There's no need to explain or defend your taste

'I think the word 'aspiration' is very important, because a Western Christian tends to aspire to God - again, this is a very sweeping generalization - whereas the Eastern Orthodox Christian is already aware of the divine presence. To an Orthodox, religion is about removing the dross that obscures what is already divine, rather than attaining some distant spiritual goal. You see it in the whole of the Western tradition. Even in composers like Victoria or Palestrina, there is always aspiration. Bach is full of this yearning after the solace of the personal God. But if you listen to the music of the East, somehow the divine is already there. It is - which is the parallel with the eternal 'I am''
Those thoughts from John Tavener set the direction of this post. My photos show the Priory of Santa Maria del Vilar in the foothills of the Pyrennees in Languedoc, France. Founded in the eleventh century by a community of Augustinians on the site of a pagan temple, the Romanesque Priory was lovingly restored at the end of the twentieth century. It is now the home to a community of nuns of the Romanian Orthodox Rite who observe the Divine Offices and also welcome visitors. One of my photos below shows how the classic Romanesque interior has been retained; there is no iconostasis, but the icons that are venerated in the Orthodox Rite can be seen on stands.

Music linkages abound in this post as the Priory of Santa Maria del Vilar hosts an annual early music festival. During my visit to the Priory I was able to buy the double CD of Romanian Orthodox liturgy seen below; the recording comes from Radio Trinitas in Romania and is not generally available. My recent post about the Romanian composer Paul Constantinescu's oratorio The Nativity generated a lot of interest, and that work has its roots in the Orthodox Church. Further afield, I discovered in the excellent shop at L'Abbaye Sainte Madeleine du Barroux a recording of the Divine Liturgy by the monks of the monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium. This CD is particularly interesting as Chevetogne is an ecumenical community that, very unusually, celebrates both the Roman and Orthodox Rites. Although completely authentic, the monks Orthodox chant is slightly coloured by also singing Gregorian plainsong, resulting in a unique and rather special sound. There are a number of CDs available and the monks at Chevetogne has been releasing recordings on its own label since 1984; which is several decades before orchestra owned record labels became fashionable.

John Tavener, who was of course an Orthodox Christian, refers in the header quote to the divine that "is already there". This is reflected in the ecumenical nature of the Priory of Santa Maria del Vilar where Orthodox and Roman Christian traditions coexist on the site of a former pagan temple. It is also reflected in Tavener's later music, which in works such as his syncretic Requiem, explores how the eternal I am is also central to Sufism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. The Priory of Santa Maria del Vilar was once a refuge for pilgrims Camino de Compostela, but it was also in Cathar country. The Cathars were Christian Gnostics who believed in gnosis - the inner divine truth - but were condemned as heretics and cruelly exterminated by the Catholic Church in the thirteenth century. Maverick Muslim author Michael Muhammad Knight has this rather more enlightened view on such matters; a view, incidentally, which applies to both religion and classical music:
Religion is like an art gallery. One painting will speak to you more than another, and there's no need to explain or defend your taste

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Header quote is from The Music of Silence by John Tavener. Footer quote is from Journey to the End of Islam by Michael Muhhamad Knight. Photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Pliable said…
Re. Paul Constantinescu's oratorio The Nativity. A reader in Romania reports that the 1977 Electrecord recording is available on CD from Romania -

It would be good to hear if any readers buy the CD via this route.
billoo said…
I think Auden once said: Protestantism is the search for the truth; Catholicism the possession of it. A sweeping generalization, of course, but one wonders if northern restlessness doesn't follow from an 'absent' God?

Happy New Year, pli.

Pliable said…
Billoo, a quote from Peter France's account of his conversion to the Orthodox Church Journey was cut from the first draft of this post in an attempt to keep the length manageable. It reads:

'Orthodoxy is neither Russian nor Greek. It is the inner essence of the original revelation of Christ, preserved in Russia and Greece against the legalism of Western culture in general and the seemly moralizing of English culture in particular. Orthodoxy can be found if you dig deep enough into any of the mainstream Christian Churches'.
billoo said…
Thanks for that, pli. Yes, I think it's a question of relative emphasis in the different traditions (Tavener's "tends to" is important here).

On orthodoxy, I like F. O'Rourke's:

'God is known in all things and apart from all things; and God is known through knowledge and through unknowing; on the one hand He is reached by intuition, reason, understanding, appearance, name and yet on the other hand, he cannot be conceived, spoken, or named.'

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