At the Met: Lerolle’s The Organ Rehearsal

[Organist Randolph Nichols brings to our notice a once-famous work by painter Henry Lerolle (1848–1929).]

As some of my local colleagues know, besides being an organist and chant enthusiast I’m also a painter, a passion inherited from my mother. Sometimes those interests converge, as is the case in my admiration for Henry Lerolle’s The Organ Rehearsal, an oil on canvas painting dating from 1885 in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Having spent so much of my life in church lofts, it’s natural I would have a strong connection to this painting. With the exception of the fashion in women’s clothing, nothing much seems to have changed since 1885. Besides the artist’s deft drawing skills, solid use of perspective lines and division of the painting into dramatic value contrasts, I am drawn to the artist’s rendering of the dust covered floor (lofts are always the last place in a church to be swept), the blurring of the soloist’s feet and soft edges of her face (devices to integrate the figure into the scene so as to avoid a “pasted on” look), and the intentional omission of an organ music stand (a vertical shape at that juncture in the composition would be disruptive).

The rehearsal takes place in the choir loft of Lerolle’s parish church, Saint-François-Xavier in Paris, and features members of the artist’s family: his wife (seated to the left with gloved hand to cheek), his mother (standing behind the unidentified organist), his wife’s sisters, one seated in front (scandalously bareheaded and the wife of composer Ernest Chausson) and the soloist (the focal point of the painting). The painter himself, second from left, gazes vacantly to the side while the man standing to his left is thought to be Chausson. The young male figure behind the painter has not been positively identified.

While Lerolle was friend and patron to fellow artists such as Degas and Renoir (the latter painted several portraits of Lerolle’s daughters and of Lerolle himself), he was also a violinist and composer whose home was a meeting place for musicians that included d’Indy, Debussy and Dukas. (Debussy dedicated several piano works to Lerolle’s daughter Yvonne, including three of the Images.) It is not surprising then that a music rehearsal scene would be a subject of interest to the painter.

Within eleven years from its creation The Organ Rehearsal had become a picture held in high regard. Yet by 1928, it was relegated to the bowels of the Metropolitan and only re-discovered, cleaned, repaired and brought out of storage in 2007 and 2008.

If you would like more detailed information about the history and restoration of Lerolle’s most famous painting, I highly recommend this 30 minute lecture by Isabelle Duvernois of the Paintings Conservation department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enjoy!

“Cantate Domino”: an international declaration on sacred music

On Sunday, March 5, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Church’s Instruction on Music in the Liturgy Musicam sacram, over 200 musicians, pastors, and scholars published a declaration under the title “Cantate Domino canticum novum”.

The statement recalls the Second Vatican Council’s teaching which describes sacred music as “a treasure of inestimable value”, and it speaks of elements in common practice “that contribute to the present deplorable situation of sacred music and of the liturgy.”

We, the undersigned—musicians, pastors, teachers, scholars, and lovers of sacred music—humbly offer to the Catholic community around the world this statement, expressing our great love for the Church’s treasury of sacred music and our deep concerns about its current plight.

The statement calls on the Church to (1) reaffirm the musical heritage of the Roman rite: Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony; (2) give children an exposure to the beauty of true musical art; (3) promote the professional training of lay church musicians; (4) insist on high standards for music in cathedrals and basilicas; (5) encourage every parish to offer at least one fully sung Mass every Sunday; (6) provide musical training for the clergy, to enable them to sing their part of the liturgy; and (7) educate liturgists in the musical tradition of the Church.

These recommendations, along with a discussion of widespread failings in musical practice, are fleshed out in the full document, which is available here. Versions in five other languages and a list of the signatories can be reached through the coverage at our sister site New Liturgical Movement.

Te Deum laudamus!

On the last day of the year, it is traditional to sing or recite the Te Deum, so here are some links to performances to inspire your own recitation:

The prelude to Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum:

In this performance, organist Pierre Cochereau acts as a second choir, ‘singing’ the simple-tone chant melody (PDF) in alternation with the choir of human voices. His organ registrations were probably improvised:

For versions by Victoria and Bruckner, and in English by Howells, Tallis, and Gibbons, see Ben Yanke’s series of “Te Deum Tuesday” posts.
A favorite of mine, ever since singing it long ago, is Kodály’s epic choral/orchestral version:

And here from Romania is Verdi’s Te Deum from the Four Sacred Pieces; this performance from a festival I never heard of gets the piece better than some ponderous renderings under big names:

But I began by suggesting your own recitation, and the Church rewards it today with her own spiritual support. The Manual of Indulgences reminds us that (under the usual conditions):

A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful devoutly assist either at the recitation or the solemn singing of

  1. the Veni Creator, either on the first day of the year to implore divine assistance for the course of the whole year, […]
  2. the Te Deum, on the final day of the year, to offer thanks to God for gifts received throughout the course of the entire year.
[Chant scores are at the two links above.]

Happy New Year!

People, Look East

A few days ago, Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, offered an Advent-inspired

reflection on the biblical tradition of looking to the East for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fittingly enough, he mentions the liturgical tradition of prayer directed toward the East, whether geographical or symbolic, and reminds us of the purpose of that practice: it is to foster an other-worldly, God-centered focus which should characterize our participation at Mass, regardless of whether the priest speaks ad orientem or versus populum:

Whether celebrated with priest and people facing each other or with priest and people together facing the same direction, every Eucharist is Christ coming to meet us, gracing us with a share in his own divine life. Every Eucharist is a proleptic sharing in the feast of heaven. Therefore, in every celebration of the Eucharist, both priest and faithful should focus their attention not on each other, but on the Lord.

