Earlier this week, the Church laid to rest one of her great defenders of the Church’s tradition of sacred music, Domenico Cardinal Bartolucci. Cardinal Bartolucci, who was born in 1917, was appointed permanent director of the Sistine Choir in 1956 by Pope Pius XII.
Cardinal Bartolucci would live through the experiences of the post-conciliar reforms. In interviews, he recounts having had clashes with Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, C.M., the liturgist who as secretary of the Concilium oversaw much of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform. He was a defender both of Gregorian Chant (though he hated the old Solesmes method, which I love) and of the Roman School of polyphony, a school which includes Palestrina, Victoria, and others.
He was also a skillful composer of choral music. The Sistine Choir continues to sing some wonderful settings of his today. Despite all of his many accomplishments, I have to admit not being a fan of the Sistine Choir. They’ve gotten a lot better, especially during the years of Pope Benedict XVI. Too many of the men, especially during Cardinal Bartolucci’s tenure, want to sound like opera singers. You have all of these competing vibrati all over the place. There wasn’t the tight, disciplined sound you’d expect from British choirs, let alone German ones. (I am all in favour of making an Englishman the next director of the Sistine Choir. Or at least someone trained in England.)
In 2010, Monsignor Bartolucci ended up receiving an honour very few liturgical musicians have received, that of being named a cardinal. He was never ordained a bishop. This was at his request, given that he was, by then, too old to participate in the papal conclave. He remained as sharp as ever. He was a great defender of the chant and the polyphony. If you look at the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, you will see two styles of liturgical music singled out above the rest, namely chant and polyphony. It was to this music that Cardinal Bartolucci devoted his life. May he rest in peace!