The Song of the Cathedrals (Dennis Aubrey)


Sometimes it feels like the world is old and tired. We are desolated by an election that showed just how far we have lost our way. We have lost scent of truth like a hound turning haplessly in circles sniffing forlornly. And then someone shows us something that elevates the spirit and makes us smile again.

For me, this someone was my long-ago ex-student Lee Pochapin, who posted this wonderful video of the Rockin’1000, an Italian project of one thousand volunteer musicians performing David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”. Watching it I personally felt the spirit of those thousands who built the great cathedrals so many centuries ago, cathedrals that are often the subject of this blog. To see such a communal spirit, working selflessly in common, makes me understand how those structures came to exist. The builders were singing the songs of the cathedrals, for where but in music can a multitude act freely in perfect unison?

concert-boy

Watching this made me feel for just a short moment like that young boy looking out in wonder at the people cheering him and all the others with their instruments. It makes me feel part of something larger again, something greater than my our little world. For that, I have to be thankful. Thanks, Lee.

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Etienne, Bourges (Indre)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Etienne, Bourges (Indre) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Pablo Casals nei Pirenei (Dennis Aubrey, Translated by Carlo Balma Mion)


Prades ha quasi sempre fatto parte dei miei pensieri: i miei genitori possedevano un vinile consumatissimo di Pablo Casals che suonava al festival musicale a lui intitolato. Casals creò il festival nel 1950, e vi suonò con alcuni dei più valenti strumentisti classici dell’epoca: lo sapevo per aver letto centinaia di volte la copertina del disco.

Perciò, quando finalmente nel 2009 siamo stati a Prades ero in grande trepidazione per la visita. Il luogo non delude, trovandosi nei Pirenei. Abbiamo alloggiato in una adorabile chambre d’hôtes del Castel Rose, ai margini della piccola città; elegante e accogliente, è stata una base perfetta per i nostri quattro giorni di lavoro nei dintorni.

Castel Rose breakfast room

La sala per la colazione del Castel Rose

Dalla finestra della nostra camera vedevamo il famoso monte Canigou, sede dell’antico monastero benedettino nascosto tra i suoi declivi.

View of Mont Canigou from the Castel Rose  (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

Vista del Mont Canigou dal Castel Rose (fotografia di Dennis Aubrey)

La chiesa di per sé non è molto significativa, essendo stata ricostruita nel XVII secolo sulle fondamenta romaniche. Sulla facciata occidentale si trovano alcune arcate tratte in salvo dalla chiesa di Saint Michel de Cuxa, ma i veri tesori della chiesa sono i suoi arredi.

Nave,  Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Prades (Pirenei orientali), chiesa di San Pietro, navata, fotografia di Dennis Aubrey

Il famoso retablo, realizzato dallo scultore catalano Joseph Sunyer, è il più grande retablo barocco esistente in Francia, e occorsero quasi due anni per terminarlo: il trittico venne completato nel 1699. Un san Pietro monumentale, alto oltre tre metri e mezzo, domina la sezione centrale vestito con le sue vesti pontificali e la tiara. Sopra di lui si trova la Vergine in trono, intermediatrice tra il paradiso e la terra.

 Retable, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Prades (Pirenei orientali), chiesa di San Pietro, retablo, fotografia di Dennis Aubrey

Sunyer realizzò anche il magnifico retablo nella piccola chiesa di Saint Martin d’Odeillo a Odeillo-Font Romeu, dove si trovano due splendide Vergini romaniche.

Retable detail, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

Prades (Pirenei orientali), chiesa di San Pietro, dettaglio del retablo, fotografia di P.J. McKey

In una delle dodici cappelle laterali della navata, ciascuna con il proprio elaborato retablo, si trova anche una Madonna nera moderna: anche se non è una creazione medievale mi ricorda le antiche statue di Dorres e di altre chiese della regione.

Black Madonna,  Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Prades (Pirenei orientali), chiesa di San Pietro, Madonna nera, fotografia di Dennis Aubrey

P.J. ha anche scattato una foto a un’altra pregevole aggiunta moderna: la scultura della crocifissione.

Crucifix, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

Prades (Pirenei orientali), chiesa di San Pietro, crocifisso, fotografia di P.J. McKey

Anche se Prades non ha più una chiesa romanica, possiamo trarre conforto dal sapere che è circondata da alcuni tra i più puri e belli esempi di tale cultura. Torneremo a Prades questa primavera per contemplare i declivi del Canigou dal Castel Rose, gustare un pasto in Place de la Republique e brindare a Pablo Casals bevendo vino rosso dal porrón.

Coordinate: 42.618234° 2.423730°

The original English post, Pablo Casals in the Pyrénées, is found here.

Italian Translations on Via Lucis (Dennis Aubrey)


italy-flagIt has been very gratifying to see the Via Lucis work appear in other languages. The latest is a series of renderings into Italian by Carlo Balma Mion. He wrote to us from the Translation page on this site and offered his services, which we were delighted to accept.

Carlo Balma Mion studied at Politecnico di Torino (Italy), firstly graduating in Architecture and then earning a PhD in Cultural Heritage; he dedicated his PhD research to the characterization of ancient white marbles from an architectural and multi-layered point of view, thinking that a stone, in architecture, can not be “simply” considered a piece of rock.

