EUROPEITALY: Music for the 150th anniversary of the death of the FounderOn May 21, the 149th anniversary of the death of the Founder, or of his birth into heaven, the whole Congregation celebrated the feast of Saint Eugene de Mazenod. Next year will be the 150th anniversary. Taking advantage of that symbolic number, the Province of Italy is beginning a series of initiatives aimed at making known the extraordinary figure of Eugene, during what we could call the “DeMazenod Year.” Among these projects, one of them is particularly challenging: the production of a musical audio book.
An album of songs about Eugene de Mazenod. Why?There’s a very simple reason and it’s that in 2011, it will be 150 years since his death; it needs to be celebrated properly. And there is another reason, let us say, less historical. The person of Eugene is an icon of grandeur, a great saint with a human story that has not only great spiritual value, but also has a great storyline, with plot twists, intrigues and scenarios totally worthy of a great novel.
How does a work like this come about?The allure of his life. It is the facts that count; it is what happened that puts thing into motion. However, since a collection of songs does not portray facts or events, but emotions, the work consists in transforming an intriguing story into a sequence of feelings which portray those facts without describing them too literally. In practice, the songs carry two levels of interpretation. They speak of him, of his life; for example, they speak of his flight from Aix when he was still little, but they speak too of all exiles, of the refugees of all times.
And where are we with the composition?We are about half finished, but there is still a lot of work to be done. It does not end simply with the writing of the songs. There are also the arrangements, the choice of singers, the recording, the choice of images, the packaging…but fortunately, I don’t have to take care of all of that. A work like this is always a cooperative project.
Is it easy or difficult to write about a man, indeed, a saint, from another era?A saint is a person who speaks to the human spirit, and the Spirit, the one with a capital “S”, is timeless. In this sense, Eugene speaks to our era, neither more nor less than when he spoke to his own. We should also say that we are not making a period film, but a collection of songs. Therefore, there is an obvious translation into a contemporary artistic form: the content about Eugene remains unchanged, but the expression is entirely the music of an author of the third millennium.
What can music contribute to the life of a saint?In a certain sense, nothing, because his life is already great music, or better, it’s a musical score written by someone else which he was able to interpret divinely. And, exactly because it is music, in a metaphorical sense, I really think that there can be an extraordinary symbiosis with music made up of notes: two worlds which are intertwined and which mutually support one another. The songs do not invent a thing; they only make explicit what is already there. Perhaps they give it freshness and they surely make it efficacious. And, we hope, they also give it a dash of poetry.
When will be hear this work on Eugene?The first performance is scheduled for May, 2011, at the Divine Love Shrine in Rome. For that occasion, we will put together a show that will include acting and dancing. And maybe also a display of contemporary painting. In other words, as they say today, it will be a multimedia event. The album will be ready earlier.
Do you already have a title?Not yet. But considering the life of Eugene, especially his youth that was an almost continuous flight caused by the strong winds of the French Revolution; his place in Church history as a wind of renewal; his origins in Provence which is swept by the mistral (strong northern winds in France), I believe that the work will be called “Mistral.”
Among many great missionaries, Fr Matteo Ricci, SJ (1552-1610) is one of the most intriguing and legendary figures. His deep love for Jesus Christ and his intellectual genius have led his steps towards meaningful dialogue with Chinese culture and sophisticated civilization. Accepted in the Forbidden City of China’s Emperor, he left for other generations of missionaries “a door open to great merits, yet not without many perils and labors”, as he himself said on his deathbed. The year 2010 is celebrated worldwide as the 400th anniversary of Matteo Ricci’s death and is the occasion for many cultural and scholarly events which contribute to the on-going dialog between China’s traditions and Christianity.
One such event took place at the Oblate Scholasticate in Obra, Poland, on May 10 and 11, 2010, the second day being the exact anniversary of Ricci’s death in Beijing, where his tomb is located and respected to this very day. The Oblate community welcomed several distinguished guests and speakers: César Guillén Nuñez and Artur Wardęga, SJ, from the Macau Ricci Institute; Thierry Maynard, SJ, from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou; Noël Golvers from Leuven University and several others from Polish and Ukrainian universities. The conference was opened by the provincial of the Polish Province, Fr Ryszard Szmydki, and by the Vice-Rector of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Professor Jacek Witkoś.
The scholastics took a very active role in preparing this event and helped to create a real Oblate and welcoming atmosphere which was sincerely appreciated by all the guests. It is worth mentioning that besides the official speakers, Obra welcomed also about 50 students from several faculties of the University of Poznań, together with international exchange students from China, France and Ukraine. For many of the guests, it was their first occasion to interact in such friendly way with a religious community and stay overnight in a religious house. For some Chinese students who are not Christians, it was the first occasion to inquire so directly about Catholicism and the Oblate way of life. Thus, the event had not only a scholarly but also a human and religious dimension.
The participants were enriched by lectures in 3 languages, English, Polish and Russian. The topics included: Ricci and Chinese Intellectuals today;From Macao to Beijing (1582- 1610) - Matteo Ricci and the Euro-Jesuit enterprise in China: Portrait of a Jesuit; Developments of the concept of “Catholic mission” from Benedict XIV to Benedict XVI (a historical perspective and its implications);On the Predicament Matteo Ricci suffered in China and his Solution; The Polish contribution to the development of the East-West dialogue (life and achievements of Michał Boym S.J.);Ukrainian Orthodox missionaries in China; Protestant Missions in China from the 19th century until the Modern Era and others. A book with all the papers presented in Obra will be published shortly by the Adam Mickiewicz University Press.
In front of the conference hall, participants enjoyed an exhibition of photography depicting the beauty of China and its people. There was also an area designated specifically for coffee breaks and informal, interpersonal exchange of views and experiences. As usual, these are an extremely important part of every intellectual enterprise. The title of the conference was: “Missionaries between East and West: the 400th Anniversary of Matteo Ricci, 1610-2010”. (Paweł Zając)