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French pronunciation of Latin

oh no, not again, I hear you cry.  i THINK I've read all the choralnet archives on this, and i've read Copeman.  I'm just wondering if we have any contemporary accounts from Faure, Durufle, Poulenc about pronunciation, or base on accounts and/or recordings, if we can say that current French choral pronunciation of Latin was the same as that of those composers.  Is copeman right for current pronunciation?  (Agnus with a hard g, really? Laudamus pronounced [lodamys] - really?)
It'd be great if a French colleague would clarify for us Yanks what y'all do over there for the Faure, Durufle and Poulenc big Latin pieces.
Replies (18): Threaded | Chronological
on February 7, 2011 6:18pm
HI David,
I'm not French, but I expect you'll get diverse answers from French people, and I'm anxious to see what they say.  My experience from working some in France, and for a long time in quasi-francophone Lebanon, sometimes with French musicians, reflects the following (really).
1.  Choirs in France and francophone areas currently tend to use italianate/international Latin.  Pius X's motu proprio to standardize sung Latin was issued in 1903 (Faure Requiem, 1888).  That fact, plus the easy availability of recordings can easily explain this.  But recently, as recordings of vernacular-influenced performances become available, and French singers become more aware of this, it is bound to change to a more French-oriented pronunciation. 
2. Wherever Latin went, it tended to take on phonetic characteristics of the vernacular.  We still hear this today in England and Germany - being protestant, they didn't care about what the pope said.  So yes:  Agnus with a hard g, really? Laudamus pronounced [lodamys] ?  We did it in F's Requiem.  It works, but it was HARD WORK to get it right, and most of my choir were conversant in French. 
3. It seems logical to me that Poulenc's and Durufle's singers would pronounce the Latin in choir as they did in school, and we know that influenced by contemporary French, pope's letters notwithstanding.  Poulenc's Gloria setting provides great examples of French syllabic stress, AND his interested in syncopated jazz and contemporary dance music.  Faure, being earlier, would not have been affected by the motu proprio, nor recordings.
Anyway, it's an interesting question (again),
best, Paul
on February 7, 2011 7:08pm
Paul, I agree with everything you have posted here, except I'm not sure of your connection between the 1903 Motu Proprio "Tra le sollecitudini" and creation of a "standardized" Latin pronunciation. Nowhere in the letter is pronunciation mentioned. It is mentioned that Latin is the proper language of the Church (in 1903!), and Gregorian Chant ought to be sung in Latin.


In fact, the Church has always striven to promote "inculturation," both in the periods before and after Vatican II. Part of that "inculturation" would reasonably include the singing of Latin with a local dialect. The Protestant Latin traditions are perhaps more independent of this attempt at "inculturation," but no doubt, they were influenced by the Church's efforts, at least indirectly (why else would Luther continue to use Latin, for example, in his liturgical music, as evinced by Bach's usage of the Missa in Leipzig... his so-called Latin Masses...)

Some pronunciation guidelines are included in the various editions of the Liber Usualis, but these were never part of the official Roman or Vatican instructions on liturgical music, and they were never considered "apostolic."

on February 7, 2011 8:49pm
Hi, Richard. As far as the standerized Latin goes, I remember that I read that Pius X wrote somwhere that it should be (more) "Romano," and Pius XI did wish "that" pronunciation to be adopted. I forgot the sources, so I have to look them up...
on February 8, 2011 1:27am
Ken-P, I found a letter from Pope Pius X to the Archbishop of Bourges dated 10 July 1912 that mentions his (Pius X's) preference for a Romanized pronunciation of the liturgical Latin texts. This desire, however, never was promulgated as an official teaching of the Church, for whatever reason (there is a difference between a stated personal wish of a Pope, and an official teaching or instruction or encyclical). Although it seems clear from this letter that it was the desire of Pius X and perhaps other Popes as well, to get the Church to pronounce Latin in the Roman fashion, such aspirations never made it to the official instructions on sacred music. Here's the letter I found, I wonder if it is what you were remembering:

He congratulates the Archbishop and thanks him for the progress he has made in this matter of "Romanizing" the French pronunciation, but as Paul can tell you, exactly how permanent the Archbishop's efforts were are in doubt, based on hearing French choirs sing Latin works. It seems they "reverted" back to the "local dialect" for the most part.

There may also be a difference between a French choir singing the Faure Requiem or the Poulenc Gloria, and a French cleric chanting psalms in Gregorian settings..., and that is probably closer to Pius X's concern than say the pronunciation of a concert choir or church choir singing the Poulenc or Faure.

At any rate, I don't believe any of the major Papal instructions in sacred music of the past 100 years or so has mentioned Latin pronunciation, or attempted to standardize it for the Church worldwide.

And now we have a German Pope, whose brother was quite famous as a choir leader in Germany (he was also a priest). The Regensburger Domspatzen recordings of Latin texts that I have heard were very German in dialect...that pronunciation is quite different from Roman, so I wonder what Benedict XVI (Josef Ratzinger) thinks of the issue.

As for the original post, DAVID !!! You'll do what you think sounds best, won't you?

on February 8, 2011 2:11pm
I will indeed!  At my age I always do.  But first to be fully informed...
I can't wrap my brain around [ag-nus] or [ag-nYs] or [ag-nys] - just seems counter-intuitive.  Hence needing information!
on October 7, 2014 4:41am
Hi all,
I am a French colleague, and very much implied in these pronunciations issues : I am preparing an article on this subject.
I am also looking for the first mention of more romano pronunciation of latin. I have a hint on a motu proprio of Leon XIII. Still searching.
As for Fauré, I found the first recording of his Requiem in 1930 : the latin pronunciation is French.
Feel free to ask me about your concerns, I will be glad to help.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 7, 2014 7:53am
As for Fauré, I found the first recording of his Requiem in 1930 : the latin pronunciation is French.
I would love to hear that.
on January 25, 2016 3:26pm
Me too!  We're performing the Fauré Requiem with orchestral ensemble in May...  
I'm currently listening to a recording where the singers are pronouncing "Jesu" with a "Y", but "Jerusalem" with a soft "J"...??  I must admit, I am utterly mystified as to the reason why they're doing this.
Jenny Crober
Art. Dir./Conductor,
VOCA Chorus of Toronto
on October 8, 2014 6:45am
Way back in the seventeenth century, Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, who published a new Antiphonarium and Gradual, said that if the Romans knew how the French promounced Latin, they would promounce it that way.
Have fun!
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