After working for several firms of architects since 2002, he finally set up his practice in 2007, where he works as architect and technical translator (if not, he’s playing cello or photographing somewhere). He has been involved in several Conservation projects ranging from gothic bell towers to XVIII century stone buildings or baroque marble altars.

He writes about history of architecture and ancient marbles and stones.

The translations are found here:

Pablo Casals in the Pyrénées Pablo Casals nei Pirenei

Église Saint-Léger in Ébreuil La chiesa di Saint-Léger a Ébreuil

Pablo Casals in the Pyrénées (Dennis Aubrey)


Prades has almost always been part of my consciousness. My parents had a well-worn record album of Pablo Casals performing at the Pablo Casals Festival of Music. In 1950, Casals created the festival and he played there with some of the finest classical instrumentalists of the time. I knew this because I read the record jacket hundreds of times.

So when we finally went to Prades in 2009, I was in great anticipation of the visit. The site did not disappoint, set as it is in the Pyrénées. We stayed in a a lovely chambres d’hôtes on the outskirts of the small town, the Castel Rose. Elegant and welcoming, it was a perfect base of operations for our four days in the area.

Castel Rose breakfast room

Castel Rose breakfast room

From our room window we could look out at the famous Mont Canigou, home to the ancient Benedictine monastery hidden on its slopes.

View of Mont Canigou from the Castel Rose  (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

View of Mont Canigou from the Castel Rose (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

The church itself is not particularly exciting, having been rebuilt in the 17th century on its Romanesque foundation. On the western front are some arcades rescued from Saint Michel de Cuxa, but the real glories of the church are its furnishings.

Nave,  Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The famous retable was created by the Catalan sculptor Joseph Sunyer. The retable is the largest Baroque altarpiece in France and took almost two years to complete. The completed triptych was finished in 1699. A monumental 12′ tall Saint Peter dominates the central section, clothed in his pontifical vestments and wearing a tiara. The Virgin is enthroned above him, the intermediary between heaven and earth.

 Retable, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Retable, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sunyer also created the magnificent retable in the small Eglise Saint Martin d’Odeillo in Odeillo-Font Romeu, home to two magnificent vierges romanes.

Retable detail, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

Retable detail, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

There is also a modern black madonna in one of the twelve side chapels of the nave. each with its own elaborate retable. Even though she is not a medieval creation, to me she harkens back to the ancient statues at Dorres and other churches in the region.

Black Madonna,  Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Black Madonna, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ also captured a photo of another fine modern addition, the crucifixion sculpture.

Crucifix, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

Crucifix, Église Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

And while Prades no longer has a Romanesque church, we can take comfort by knowing that it is surrounded by some of the most pure and beautiful examples of that culture. We return to Prades this spring and will contemplate the slopes of Canigou from the Castel Rose. We shall enjoy a meal on the Place de la Republique, drink our red wine from the porrón and toast Pablo Casals.

Location: 42.618234° 2.423730°

italy-flag smallItalian Translation by Carlo Balma Mion

Miserere Mei and the young Genius (Dennis Aubrey)


Note: I recommend listening to the music below while reading this post.

This is a story of perhaps the first pirated copy of music in documented history. Gregorio Allegri (1582 – 1652) composed his Miserere Mei, based on Psalm 51, for the Good Friday service at the Vatican in 1638. The music was so sublime that Pope Urban VIII prohibited its publication under the penalty of excommunication. It was to be performed twice a year only – on the Tenebrae services on the Wednesday and Good Friday before Easter – and only in the Sistine Chapel.

For 132 years, the work was performed under those restrictions, but on April 11, 1770, a 14-year old boy changed this. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold arrived in Rome just in time for the Easter services. The story is that they attended the Wednesday performance of Miserere Mei in the Sistine. The boy was so overcome with the beauty of the choral piece that he transcribed the music from memory that very evening. The two Mozarts returned for the Good Friday performance where Wolfgang checked his transcription. He had made only two minor errors. Leopold wrote to his wife Maria Ann on Saturday and told her about the marvelous feat.

I have heard two versions of how the matter was resolved. In the first, shortly after the performances, Wolfgang gave a private concert for Clement XIV and performed the Miserere Mei on the piano. Far from being upset, the Pope was impressed by the musical precocity and praised Mozart.

The second version says that during his travels soon after the visit to Rome, Mozart met the British historian Dr. Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him. Burney took the manuscript to London and published it in 1771. When word reached the Pope of the publication, he summoned Mozart to Rome. But as in the first version, instead of excommunicating the boy, Clement XIV showered him with praise.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)  Image in the Public Domain

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Image in the Public Domain

Many historians insist that the entire story is a fabrication, that it was a publicity stunt by Leopold or that Mozart knew the music ahead of time. But personally, I would like to think that such an exquisite composition deserves an equally exquisite unveiling to the world. And it is such a good story, isn’t it?

The passing of Gil Scott Heron


This has nothing to do with medieval cathedrals, perhaps, but it moved me to hear of his passing.

Some men have a voice. Gil Scott Heron was one of those.

Gil Scott Heron (Photo by Mischa Richter)

Gil Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011) Requiescat in pace. We leave you with your own words.