A proposed reform of church music, originating in Germany during the second half of the nineteenth century. The adjective is used also to designate the style in which the advocates of the reform composed, namely, a style polyphonic in texture, frequently unaccompanied in imitation of Renaissance polyphony but highly influenced by romanticist harmonies.
Background. The immediate roots of Caecilianism lay in church-music activity during the early decades of the nineteenth century. Prevalent at that time were two aesthetics and styles of composing: stile moderno, which became in the late eighteenh century a symphonic orchestral approach; and stile antico, the careful adherence to academic contrapuntal rules (see liturgical music, his tory of). The symphonic emphasis was especially prevalent in Germany, while the stile antico was represented in Rome, notably in the sistine Choir tradition. Chief among the Italian composers were Zingarelli (1752–1837), Raimondi (1786–1853), and Pietro Alfieri (1801–63). Their enthusiasm for the Renaissance ideal found support in Germany and Austria also and included Aiblinger (1779–1867), Schiedermayer (1779–1840), and Assmayer (1790–1862). In their concern for writing in the pure style of palestrina, composers turned scholars and launched investigations into the actual music of the sixteenth century. Aiblinger traveled extensively throughout Italy, collecting works of Italian masters. The publications of Giuseppe Baini (1775–1844) and the music collection of Fortunato Santini (1778–1862), now housed in Münster, Germany, did much to enhance the prestige of Renaissance musical art—especially that of Palestrina and the Roman school—and to encourage performances of these works. Alexander Choron (1771–1834), through his École de chant for the study of church music and his writings, especially Principles de composition (1808) and Encyclopédie musicale (1836–38), helped bring the Renaissance ideal to France. R. J. Von Maldeghem (1810–93), another pioneer musicologist, concentrated on Flemish vocal polyphony and gave currency to much early choral music in his 29-volume Trésor musical (Brussels 1865–93).
It was Germany, however, that gave the movement its greatest practical impetus. Karl Proske (1794–1861) had made three trips to Italy, collecting the works of Renaissance masters. Regensburg, where his library was kept, became the center of diffusion for Germany. Here Joseph Schrems (1815–72) developed the cathedral choir into a highly proficient group and a means of implementing the polyphonic revival. Extensive work was done also by Kaspar Ett (1799–1847) in Munich; and F. Commer (1813–87), a tireless scholar and musical leader in Berlin, published several valuable collections of old music, notably his 28-volume Musica sacra and two-volume Cantica sacra. Concern for liturgical propriety brought about a reevaluation of the role of chant in the celebration of the liturgy. In the early nineteenth century, there were thus some attempts to produce a feasible version of the chant. Among the first was Ett's Cantica sacra (1827; last ed. New York–Cincinnati 1906), with its simplified melodies and accompaniments. His efforts were followed by those of Schiedermayer and Alfieri.
Reform Movement. It is small wonder that the contrast between the tasteless orchestral style that had predominated in Germany and the resuscitated Renaissance repertory should have moved many musicians (among them liszt and R. wagner) and clergymen to seek reform. In Regensburg Bishop sailer's reform writings and teachings found well-prepared soil. The entire milieu collaborated to bring about reform and revival in the establishment of the Caecilianverein by Franz X. Witt (1839–80) in 1868. There had been agitation for reform before this, and Witt himself had sought unsuccessfully to win approval of such an organization at a general meeting of the Catholic Society of Germany in Innsbruck (1867). At a meeting of the same society the next year, however, his ideas received more sympathy. The general objective of his movement was to improve the quality of the church music performed in Germany (and elsewhere as well). Unaccompanied polyphonic works of the Renaissance were looked upon as the consummate ideal, but the reform also embraced the use of chant, the composition of new unaccompanied works, organ and instrumentally accompanied works, and the vernacular hymn. There was no attempt to proscribe altogether the use of instruments in church, and even Witt and his colleagues continued to provide instrumental accompaniment. a cappella polyphony remained, however, the goal to be reached by the composer. The organization was set up under the patronage of St. Cecilia. Named to its executive body were a cardinal-protector, a general president, and local officers. The reforms were promulgated rapidly, first in Germany, then in Europe, and very vigorously in the United States. Witt disseminated his principles in the periodicals Fliegende Blätter für Katholische Kirchenmusik (later renamed Caecilienvereinsorgan, or CVO) and Musica sacra (which included frequent music supplements) so thoroughly that both the cathedral and the country parishes quickly adopted Caecilian reforms. Pope Pius IX gave it official sanction on December 16, 1870, in the brief Multum ad movendos animos.
