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Berthier, Jacques

BERTHIER, JACQUES

Catholic layman, liturgical music composer and Organist, Jesuit Church of St. Ignace, Paris; b. Auxerre, 1923; d. Paris, June 27, 1994; was known internationally for the music he wrote for the Taizé ecumenical community.

Early years. His father, Paul Berthier was an accomplished church musician and composer who studied with Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum, and founded the Petits chanteurs à la croix de bois (Little Singers of the Wooden Cross) in 1907. Jacques' first music teachers were his parents, who taught him piano, organ and composition. From an early age, he served as a chorister and assisted as organist at Auxerre Cathedral, where his father was organist for more than 50 years. His early years were devoted to composing mostly secular works, writing his first serious composition at age 15, and a four-part motet for mixed voices at age 17. In 1945, he enrolled at the Ecole César Franck, where he studied organ, fugue and counterpoint with Edouard Souberbielle, and composition with Guy de Lioncourt, whose daughter he married. In 1960, he became the organist at St. Ignace in Paris, an appointment he held until his death.

Collaboration with Taizé. Berthier's collaboration with Taizé came about through his association with the French Jesuit liturgist and composer, Joseph Gelineau, whom he first met at the Ecole César Franck. As a result of Gelineau's introduction in 1955, the brothers of Taizé invited Berthier to compose liturgical music for their fledging community. The project included settings of the Office for Christmas, a setting of the Ordinary of the Mass, Propers for the Sundays after Christmas and for Epiphany, and the responses for Christmas week. Beginning in 1974 and continuing until his death, Berthier collaborated closely with Brother Robert Giscard (19221993) to create the corpus of music known today as "Music from Taizé." Under Berthier's creative compositional genius, Brother Robert's arrangements of texts were transformed into simple, restrained yet extraordinary music that has been translated into more than 20 languages, and sung widely throughout the world.

Other music. Berthier continued to compose organ, instrumental and orchestral music, Masses for Catholic parishes, monastic communities and large gatherings, and a Mass for the visit of Pope John Paul II at Lyon in 1986, a project in which he collaborated with Didier Rimaud. These Masses include: Messe francaise (1964), Que tes oeuvres sont belles (1983), Comme une aurore (1984), Du Christ roi (1985), Au coeur de ce monde (1986), Vienne la paix (1986), Messe de Brabant-Vallon (1987), Pour la gloire de Dieu (1989), De St Jean Baptiste (1990), Des amis de Dieu (1991), and Missa pro Europa (1993). As a classically trained musician who devoted his life to liturgical music, he was totally committed to Vatican II's vision of the assembly's active participation in the liturgy. Well-respected by his contemporaries, including Olivier Messiaen and Jean Langlais, he was able to compose what other classically trained composers could notquality liturgical music for congregational use. His greatest love remained Gregorian chant, which formed the foundation for his many improvisations. His conception of the Taizé melodies was inspired by his knowledge and love of chant.

See Also: taizÉ, music from.

Bibliography: j. berthier, "Jacques Berthier: Un serviteur de la musique liturgique," interview by Pierre Faure and Didier Rimaud, Célébrer 236 (Janvier 1994) 316. m.-p. faure, "Jacques Berthier, a Friend of God." Liturgy: Cistercians of the Strict Observance 29 (1995) 9386. j. m. kubicki, Liturgical Music as Ritual Symbol: A Case Study of Jacques Berthier's Taizé Music (Leuven 1999).

[j. m. kubicki]

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