Sistine Chapel maestro joins the heavenly choir

Cardinal Bartolucci

Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci was a prolific composer of liturgical music and outspoken critic of ‘pop-inspired songs’ in worship. He was director of the Sistine Chapel Choir under six popes.

Domenico Bartolucci, cardinal and composer.

Born May 7, 1917; died November 11, 2013.

When Cardinal Bartolucci was appointed by Pius XII to succeed Lorenzo Perosi as director of the Sistine Chapel Choir in 1956, he raised its standard and brought the choir to a worldwide audience through broadcasts, recordings, and tours.

But he could not be reconciled with those who sought to modernise Church music. ‘The fault lies above all with the pseudo-intellectuals who have engineered this denigration of the liturgy, and thus of music, overthrowing and despising the heritage of the past with the idea of obtaining who knows what advantage for the people,’ he fumed.

Even religious works by the great composers failed to pass muster. Verdi’s Requiem was ‘not a Mass suitable for the liturgy,’ Bruckner had the ‘defect of being long-winded’ and his Mass in E minor ‘rather tedious,’ and Mahler was ‘rather repetitive.’ Even Górecki’s Third Symphony, famous for its spiritual minimalism, was a ‘consumer phenomenon.’

Vatican II (1962-65) brought significant changes to music in the Church and, although Bartolucci resisted, not even the Sistine Chapel was immune. ‘[If it’s] coming from St Peter’s, appeals and complaints aren’t of any use,’ he would grumble.

Although he held the title ‘perpetual director,’ Cardinal Bartolucci was controversially removed from office in 1997. His 40 volumes of sacred music include Masses, motets, hymns and oratorios, most of which were based on his somewhat severe interpretation of tradition. He also wrote several secular works, including an opera called Brunelleschi that has yet to be performed.

In an interview with L’espresso magazine in 2006 Bartolucci recalled some of the popes he had served. Pius XII ‘loved music and often played the violin,’ Paul VI ‘was tone deaf. I don’t know how much of an appreciation he had for music,’ while under John Paul II 'the liturgical crisis became more deeply entrenched,’ with ‘dancing and drums’ becoming common place.

His greatest admiration was reserved for Benedict XVI. ‘He plays the piano, has a profound understanding of Mozart [and] loves the Church’s liturgy,’ recalled Bartolucci.

In November 2010, Benedict elevated him to the College of Cardinals.

Full obituary: Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci - obituary (The Telegraph)

Watch and listen:

Cardinal Bartolucci's funeral (YouTube).

Domenico Bartolucci - Adoro te devote, prayer Vigil, filmed in the Presence of Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Peter's, 10 June 2010 (YouTube).

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