Effects of Reform. Adherence to Caecilian standards produced a copious amount of new music intended for liturgical use. By copying polyphonic devices, cadences, and chordal declamation, composers found a stock of formulas for turning out sacred music in quantity. The rigidity of such technique brought forth many unimaginative works that produced an effect opposite from that originally intended. Whenever Caecilian reforms were spread, they were carried with somewhat dictatorial tones that triggered some opposition, such as that on the part of J. E. Habert (1833–89) in Austria, who in 1875 voiced his objection to the absolutism of the Caecilian Society. The reactionaries against Caecilian dictates favored closer collaboration with current aesthetics and a lightening of the restrictions on concert music. M. Brosig (1815–87) attempted a reconciliation of concert music and Caecilian principles. In spite of such dissatisfaction, Caecilianism grew in influence, and societies based on Witt's constitution flourished everywhere. Under the patronage of Archbishop John Henni of Milwaukee, John Singenberger (1848–1924) formally established the American Caecilian Society, which became one of the largest in the world. Its official organ, Caecilia, first appeared in 1874 and was still published until its merger with the Catholic Choirmaster in 1964.
As mentioned earlier, one of the chief objectives of the Caecilians was the restoration of Gregorian chant. Books of chant accompaniment, such as the Enchiridion Chorale (1853) by J. G. Mettenleiter, perpetuated Renaissance harmonic principles with little imagination. An edition of the chant itself was prepared by F. X. Haberl (1840–1910) from the Medicaean version. His Gradualia (1871) and Antiphonaria (1878), however, were based on inaccurate scholarship and were supplanted by the Vatican edition of 1903 (see chant books, printed editions of). The disqualification of this edition from the Church's liturgical books proved to be one of the death blows to Caecilianism as a society. Its reforming function, however, was fulfilled in St. Pius X's motu proprio on sacred music (1903). Caecilianism had generated and maintained interest in reforming Church music, in reviving the Renaissance masters, in promoting Gregorian chant, and in unifying liturgical practice—the points conspicuously emphasized in the motu proprio.
In the Twentieth Century. Since the society's goal had been reached, its usefulness as an organization ceased, but the style peculiar to its adherents remained. Such composers as Ravanello (1871–1938), Goller (1873–1953), and Yon (1886–1943) were composing well into the twentieth century in a style directly linked with Caecilianism, although strong romanticist sonorities predominate. Polyphonic devices frequently became nothing more than rows of clichéd patterns in the later Caecilian composers. The works of Haller (1840–1915), early Griesbacher, and Goller are among the best written in the style. Chromaticism and leitmotiv principles introduced by Griesbacher (1864–1933) created in the harmony a tendency toward Wagnerian sentimentality. In general, the "established" Caecilian spirit created a unique ecclesiastical style and formed a framework that, by its own inflexibility, condemned itself. The style cramped creative effort relevant to its own age, and almost none of the later efforts show originality. The spirit of the reform, however, may still be felt in the absence of orchestras in the celebration of the liturgy, the fact of a uniform edition of the chant, and the general awareness of the need for constant surveillance of the musical activity of the Church.
Bibliography: l. w. ellinwood, The History of American Church Music (New York 1953). k. g. fellerer, The History of Catholic Church Music, tr. f. a. brunner (Baltimore, Md. 1961); Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart 2:621–628. o. ursprung, Die katholishe Kirchenmusik (Potsdam 1931). e. tittel, Oesterreichische Kirchenmusik (Vienna 1961). r. schlecht, Geschichte der Kirchenmusik (Regensburg 1871), esp. 184–215. a. scharnagl, Die Regensburger Tradition (Cologne 1962). g. reese, "Maldeghem and His Buried Treasure," Music Library Association, Notes 6 (1948) 75–117. See also the complete files of Musica Sacra 1–21 (Regensburg 1868–88), New Series 1–58 (1889–1928), Caecilienvereinsorgan 1–68 (Regensburg 1866–1937), and Caecilia 1–91 (Milwaukee 1874–1964). k. a. daly, Catholic Church Music in Ireland, 1878–1903: The Cecilian Reform Movement (Dublin, 1995).
[f. j. moleck]