The Catholic Gentleman: Polyphony


Love music, love life. The Catholic Gentleman must learn to have an appreciation for all the arts, among these includes the musical arts.  Music is vital for the growth and development of the Catholic Gentleman, and listening to right and proper music helps to form and mature a gentleman.

The importance of music has long been realized in the development of the soul. Plato himself emphasized the importance of the right kind of music in The Republic, arguing for proper music for each respective class of people. Plato was obviously on to something. It is not too hard to see the deleterious effects of improper music. Harsh music creates overly antagonistic emotions which is dangerous to the stability and reason of the individual. Music with excessive bass is reminiscent of tribal war anthems, with effects that are frankly quite similar to the original ideals. The Catholic Gentleman should rise above these popular norms and embrace objective beauty. As part of our new series on music, a great introduction to proper music is the genre of Polyphony.

Polyphony, meaning music consisting of more than one melodic voices, came to prominence in the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages. Generally regarded as reaching its high point in the Renaissance around the time of the Council of Trent, Polyphony has been an essential part of the canon of Catholic music. Combining the voices of multiple singers, polyphony alternates between harmonic accord and dissonance in order to achieve tones that uplift the soul.

Universally regarded as the greatest composer of Renaissance Polyphony, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is THE composer that all Catholic Gentlemen need to know. Palestrina composed over 100 different Masses, the greatest of which is unquestionably the Missa Papae Marcelli. This Mass had been used at all Papal Coronation Masses until Vatican II, and is a masterpiece of counterpoint that has had a lasting influence on Catholic Liturgical settings to this day. I recommend all drop what they are doing and listen to the Kyrie of this Mass…

While polyphony itself is a development of the simpler tones of Gregorian Chant, its lasting influence has found it used throughout the centuries. Baroque and Classical music in their respective turns utilized the beauty of polyphonic vocal harmony in order to achieve the right emotion in the music. Music reaches for something higher, and the Catholic Gentleman must learn to develop the tastes to appreciate the finer things in life. Far apart from Kant’s critique that music is nothing more than just arranged sound that cannot convey truth, fine music conveys a reality of beauty that is important to grasp and appreciate. Polyphony is one genre that communicates truth and has been used in the service of the Church in order to beautify her liturgy. I highly recommend all Catholic Gentlemen learn to appreciate this beautiful form of art.

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