From Mr Anthony Buckley SIR – One can find interesting stuff in The Catholic Herald. For example, a few weeks ago, I read not only that the Pope was coming to Britain but also that the Church needs to engage with the culture of the world around it; and almost every week someone writes a piece saying that Catholics need to make a real commitment to music in worship.
I think I have found a way to bring these disparate themes together. What I propose is the creation of a new musical work to be called “A Decade of the Rosary”. It would not be an interpretation of any particular joyful or sorrowful mystery but a musical setting of the Our Father and the Glory Be with, in between, 10 different settings of the Hail Mary.
It could be performed for the Pope, who is a famous music-lover, and would be a permanent gift from the Catholic community to the people of Britain, an enrichment of British culture. Some people may object that choral singing is not exactly at the heart of modern culture, but I would give a threefold reply: choral singing has been around a long time, it is not going to go away and, judging from what one sees on television, it is undergoing a renaissance in this country.
That is the core of the idea. Now for some musical practicalities. Here are my suggestions. I envisage a setting for choir and two or three soloists plus small orchestra. Since some of the words are going to be repeated quite a lot, variety will be essential – variety of forces involved, keys etc. Maybe there should be variety of language, with some of the settings in English and others in Latin.
Modern composers are fond of composing sacred works in which they cut and paste the liturgical text and introduce other texts. We don’t want any of that. Sticking to the straight text would make this work a specifically Catholic contribution to British culture.
I would allow one departure from the normal text: I would allow the composer to leave out the name “Jesus”. Now, this may seem crazy and to negate the idea of a specifically Catholic work, but I think that – in English, at least – there are peculiar musical difficulties in including the holy name. If it is not emphasised, it might sound like an afterthought. On the other hand, if it gets a lot of musical emphasis, there is the possibility that it will suck the life out of the preceding poetic metaphor “the fruit of thy womb”. In any case, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the name of Jesus was not added to the Hail Mary until the 16th century, so leaving it out is not necessarily impious.
One other musical practicality: each setting of the Hail Mary should be detachable and capable of being sung as a stand-alone piece, which could be sung in worship or in the concert hall. This would make the overall work not merely a gift to Britain but a useful gift.
As to the composer, I have no suggestion. Could it be written by a team? (This was the original plan for the work we now call Verdi’s Requiem; but the precedent is not a happy one, because the other composers fell down on the job and Verdi had to write the whole thing himself.) I leave this decision to the people who are going to commission and pay for the work.
It is going to cost a bit. A recent article on the subject of commissioning music mentioned a figure of £1,000 a minute. (This sounds like the fee for consulting a London lawyer, but it refers to a minute in the completed work, not a minute of the composer’s time.) A website I have looked at suggests the more modest figure of £780 a minute.
Who is going to pay? Maybe we could find 12 dioceses each willing to commission a movement or section. If Welsh or Scottish dioceses were willing to chip in, they could reasonably ask for “their” Hail Mary to be in Welsh or Gaelic. If the dioceses are unable, maybe we could find 20,000 or so Catholics each willing to subscribe a pound.
Yours faithfully, ANTHONY BUCKLEY Coventry, West Midlands