The Twentieth Century is known for many things, but beautiful art, whether in the visual arts or music, is not one of them. There are nonetheless some lovely creations hidden among the experimental and the transgressive and the deconstructed offerings cluttering the past century. You can hear one of those sparks of beauty in the clip below: “Laudate Dominum,” composed by Jacques Berthier.
Berthier, who died in 1994, wrote extensively for the Taizé Community, a non-denominational Christian community founded in France by Roger Schütz (more commonly known as “Brother Roger”) in 1940. Despite his community’s monastic character, Br. Roger was himself a reformed Protestant, and the first Catholic member of Taizé didn’t join until 1969. Fourteen years before that, in 1955, Br. Roger asked the Catholic Berthier to compose some music for the community. Music has always played a dominant role in Taizé worship, as explained on the group’s website:
Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God.
These songs are generally drawn from scriptural sources. “Laudate Dominum,” for instance, is a meditation on Psalm 117. This is the shortest of Biblical Psalms, consisting of only two verses:
 Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes,
 Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus,
et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
 Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
 For great is his steadfast love toward us;
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures for ever.
Praise the LORD!
Berthier picks up and repeats the first Latin line of the Psalm, punctuating it with an exultant “alleluia!”:
omnes gentes! alleluia!
Taizé songs are often rendered in a meditative, chant-like drone. “Laudate Dominum,” however, is a is characterized by a joyful, rhythmic vigor. In the music and in the interplay of voices we hear echoes of an earlier era of sacred composition. This is a far cry from “On Eagles Wings.”
“Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God.”
Taizé founder Br. Roger Schütz with Pope St. John Paul II
One of my aims in this blog is to preserve and share some of the beautiful treasures of Christian art and music. Not all of them are the product of earlier generations. Our Lord tells us, “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). Surely Berthier’s “Laudate Dominum” (first published thirty short years ago) is one of those new treasures.
Featured image top of page: “The Assumption of the Virgin” By Francesco Botticini, 1475-1476
Laudate Dominum · Taizé · Jacques Berthier · DR
Joy on Earth
℗ Ateliers et Presses de Taizé
Released on: 1999-11-22
Artwork: “The Assumption of the Virgin” By Francesco Botticini (1475-1476)