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Writing about Johann Sebastian Bach, musicologist Karl Geiringer observed that “he retained something of the medieval notion that saw in music an indivisible whole that rendered a melody equally appropriate for singing or playing, to accompany dancers around the tree in a village or to praise the Lord.”

Based purely on stylistic differences, it is often difficult to establish whether a piece, written by a composer working from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, is sacred or secular. For example, with Bach, some fugues intended for the harpsichord (and thus presumably secular) were written in style reminiscent of church motets, while some sacred pieces by Monteverdi and Mozart fit easily into their operas with a simple modification in the texte.

During the nineteenth century, a gap gradually developed between concert music and church music. The Catholic church defined its own musical identity, notably with the adoption of Gregorian chant of the Roman rites. Increasingly, religiousness expressed itself with greater baackwardness and solemnity. Later, churches allocated fewer and fewer resources to the production of high quality music, and the organ eventually replaced the orchestra. Very few of the vigorous choirs which in earlier times fervently intoned the songs that accompany the various rites roemain. Today, one rarely hears music of a professional quality in a church unless it also serves as a prestigioux cultural institution. The great sacred repertoire, however, remains alive and accessible in the concert hall, in the intimacy of one’s home, or even in the car – thanks to the work of musicians (professional choirs, organists, ensembles devoted to performing ancient music) and presenters (concert series, specialized radio stations and record companies). Paradoxically, while the practice of religion has diminished and this music is most often performed outsite its liturgical context, the fact that it can still be an integral part of special moments in our lives allows it to preserve its original meaning. The music brings beauty and serenity to a universe constantly searching for spiritual values and references…

Alongside the choral masterpieces of Bach and Fauré, sung here by the Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal, the polyphonies of Palestrina and the sumptuous choruses of Carissimi give us a musical impression of spirituality. Some well-knowned sacred arias (Bist du bei mir, Ave Maria, Panis Angelicus) enliven this programme with the lush sound of soloists’ voices.

Finally, music lovers will not be surprised to hear several purely instrumental pieces as the presence of a sung text is not necessary to confer a spiritual character to the music. In Bach’s time, any secular instrumental piece, concerto or sonata, became sacred music simply by being performed in church. Thus, Clark’s Volontary could just as easily serve to mark a princely march or a church procession. Buxtehude’s joyful fugue suits the harpsichord as well as a great church organ. In a later era, Puccini felt that the melancholy of his friend the Duke Amadeo of Savoy, and used it to enrich the final act of his opera Manon Lescaut.

Our profound wish is that this programme will lead the listener to experience a communion of the spirit, the heart and the senses, achieving a serenity that translates, in its simplest form, to a balanced soul.

© Marc-André Doran
Translation: Janet Sandor

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AN 2 9284-5
AN 2 9284-5
AN 2 9284-5
AN 2 9284-5

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