Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482) 
Marble, 328 x 560 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence

Luca della Robbia`s (1399/1400–1482) first documented commission was the Cantoria, an organ loft, or singers' gallery, (1431–1438) originally for above the door to the North Sacristy, in  the Cathedral of Florence

It now is displayed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, adjacent to the Cathedral

It was dismantled sometime in the 17th century only to be painstakingly reassembled in the late 19th  century by Professor Luigi Del Moro (A similar fate happened to the great pulpit in Pisa Cathedral)

It is not one of the easiest works to appreciate in its present location but well worth the effort.

The theme which runs throughout the work are the words of Psalm 150, one of the Laudate psalms:
"Hallelujah!  Praise God in his holy sanctuary; give praise in the mighty dome of heaven. 
Give praise for his mighty deeds, praise him for his great majesty. 
Give praise with blasts upon the horn, praise him with harp and lyre. 
Give praise with tambourines and dance, praise him with flutes and strings. 
Give praise with crashing cymbals, praise him with sounding cymbals. 
Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD! Hallelujah! " 
Psalm 150
laudate eum in firmamento virtutis eius.
2 Laudate eum in magnalibus eius,
laudate eum secundum multitudinem magnitudinis eius.
3 Laudate eum in sono tubae,
laudate eum in psalterio et cithara,
4 laudate eum in tympano et choro,
laudate eum in chordis et organo,
5 laudate eum in cymbalis benesonantibus,
laudate eum in cymbalis iubilationis:
omne quod spirat, laudet Dominum. ALLELUIA

The words from the Vulgate are inscribed on the Cantoria

Temple musicians and dancers are called to lead all beings on earth and in heaven in praise of God, the highest form of prayer. 

The psalm proclaims to whom praise shall be given, and where what praise shall be given, and why how praise shall be given and by whom 

It is not only human beings who are called on to sing praise but the whole of living creation: "all that have breath" *omne quod spirat"

The words of the psalm are depicted in the images on the Cantoria

With the choir singing to the organ in a liturgical ceremony all the senses of those present would be inflamed: sight, sound, touch, speech and smell (incense). The Word of God  come alive at Lauds

Here is the rendition of the Psalm by Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (1567 (Il Battesimo ) - 1643), Laudate Dominum, Psalm 150

The Psalm calls for music

St Augustine said:
"Music, that is the science or the sense of proper modulation, is likewise given by God's generosity to mortals having rational souls in order to lead them to higher things."

Epis. 161. De origine animae hominis, 1, 2; PL XXXIII, 725
"I feel that our souls are moved to the ardour of piety by the sacred words more piously and powerfully when these words are sung than when they are not sung, and that all the affections of our soul in their variety have modes of their own in song and chant by which they are stirred up by an indescribable and secret sympathy."
St. Augustine, Confessions, Book X, chap. 33, MPL, XXXII, 799ff.

Pius XII in Mediator Dei said that music (of the proper sort) in liturgy was a necessity
""For, if they are not profane or unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function and do not spring from a desire to achieve extraordinary and unusual effects, then our churches must admit them, since they can contribute in no small way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to higher things, and can foster true devotion of the soul."
He later in Musicae Sacrae added this warning:
"It should hardly be necessary to add the warning that, when the means and talent available are unequal to the task, it is better to forego such attempts than to do something which would be unworthy of divine worship and sacred gatherings"
Unfortunately in many cases this warning is ignored.

Finally in Musicae Sacrae he summed up the ultimate end  of music in a liturgical setting, why people should sing, should want to sing:
"May it thus come about that the Christian people begin even on this earth to sing that song of praise it will sing forever in heaven: "To Him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing and honour and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Apoc. 5. 13)"