Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Classics: Verdi's "Ingemisco" pits morality and decency against Pope Cardinal Ratguts and his Church


Here we hear Jussi Bjoerling's 1939 recording of the "Ingemisco."

"In August, 1984 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated that liberation theology has a major flaw in that it attempts to apply Christ's teaching on the sermon on the mount regarding the poor to present social situations. Ratzinger believes that Christ's teaching on the poor means that we will be judged when we die, and at the final judgment, with particular attention to how we personally have treated the poor."
-- from the Wikipedia article on liberation theology

by Ken

As some of you may recall, I had quite a jolt -- coming fresh from my most recent immersion in the "Ingemisco" from the Dies Irae of the Verdi Requiem -- stumbling across this astonishing piece of Church profession. Maybe Easter Sunday isn't the most appropriate time to bring it up again, or then again, maybe it's the ideal time.

I mean, really, to propound an elaborate system of moral precepts and then announce that -- pretty much at the determination of the hierarchical masters -- that stuff doesn't matter in the here-and-now, only when it comes time to finesse your way through that final business of passage, what is that? To me it's an open admission that the whole thing is a fraud, engineered for the purpose of maintaining power over subservient worshippers, and possibly to maintain the allegiance and support of the People Who Matter, the people for whom social orthodoxy needs to be maintained at all costs, and an admission that this is really the central business (and I do mean "business") of the Church.

This statement of Church belief, from the man who, after all, was at the time in charge of keeping and enforcing of Church doctrine and now is in charge of the whole shebang, seems to me to pose a clearcut dilemma for Catholics: either denounce this loathsome fiend and reject every utterance of his and every claim to moral authority, or accept that you swear allegiance to an organization that is at its root not only immoral but anti-moral, that believes in nothing, morally speaking, except the furtherance and coddling of immorality on the part of those parties to whom it chooses to extend its protection.

Last week I made a stab ("Verdi blows the lid off the whole Krap Kristian hypocrisy") at focusing on the two sections of Verdi's Dies Irae, the "Liber scriptus" for mezzo-soprano solo and "Ingemisco" for tenor solo, that seem to me to frame the issue of personal accountability most personally. As I wrote in the post on Cardinal Ratguts' prepapal kneecapping of the liberation theology movement, it hadn't occurred to me to make what is surely an obvious connection: The reason for attending to Verdi's conjuring of the day of reckoning is for the impact it may have on our behavior in the here-and-now. Unless, it turns out, you're one of the high-rolling scumbags living under the protection of now-Pope Cardinal Ratguts. Seriously now, is this a man you would want participating in your religion, let alone running it? (Oh, in the name of God, of course. Always in the name of God. The Church masters must give thanks regularly that that God apparently isn't a litigious sort.)

As I explained in Friday's preview, I know I didn't do the job I wanted last week, and so this week we've returned to the "Ingemisco." Then last night we heard a large chunk of the Dies Irae," from the choral outburst "Rex tremendae" to the culminating "Lacrimosa," to place the "Ingemisco" in context, in preparation for returning to it today.

As I mentioned last night, nearly all of the text of the Dies Irae is written in tercets, three-line rhyming stanzas, of eight syllables that break down into two equal halves with stress on the third syllable of each. This is, to put it mildly, an exceedingly stern challenge for a composer attempting to put it to music, but for Verdi it may have been the challenge that enabled him to make such an extraordinary statement of this chunk of liturgy. What we're going to do is listen to the four tercets of the "Ingemisco" individually -- in four very different performances -- and then put it back together.

Oh yes, happy Easter.



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