Support to the Chorus Sonos Ensemble of the Parish of SS. Trinity of the Pilgrims

Project location: ITALY, Rome
Project start date: June 2010 - Project end date: This project covers various years
Project number: 2010-17
Beneficiary: Parrocchia Personale della SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini


On a weekly basis, since 2008, the NPF has sponsored the performance of the finest sacred music composed during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This project has a distinctive mark. Its main motivation is to keep alive the great tradition of Roman church music within the context for which it was written. Such great masters as Palestrina and Frescobaldi wrote many of their most significant works not as concert pieces, but as integral parts of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. While the genre of sacred music undoubtedly remains of interest when performed outside its liturgical setting, this project has been able to prove that, when heard within its religious milieu, certain aspects of the genre become clearer both to musicologists and non-specialists-the interplay between those parts of the Catholic Mass performed in Gregorian chant and the polyphonic settings of the great masters; the rite of Mass as a determining factor in the duration of each of its polyphonic components; the interaction between the recitative elements of the ritual sung by the clergy and the polyphonic components sung by the choir; the associations between choral elements and specific liturgical actions, such as processions, incensing, elevations, silent prayers of the celebrant, etc. Performed in union with the liturgy, sacred music re-acquires its rapport with the time and space of what could be described as a sacred drama. This sacred drama has a dynamic and exigencies which, when witnessed first hand, can help music specialists and the general public understand a lot more about the determining factors that governed the composition of the great corpus of Roman church music.

 The parish of Ss. Trinità dei Pellegrini was established by Benedict XVI to conserve the age-old liturgy of Catholicism-venerable liturgical forms that, amongst other things, generated much of the greatest architecture, painting, and music in the Western world. Some elements of the Roman Liturgy are in place as early as the fifth century and reflect the culture of late antiquity. Others develop after the collapse of the Roman Empire, but encapsulate the seventh century Church's force as a continuing civilizing influence under the threat posed by the barbarian menace. Elements date to the Carolingians and the re-flowering of the Greco-roman world. Other elements derive from the High Middle Ages and the driving forces that inspired the Romanesque and the Gothic. A few features date from the fifteenth century, the age of Humanism and the early Renaissance, and the new re-flowering that accompanies the re-establishment of the Papacy after Avignon.

In the sixteenth century, the Roman liturgy was pruned slightly, and given a strict code of rubrics after the Council of Trent. The concern of the Tridentine reforms, was to re-establish and promulgate throughout the West the best texts and usages of the different layers, or historical phases, of the Roman liturgy. The texts and usages that had been put in place between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries were clarified and restored according to the scholarly philology of the late Renaissance. Great care was taken, however, not to disturb what had grown organically into a venerable tradition and a formidable deposit of cultural influences over the previous ten centuries.

However, the Roman liturgy represents more than a repository of cultural influences. The Tridentine reformers of the 1560s knew that the Roman liturgy had been a determining force in Western culture for more than a thousand years. Trent's concern was that the powerful cultural and spiritual catalyst of the Roman liturgy should continue to galvanize the Christian world. The great architecture, painting, and music produced under the influence of the Roman liturgy in the period just before and after Trent are the proof that this is what, in effect, took place. The greatest artistic achievements of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Catholic Europe and the New World take their inspiration and life force from the Roman liturgy. The same liturgical force that had galvanized the civilization of the late Roman, Carolingian, and Medieaeval periods inspired the great art of the Renaissance and the Baroque. It also inspired some great achievements within the neo-Classical revival of the eighteenth century, and chiefly inspired the Gothic revival of the nineteenth century. Religious art, however, looses its momentum during the nineteenth century, and with a few noted exceptions, rarely reaches greatness in either the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Sixteenth and seventeenth century church art has, on the other hand, stood the test of time. Especially the music of this period has become the classical expression of Catholic culture in the otherwise artistically barren years of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The aim of this project has been to keep this classical heritage of musical culture alive within Catholicism and in Rome, the city that remains the main point of cultural influence for the rest of the Catholic world.

With the exception of the Vatican, very little serious music is performed within the context of the liturgy in Rome. There are many reasons for this sorry state of affairs. One of the main reasons is lack of patronage. The performance of serious music requires the well-rehearsed and highly qualified skill of professional musicians. Such musicians have always depended on patrons. Church music is no exception to this rule, and the Ferdinando Peretti Foundation has been willing to support church music due to its understanding of how a high level of music within the City's churches raises the sensibilities and general cultural level of a broad spectrum of its citizens. Given its role as the capital of Catholicism, promoting the level of church music in Rome is bound to have positive results on the international scale.

The parish's commitment to high standards of music is noted by a substantial number of international visitors every year. It is also noted by numerous publications and widely read international blogs. It has also been of interest to several visiting cardinals and bishops.

This project has proved that young professional church musicians are in need of support and encouragement. When given regular sponsorship, highly trained musicians who have specialised in the area of sacred music can develop and refine their speciality and are no longer forced to concentrate on other forms of music in order to guarantee their livelihood.

The young musicians involved in this project certainly belong to the category of professional and highly trained experts specialised in church music. The Sonos Ensemble was founded by Dr. Dario Paolini in 2001. Dario Paolini received his first degree in organ and organ composition, and later his doctorate from the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. On the Roman musical scene, he is well known as an accomplished organist and choir director. His training at the Pontifical Institute has also made him one of the best performers and directors of Gregorian chant in Rome. Dr. Paolini is both organist and choir director at Ss. Trinità dei Pellegrini. His versatility also means that he is the chief cantor in Gregorian chant. His fellow singers in the Sonos Ensemble are also graduates from the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and specialised in this field. The sponsorship of the Ferdinando Peretti Foundation has meant that these musicians have been able to refine their expertise in sacred music by virtue of continuous first hand contact and involvement with the liturgical context for which it was written.

In conclusion, all over Europe significant sponsorship is behind the conservation and restoration of church architecture and other religious art, paintings, sculpture, etc. Secular governments and large corporations finance the conservation of both church buildings and church art on a large scale even when these art forms are still functioning within their original religious context as places and objects connected with Catholic worship and liturgy. The situation with sacred music, however, is different. It often finds sponsorship for study and execution when it is abstracted from its original religious function and presented as a concert program. The Ferdinando Peretti Foundation has taken a ground breaking step in sponsorship with this project. The Foundation is supporting sacred music as a functioning art form still connected with the force which inspired it-re-connected with its religious dimension. Re-connecting this art form with the world which generated it is making a number of contributions to the cultural life of Rome and the world beyond; it is helping musicians and musicologists understand the liturgical origins and inspiration of sacred music; it is nurturing the spiritual and cultural life of a wide public both in Rome and elsewhere; it is demonstrating that sacred music together with the visual arts deserves patronage and sponsorship in a way that permits it to remain connected to, and vitalized by, its religious milieu.

Parrocchia Personale della SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini

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