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Issue #6: The “Gelineau virus” and the Responsorial Psalm

Issue #6: The “Gelineau virus” and the Responsorial Psalm
By Aurelio Porfiri • Issue #6 • View online
These days, in the best of circumstances, we focus on the refrain only, giving to the psalmodic text in the verses some recitative tones, referred by someone as the “Gelineau virus”…

Can someone explain to me the destiny of the responsorial psalm? Please let me know, because I’m starting to get confused. Now, let us explore together some background. In the Mass before the liturgical reform — called until few months ago the “EF” (Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) — we had the Gradual, a very complex composition for very skilled singers. Some masterworks of Gregorian chant are indeed in this musical genre. The Gradual was a lyrical meditation on the psalmodic text and (on a deeper level) the topic of the entire liturgy of the day. So we had there the exaltation of the text, the flourishing of the words. Please listen to some of them, like Haec Dies, for Easter. It is a fantastic musical flourishing, and it is pure prayer in sound.
Now, after the liturgical reform, we have the responsorial psalm, whose rationale was to assure that the people could participate by joining in the refrain. No problem about that, we know that participation was the real thing for the reformers. But still we need to remember that this moment is a lyrical, poetical, musical meditation of the psalm. It has a precise identity.
These days, in the best of circumstances, we focus on the refrain only, giving to the psalmodic text in the verses some recitative tones, referred by someone as the “Gelineau virus” (strangely enough, the “Gelineau disease” it is a real medical condition but has nothing to do with the condition I am referring to). The British composer Paul Inwood, remembering father Gelineau at the time of his death in 2008 has this to say: “1953 saw the publication in French of his 24 Psalms and a Canticle, rapidly made available in English. This was quickly followed by two other collections of psalms and canticles. The English versions include some of Gelineau’s own antiphons together with others, notably by Dom Gregory Murray OSB, Clifford Howell SJ, Fr Wilfrid Trotman, and Guy Weitz, following the French pattern where a number of prominent liturgical composers had been involved by Gelineau in providing settings of the antiphons. The author first encountered these psalms in 1958, by which time they had already spread throughout the British Isles and to the USA and beyond, though they could still not be used during Mass. As well as Psalm 22(23), Catholics across the world soon became familiar with Psalm 41(42) “My soul is thirsting for the Lord” (Like the deer that yearns), Psalm 99(100) “Arise, come to your God” (Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth), Psalm 135(136) “Great is his love, love without end” (O give thanks to the Lord for he is good), ferial and festal settings of the Magnificat, and many others, which formed a corpus of psalmody ready for use in parishes when the first vernacular lectionaries started to appear in the USA in the mid-1960s. The original edition of the hymn book Praise the Lord (ed. Trotman, pub. Geoffrey Chapman, 1966) incorporated a supplement of Gelineau psalms at the back of the book, and in the USA Worship (pub. GIA) included a much larger selection. (In fact the Americans have consistently used Gelineau psalmody more extensively than the English and continue to do so.) Religious communities have also made substantial use of Gelineau psalmody; and a little-known fact is that Gelineau tried out many of his early psalm settings on the community at Taizé in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the start of a long relationship that was to bear an unexpected and astonishing fruit through Gelineau’s introduction of Jacques Berthier to the community in 1955. Berthier initially wrote settings for the use of what was then still a monastic community of about twenty men. Two decades later, by which time he had become Gelineau’s parish organist in Paris, Berthier was asked to write a different kind of music that the community felt it now needed to enable the prayer of the young people from many different countries who first started coming to Taizé in large numbers in the mid-1970s. The rest is history…” ( Yes, it is history, not always a good one.
I’m sure someone will say: “You, too, are doing this. We’ve seen some of your settings of the responsorial psalm!” It is partially true. When I compose responsorial psalms, sometimes I also find refuge in this easy escape (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!). So I want to say to myself first, and to others as well: let us rethink the role and importance of this liturgical moment in the shining light of a wonderful musical tradition.
If ever there will be a hospital for liturgical musicians, those with the disease mentioned above (the Gelineau virus) will surely be one of the most crowded…
I met father Gelineau in Rome in 1997, in the Vatican. He was a kind person. I have good memory of him, as a person. But I cannot forget what Mgr Klaus Gamber in The modern rite has said: “Today, the enemies of the church are attempting to accomplish their work of destruction no longer, as hitherto, from without, but from within. They want to ‘change the Church’s function.’ The procedure of permanent change helps them with this, because with this nothing is kept in the form people are used to, not even small and insignificant things. In this way, Christians who have been made to feel uncertain fall an easy prey to unbelief.”. We all know what he have today in our churches…but are we all aware of what was lost? 
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