a balance between the choir loft and the altar. The beauty of the music must be balanced by the solemnity and beauty of the ceremonies.

Since the chorale inaugurated its musical program, Monsignor Schuler, as pastor, enhanced the ceremonies at the Sunday high Mass. On the great feasts of the Church year, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and on the patronal feast of St. Agnes, Monsignor Schuler has frequently invited a bishop to celebrate the sung Mass. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has several auxiliary and suffragan bishops who are willing to sing a Latin high Mass, and Archbishop Harry Flynn has celebrated it at St. Agnes on several occasions. Otherwise the celebrant sings the Mass with two deacons and ministers from the parish schools.

Lasting Impression

The high Mass at St. Agnes continues to leave a lasting impression on many people. But it is not simply the music. All the liturgical elements -- the ceremonies, the music, the sermon, the vestments, even the church building itself -- combine, when properly used, to create a beautiful, worthy, and solemn atmosphere of the sacred. Church music is a part of this whole; it is a pars integrans in liturgia . The music without comparable ceremonies could not produce the effect which the liturgy demands. The composers did not intend the concert hall as the proper setting for their Viennese classical Masses.

In light of this, one could compare Masses sung outside of their liturgical setting with operas performed without actors in concert. In both cases, the music alone leaves an impression, but it is incomplete. Opera music should be performed with costumes, acting, and all the other elements proper to an opera. Only then is one able to appreciate the opera as a whole. The same is true of Church music. It belongs in the liturgy. The members of the Friends of the Chorale support the chorale's program because they want to participate in a truly beautiful, uplifting, liturgical ceremony. (They do not consider the program to be a series of concerts.)

The Viennese classical Masses have enriched the liturgies of many a parish in Europe and around the world. Since the council they are again proving themselves, but this time in an American parish. Every week there are new members joining either the choir or the Friends of the Chorale. The success of these Masses has been nothing short of phenomenal. But it is not entirely attributable to our own efforts. The fact is that there is a demand among Catholics, and especially young people, for beautiful ceremonies and worthy sacred music. If our program has been well received in the Twin Cities, it is more than likely that a similar program in other parts of the United States would meet with the same success. Catholics today are starved for the beautiful in their religious lives. The church musician has the knowledge and the tools to fill this need.

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Herzogenberg Mass Premieres at Saint Agnes

The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale and instrumentalists from the Minnesota Orchestra presented a premiere performance of Austrian composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg's Mass in E Minor on June 8, the Solemnity of Pentecost, at St. Agnes Catholic Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The little-known Mass was composed in 1894.

Herzogenberg (1843-1900) was artistic director of the Leipzig Bach Society's choir and later was a professor of composition at the Berlin Academy of Music. He composed more than 150 works, although he spent his career in the shadow of his friend, Johannes Brahms.

Monsignor Richard Schuler, who directed the Mass music, is a noted musician and former head of the Catholic Music Association of America. He was also one of the advisors for The Adoremus Hymnal , and several of his articles have appeared in the Adoremus Bulletin .

For the complete schedule of Chorale Masses, visit www.stagnes.net , or call the parish office at 651-293-1710. Several audio selections performed by the Chorale can be downloaded from the St. Agnes web site.

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