Tag Archive: Rome

“Renaissance Man, Renaissance Mass”

On Sunday 3 November, I am conducting the Pope Marcellus Mass by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina in two All Saints’ liturgies at the church where I work, The Episcopal Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer. I was asked to write a reflection about this event for our newsletter, and thought that a Renaissance-era mass gave me an opportunity to reflect on life as a “Renaissance man”.

I remember in high school a classmate calling me a Renaissance Man. I eschewed sports unless I could watch something taking place on a snow-covered mountain somewhere wintry and beautiful. I both played and listened to classical music, and I enjoyed cooking and decorating for the holidays with Mom and Nana.

In college as in high school, I avoided parties with alcohol, claiming I didn’t like beer, and the low-class associations that accompanied it. When I finally made it to Europe, I decided that I liked wine. I put a lot of thought and care into decorating my dorm room.

All of this makes me sound like a fop or a dandy, which I wasn’t really, but I did like the idea that my interests and abilities spanned a variety of genres, that I used both brain hemispheres as I moved through life and the world. I excelled in both science and the arts. I majored in geology but still pursued music. I enjoyed living history museums as well as digging for dinosaurs (or, more accurately, trilobites). I changed my own oil. I was an Enlightened Male.

From college on through my twenties, I struggled more with my sexual orientation. Maybe I resisted the pressure for so long because it meant that all of these interests I prized as marks of my distinctiveness–my enlightened nature–were stereotypical of “them”.

Alas, when I fell in love for the first time, I admitted defeat: I was no Renaissance Man, just another chardonnay-swilling, Disney-loving queer. *sigh*

As I said, I loved art (a.k.a. “Classical”) music, and it was great to finally step into Renaissanceland when I went to Italy in 1989 and 1991, putting some of my interests in context.

The composer of our choral mass setting for All Saints’ Sunday lived the real thing, of course. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was born near Rome in the early 16th century, at the pinnacle of papal power, and rose quickly to some of the most prominent musical posts in his day. He went to Rome to be a choirboy at one of the great papal basilicas (S. Maria Maggiore), where he cut his musical teeth before returning to his hometown, Palestrina, to become organist at the cathedral there. In 1551, his bishop, Cardinal Giovanni Maria del Monte, was elected Pope Julius III, and took him to be director of the Cappella Giulia, the choir of St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was Marcellus II, the successor to Julius III, for whom the Pope Marcellus Mass is named. Often, and erroneously, cited as the composition that saved Western music from a sort of theological fundamentalism that threatened to snuff out polyphony, this mass features a textual clarity that distinguishes it from many contemporary works. It is believed that it was written to satisfy a request by Pope Marcellus that Holy Week music reflect the solemnity of the week in simplicity and clarity. The mass was first published in 1567, long after Marcellus’s death.

Clarity doesn’t mean lack of beauty, though, and it is a gorgeous piece, in six voices, expanding to seven for its dénouement.

It is a rare privilege to sing and hear choral masses in the liturgy, even occasionally. I am looking forward to donning my Renaissance Man cap again on All Saints’ Sunday, 3 November. I hope to see you there in your best foulard, and then we can repair to Boystown for brunch and sip chardonnay and talk about fabric and our summer in Provincetown and our upcoming winter escape to Key West.


18 Pockets Teaser: The Italian Job

Hi, friends and readers! You’ve read about my recent accident. For a little while, I was afraid that it would put the kaibosh on my upcoming trip to Italy, but the doctors said that I’m fit to travel. I’m leaving for Rome on Wednesday, where I will spend four days and attend an Italian wedding, tour the Vatican necropolis and maybe even meet up with my Italian cousin, whom I barely know. Then, it’s off to Sicily on the overnight train for ten days of exploring, including Mt. Etna, Catania, Siracusa, the Greek temples at either Agrigento or Selinunte, Trapanì, Erice, and finally my first return to Palermo, where my first-ever non-North American travels deposited me for three weeks in the summer of 1989 (I was 5…). I can’t wait to see how the city has changed, and my impressions of it, too, half-a-lifetime later. If you’re very good, I’ll write a couple-few entries as I go. Anyone care?