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Francis in Philadelphia: The Sacred Roots of Classical Music

Pope Francis

The Philadelphia Orchestra's Blogrecently revealed the repertoire for the Papal Mass, which will be celebrated on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 27, 2015. This post appeared originally on The Philadelphia Orchestra’s blog and is part of a series on the Pope. The series can be found here.

The visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia is of course a celebration, but its centerpiece is the heart of Catholic practice: a Mass.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is honored to provide the musical accompaniment for this solemn religious service. And as Vice President for Artistic Planning Jeremy Rothman points out, the pairing of this legendary ensemble and a Catholic Mass is entirely appropriate, because the church played a vital role in the development of classical music.

"In a way our performance at the Mass will encapsulate centuries of musical history in a single event." - Jeremy Rothman, Vice President for Artistic Planning, The Philadelphia Orchestra

“The first five centuries of Western art music have their origins in religious music. From the way that music was originally notated and the way musical forms developed over time happened very much in service to sacred music. From plainchant [the official monophonic unison chant (originally unaccompanied) of the Christian liturgies] through polyphony [music in more than one part in which all or several of the musical parts move to some extent independently], through the addition of instruments: All of this continues to inform symphonic music today.

So many of the great works that we still perform have religious groundings, either in the Catholic Church or later on with the Protestant or other religious faiths.” For example, Rothman cites the “Dies irae,” familiar from requiems and other symphonic pieces; it’s a plainchant melody from the Catholic Church. “In a way our performance at the Mass will encapsulate centuries of musical history in a single event.”

Still, it is a Mass, not a concert. “On Sunday the Orchestra is very much in a supporting role,” says Rothman, “because first and foremost this is a religious service, a sacred event for the Catholic faith led by Pope Francis.” The Orchestra will offer a prelude and a postlude. But during the service itself, the music is driven purely by the liturgy.

(For a complete list of the pieces to be performed at the Mass, please see below.)

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is especially pleased with the Orchestra’s musical partners for the Mass. “The fact that the choir is composed of people from the entire Diocese of Philadelphia is in its way really significant, because that’s part of what we try do with The Philadelphia Orchestra, to be connected to the entire community. There will not be only a traditional choir, but also choirs from various communities: a Hispanic choir, a Vietnamese choir, a Gospel choir, and children’s choirs. We’ll have music from various backgrounds and eras … and Mozart! This pope loves Mozart!”

Rothman has high hopes for the Orchestra’s role in the papal visit. “Together with the World Meeting of Families we want to shine a light on the treasures of Philadelphia.”

Beethoven “Welten singen Dank und Ehre,” from Christ on the Mount of Olives

Brahms Third movement from Symphony No. 3

Mendelssohn “Verleih’ uns Frieden”

Dvo?ák Second movement from Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”)

Latona “Look Up and Count the Stars”

Duruflé “Sanctus,” from Requiem

Beethoven Fourth movement from Symphony No. 7

Lam “A Gift of Love”

Parry “I Was Glad”

Stopford “The Spirit of the Lord”

Joncas “Exultate, Justi”

Chepponis Festival Alleluia

Gouin “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom”

DeBruyn “Great Amen,” from Mass of the Resurrection

Revie “The Love of God”

Kreutz “Gift of Finest Wheat”

Jacob “I Received the Living God”

Mozart Ave verum corpus

Bach “Sheep May Safely Graze”

Chepponis “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King”

Saint-Saëns Finale from Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”)

Saint-Saëns “Tollite hostias,” from Christmas Oratorio

Rutter “O Clap Your Hands”

Program subject to change

The Orchestra’s participation in the Festival of Families concert on September 26 and the Papal Mass on September 27 has been made possible through the advocacy and support of Senators Robert P. Casey, Jr., and Pat Toomey and Congressman Brendan Boyle, and is generously funded by Thomas Ajamie, the Connelly Foundation, Chris Donahue/Federated, Harry and Kay Halloran, Christian and Adrianna Henkels Fund/Schwab Charitable, Ed Kicak, Andrew Lesko, the Maguire Foundation, Jeremiah and Kathleen O’Grady, and Vincent Roberti.