Read more….

Wyoming Catholic College Announces Fellowships for Sacred Music

Professor Peter Kwasniewski sent a note about his college’s program of music scholarships, so we pass it along for interested readers:

Since its opening in 2007, Wyoming Catholic College has always supported a strong choir program and a men’s schola. On average, about 40 students participate in the choir, and about 10 men in the schola.  

The choir practices cover more than repertoire: we work on voice production, solfege, music theory, and some history and theology, especially as regards the liturgy (we sing for both EF and OF Masses). Schola practice, too, delves deeply into the structure and “rhetoric” of the Proper chants for Sundays and Holy Days so that we may sing them better. 

Students who have prior experience playing the organ are given opportunities to play at Sunday High Mass, and if they are good enough, they can receive a work-study scholarship for this position. In addition, students who can play instruments well are included in small ensembles for performing Renaissance and Baroque music during liturgies, paraliturgical functions, and social events. 

Recently it was decided to go one step further. To attract musically talented students who wish to study at a Catholic liberal arts Great Books college, WCC is offering an indefinite number of “Pope Benedict XVI Fellowships for Sacred Music” for qualified applicants. The fellowship is a merit-based grant given to freshmen who can demonstrate musical talent, experience, and interest, and who are planning to sing in the College Choir and/or Schola. 

For more details, visit this page, and look under “Fellowships and Merit Scholarships”:
Please address inquiries to Trevor Lontine, Director of Admissions, at

A new recording of the Requiem chants

For some years, Massachusetts-based hymn expert Peter Meggison has been working to keep classic devotional hymns alive by commissioning new recordings of them.  Having made over a dozen sessions with choirs and small ensembles, he distributes the songs on CDs and on the web.  Most of the music on the site is from the era 1850-1950, and represents popular hymns sung at Catholic Masses and devotions in America and England.

This summer he collaborated with conductor and organist Michael Olbash to offer something different. Instead of late-Victorian hymns in English, the aim was to present a once-familiar sound from the traditional Mass itself: the sound of the Latin chants of the Requiem Mass, sung with organ accompaniment.

A choir of 11 met for an afternoon in St. John Church in Clinton, Massachusetts in June to perform the music, and it is now available on the project’s website at .

Upcoming: chant colloquium in Toronto August 11-14

Here’s an opportunity to check out:

August 11-14, 2016
Saint Augustine’s Seminary, Toronto

The Gregorian Institute of Canada is pleased to announce its 11th Annual Colloquium, to be held at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Toronto, ON, August 11-14. Our plans include a series of practical chant workshops ranging from introductory to advanced, featuring the outstanding clinician Adam Bartlett, composer and editor of Simple English Propers (CMAA, 2011), and editor of the Lumen Christi Missal, Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, and Lumen Christi Hymnal (Illuminare Publications, 2012-2015). Active as a teacher, workshop leader and speaker, Adam has traveled widely offering catechetical and training workshops on topics of Catholic sacred music and liturgical chant.

The colloquium also includes a series of scholarly papers in honour of the late Andrew Hughes, renowned Canadian chant scholar and Professor at the University of Toronto.

In addition to the workshops and lectures, there will be daily offices and Sunday mass sung with Gregorian Chant.

The Program and Registration Form are online at .

Colloquium 2016 recordings starting to come on-line

Thanks to CMAA member Carl Dierschow, a web site with live recordings from the Sacred Music Colloquium 2016 events is starting to be filled in, at .

So far the page has:

  • Monday, June 20: concert by the early music ensemble Pro Arte Saint Louis
  • Saturday, June 25: Mass at the Shrine of St. Joseph
    The Mass ordinary was the Mozart Missa Brevis (the “Sparrow Mass”) for choir and orchestra.

    Colloquium Day 6: Ite ad Joseph

    The message above the altar was plain enough:

    and so the faithful did “go to Joseph”, returning to his shrine in St. Louis for the final Mass of CMAA’s 26th Sacred Music Colloquium.

    The Holy Mass was celebrated according to the 1962 Missal, for the feast (3rd cl.) of St. William, abbot

    Organist: Jonathan Ryan
    Mass ordinary: “Sparrow” Mass, Mozart (with orchestra)

    Introit: Os justi (women’s schola, Cole)
    Kyrie: Sparrow Mass (Mozart choir, Buchholz)
    Gloria: Sparrow Mass (Mozart choir, Buchholz)
    Gradual: Domine, prævenisti (men’s schola, Brouwers)
    Alleluia: Justus ut palma (chant improvisation, Mahrt)
    Offertory: Desiderium animæ (women’s faculty master choir, Carr-Wilson)
    Offertory motet: O bone Jesu, Ingegneri (beginning polyphony, Hughes)
    Sanctus: Sparrow Mass (Mozart choir, Buchholz)
    Agnus Dei: Sparrow Mass (Mozart choir, Buchholz)
    Communion: Fidelis servus (fundamentals, Ryan)
    Communion motet: O sacrum convivium, La Rocca (motet choir, Cole)

    A moment from the homily by our chaplain, Rev. Robert Pasley, KCHS.
    (Photo credits: Rene Zajner)

    As is our custom at the final Mass, the full complement of attendees joined in a motet under the direction of Dr. Buchholz: this time, the Ave Maria of Bruckner.

    We’ll look forward to hearing some recordings and seeing additional photos from the Colloquium Masses and presentations over the next few days as they become available on the net.  I’ll post links here on Chant Café.

    Next year the 27th Sacred Music Colloquium will be held in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the University of St. Thomas, June 19-24.