Taizé, Music of
TAIZÉ, MUSIC OF
A corpus of chants specifically designed to enable the active participation of visitors at the ecumenical pilgrimage site in Taizé, France. The 232 musical pieces which originally comprised the Taizé corpus were composed by Jacques berthier (1923–1994), in close collaboration with Brother Robert Giscard (1922–1993). From the beginning, one of the primary goals of the Taizé community has been to enable young people and all of their guests to participate in the worship that takes place at the great Church of Reconciliation three times a day.
Origin. The project of composing the Taizé chants began in 1974 when Brother Robert Giscard, who was responsible for leading the first "Council of Youth" realized the need to provide a form of sung prayer that could adequately promote the active participation of large, diverse gatherings of polyglot youth without sacrificing textual and musical excellence. Having worked with Jacques Berthier years earlier, he turned to Berthier for assistance. Berthier's background as a classically trained church musician made him eminently suitable for this project. Brother Robert worked directly with Berthier by compiling the texts and reacting to each of his compositional efforts, often guiding the composer through several revisions. Those involved in the music ministry, including the Brothers of Taizé and the Sisters of St. Andrew who serve as choir directors, participated with Berthier in the process of composing and reworking the music until it was determined to be accessible to large and varied groups of pilgrims.
Genres. The corpus of music, both published and unpublished, that Jacques Berthier composed for Taizé falls into one of four genres, with some special cases. These include ostinato responses and chorales, litanies, acclamations, and canons. Pieces from all four genres include basic harmonic support provided by keyboard and/or guitar. Some include verses performed by one or more cantors. Most also include options for instrumental verses written for a variety of melodic instruments. The assembly's part functions as the foundation of the performance, while the vocal and instrumental verses function as counter melodies.
Ostinato Response and Chorales. Berthier's idea to create the ostinato chant came out of his work with canons. Typically, an ostinato is a musical unit sung in continuous repetition and accompanied by other musical elements that are continually changing. The ostinato bass actually developed out of early seventeenth-century efforts to negotiate a reconciliation of the old counterpoint technique with the new monody. In the Taizé collections, the term "ostinato" describes a musical unit sung in continuous repetition by all. These ostinati are variously accompanied by solo vocal and instrumental parts. While Berthier did not create the ostinato form, his employment of it for liturgical song is unique, particularly because of the foundational role he assigns to the assembly. In the case of Berthier's music, the assembly, supported by the organ, is the principal music-maker, while the choir, instrumentalists, and soloists serve as the component of variation and embellishment. Berthier's ostinati fall into two categories: the short, designated as responses, and the long, designated as chorales. Examples of ostinato responses include Confitemini Domino, In the Lord I'll Be Ever Thankful, Jesus Remember Me, Laudate Dominum, Nada Te Turbe, There is One Lord, Ubi Caritas, Surrexit Christus and Veni Sancte Spiritus. Examples of ostinato chorales include Bless the Lord My Soul (Ps. 103), O Lord Hear My Prayer, and Stay With Me.
Litanies. In these pieces, invocations are sung between very short phrases that act as refrains. The invocations are performed by cantor and the refrain by the assembly. A typical example is Eat This Bread. Some of Berthier's litanies are designed to accommodate spontaneous verses. A simple harmonic accompaniment is written out which allows for a variety of possible texts. In this case, the final chord of the refrain is hummed by choir and assembly, while the cantors proclaim the texts in free improvisation over this sound. An example is Alleluia No. 7, in which the final D minor chord of the acclamation becomes the foundation for the cantor's improvisation of the verse.
Acclamations. This musical form entails a formula pronounced or sung by a group, expressing a common sentiment. Typically, they are brief but assertive, joyous, rhythmically strong, and melodically engaging. The two acclamations that Berthier frequently composed are the Kyrie Eleison, the Alleluia and Amen.
Canons. As a musical term, "canon" originally referred to a formula whereby a single melody, through strict (canonic) repetition in successive voices, created a polyphonic (many voiced) musical texture. The structure of the canon, sometimes also referred to as the round, employs a melodic theme based on a simple harmonic pattern. This versatile genre can be performed in a variety of ways, ranging from the simplest to the most complex. The options provide for variation in the use of voices, instruments, and dynamics. Some of Berthier's compositions include both principal and secondary canons. Examples include the Gloria (four voices), Jubilate Servite (two voices) and Magnificat (four voices).
Compositional and Performance Technique. Both in its conception and performance, Berthier's Taizé music is aleatory. The term, as it applies to Taizé, refers to the characteristic whereby the score provides for both numerous choices in the combination of individual parts and also a certain element of chance in the actual performance of the music. The element of chance may occur in the number of repetitions, the voice parts taken, the verses created, the time taken between the entrance of additional parts, the combination of instruments, and so on. This dimension of choice and chance comprises a defining characteristic of Taizé music. The result of this aleatory feature is a piece of music that is strikingly versatile, dynamic, and provisional. The instrumental parts are either accompaniments or solo parts. As accompaniments, the instrumental parts serve as harmonic support for the voices. As solos, the instrumental parts can be used in conjunction with the vocal music for which they are designed, or they may be arranged to form independent instrumental pieces.
Texts and Languages. The texts for Berthier's Taizé music are principally scriptural and liturgical. The majority of texts are direct scriptural quotations, while some are paraphrases with clear scriptural references. There are also several settings of liturgical texts, including texts of the Mass ordinary, and elements from the Good Friday liturgy and the Christmas liturgy. Additional texts have been composed by the brothers in order to provide verses, intercessory prayers, or invocations for the responses or litanies. The choice and arrangement of the texts was the work of Brother Robert or another one of the brothers. Concern to enable active participation and offer hospitality inspired efforts to ensure the accessibility of language. Over the span of almost 30 years, several solutions have been employed. In the early days of Taizé, before large groups of pilgrims joined the brothers, the prayer was conducted in French. In an initial attempt to respond to the international makeup of large groups of visitors, Latin was chosen as the language for the chants. Gradually, music was composed for specific living languages, and some music was set to more than one language. As a result, the music of Taizé has been set to about 20 different languages, including European languages, for example, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Slovak, and Spanish, but also Asian languages, for example, Korean, Indian, and Japanese. However, the process does not simply involve literal translations of a text from one language into another. Berthier worked closely with native speakers to rewrite or adjust the music to a particular language.
New Compositions. Since the death of Jacques Berthier in 1994, new compositions have been added to the repertoire of the Taizé community. These have included chants composed by some of the brothers imitating Berthier's style and other pieces newly composed by Joseph Gelineau, SJ, and others. However, the music generally referred to as music from Taizé comprises the original chants that Berthier composed for Taizé.
Bibliography: j. berthier, "Jacques Berthier: Un serviteur de la musique liturgique," Célébrer 236 (January 1994) 3–16. m.-p. faure,"Jacques Berthier, a Friend of God," Liturgy: Cistercians of the Strict Observance 29 (1995) 93–86. j. m. kubicki, Liturgical Music as Ritual Symbol: A Case Study of Jacques Berthier's Taizé Music (Leuven 1999). j. l. gonzalez-balado, The Story of Taizé (London 1988). k. spink, A Universal Heart: The Life and Vision of Brother Roger of Taizé (London 1986).
[j. m. kubicki]