Daily Archives: April 22, 2012

Ambrosian rites

I spent much of Holy Week in Milan, and was able to get to Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday services in the Cathedral. There is a tradition of elaborately choreographed liturgy there which I’ve experienced before – does it go right back to St. Ambrose, who was responsible for introducing more ceremonial?

I was particularly fortunate on Palm Sunday when I came in as part of a procession and was one of the first to be directed to the north transept, where I had a ringside view of the altar. I was right next to the choir, of about 30 men and boys. Two organs were used, the main one for accompanying the congregation, and a chamber organ with the choir (the treble soloists were miked). As tends to happen in Italy, the music didn’t really live up to the liturgy. There was some plainsong and responsorial psalms (which one could join in, as the music was printed in the service booklets) and much of the choir’s music appeared to be home-grown (they sang from copies of a hand-written score). It was not trite and not in unison, but not very interesting either.

I didn’t go to the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, but I saw a service booklet and the quality of the music appeared to be rather higher, with more plainchant and some familiar hymns. Good to see that Purcell’s Westminster Abbey has made it over the Alps! There was also a hymn to the tune of Abide with Me, which I’ve come across elsewhere in Italy.

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