Saturday, May 26, 2012

Movie Review: Men in Black III

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. 2012.

spoilers throughout

The first twenty or so minutes of Men in Black III grind along with such a screech that any sane person starts to eye the exit. It is not so much a problem that the opening scene is a cliche, really. The escape of a criminal has been a stock element of films for decades and it is no crime to start your picture with a breakout, a heist, a murder, or so forth.

Don't you know, though, that you need a sexy woman walking down the hall and two dopey guards smitten with her. Of course she needs a cake in which something is kept to help the villain, who of course is kept behind a big round bank-vault door, escape. Of course you would allow a guest into the cell of a prisoner for whom an entire prison was created. . . on the moon.

Sadly this sorry scene is the highlight of the first twenty minutes of MiB III. The subsequent scenes with J and K are simply painful to watch and unfortunately these scenes need to work because, unlike MiB I and II, the highlight of III is not aliens or revealed secrets or technology but rather and only the relationship between J and K.
The tone of their opening scenes is so off and the humor so cringe-inducing that I cannot begin to explain their existence. They reminded me of the similarly unsuccessful scenes of Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode  III. There George Lucas realized he had to acknowledge the partners' recent years of shared escapades but his solution consisted of simply mentioning them. MiB III essentially ignores the passage of time and sharpens the insults.

These scenes needed to establish the tone of the movie by demonstrating the nature of their relationship and they needed to do this by means of scenes that allowed how they reacted to the situation and each other to demonstrate how they got along. The scenes needed to be plausible as normal days in the lives of J and K who over fourteen years learned to make their partnership work despite their different personalities. Instead we get pale, crude imitations of the dialogue from when they were getting to know one another. Instead K is uncomfortably rude and angry and J's jibes cut a little to close to pass as playful banter. This is how they get along every day? If their relationship was supposed to seem this adversarial then they should just have made it seem as if they were about to split up. I guess the director was trying to suggest that J still hadn't cracked K's shell and he's still a mystery but still is the operative word. They needed to suggest that time had passed and events had occurred but K was still K. All they did was show two rude people and between that fact and the wildly varying tone these scenes were downright unpleasant.

The remainder of the opening consists of attempts to cash in on the aspects of the film not central to the plot but expected because they were in previous movies. So we get Emma Thompson squawking in an alien language. Yikes.

The film picks up quite a bit when J jumps back in time. Right before he goes back, though, a character tells J that he should really make sure he gets back because that time wasn't so great "for your people," referring to the status of African Americans in the 1960s. Then we get that awkward feeling where we wonder how the movie's going to handle this serious issue. You can't ignore it, you can't make everyone racist, and you can't have it come up over and over again. Frankly, there's no way to do the matter justice in this movie.  So we get two scenes which acknowledge the issue and thankfully it is handled well in both. In one the humor comes from the fact that J hasn't realized why the white man is acting so uncomfortable and in the other the humor revolves around the fact that J, harassed by police, has indeed stolen a car. These scenes were obviously handled with greater care than the rest of the movie, which is a credit in the sense that the writers gave attention to the importance of the issue but a shame insofar as they didn't see the rest of their movie as worth thinking about.

Josh Brolin's appearance as the Agent K of 1969 is the saving grace of MiB III. Aside from the superficial resemblance Brolin nails Jones' deadpan and you can see him thinking behind his stone exterior. The fact that the K of '69 looks the same but sometimes listens to J gives us the best of both worlds. Unfortunately we don't really know why K listens to J. Is it because he is less surly or because he's hedging bets about how he deals with this guy who claims to be from the future? That we can't say thins his character.

The rest of the movie proceeds along competent but regular lines. The script handles the scenes in 1969 efficiently, neither lingering in any one place with unnecessary delays nor rushing headlong in an attempt to spice up the visuals.  The action is refreshingly moderate, a commendation which ought not be understated.

What remains? The scene with Andy Warhol is a hoot. Michael Stuhlbarg brings a sweetness to the character of Griffin, whose name is Greek for convenient plot device. Despite the problems Griffin creates and solves for the plot, Stuhlbarg does such a good job at the impossible task of making plausible a character who sees every possibility simultaneously happen that I can't complain. At first look Griffin's childlike demeanor might seem like a gimmick but if you stop and think his lack of focus makes sense. Moment-to-moment in Griffin we see overwhelming wonder at the myriad possibilities, curiosity about which one he is in, and the joy of being in a special one. Stuhlbarg's Griffin is an unexpected pleasure.

Finally, the 1969 scenes between J and K work because while they remain essentially derivative of the first movie and are just as redundant as the opening scene they make more sense for two reasons. First, it is reasonable hat J is confused trying to figure out why old K is slightly less cranky. Second, K is trying to figure out what is going on even more than J. In the opening scene K has no reason to say anything so he doesn't and it's boring.  Clearly the MiB III writers saw the pitfalls of making a new MiB movie. That they realized they couldn't make a whole movie like the opening act is commendable but that they simply avoided the problem instead of thinking of something new is not quite so worthy of praise. The result is rather middling fare.

Art vs Beauty

Pious men of strict observance can hardly see in art an obedient maidservant. . . rivalry begins, first, in rivalry between the religious spirit and the aesthetically. . . oriented man. . . Religion is always imperialistic. . . but science, art, and ethics are also imperialistic. . . and yet, the paths of religion, art, ethics, and science not only cross, they also join. (Gerardus van der Leeuw) [1]
In 1770 Doctor of Music Charles Burney left England for France and a grand tour of Italy. On this excursion he sampled the music of the French court and Italy's ancient cities, writing upon his return The Present State of Music in France and Italy. The thought of such a journey consummated by a prestigious work of scholarship is enough to make any intellectual a little jealous but over ten years later the good doctor would publish a pamphlet and fulfill every intellectual's nightmare: writing a brilliant and persuasive argument which is completely and plainly wrong. You see in this pamphlet Dr. Burney declared Handel a superior fugue writer to Bach. (Yes, your wincing reaction is quite normal.) Several years later an anonymous German critic came to Bah's defense with a most perceptive observation that, "[Bach], the deepest savant of contrapuntal arts (and even artifice), knew how to subordinate art to beauty."[2][3]

This praise cuts deeper than any musicological comparison of fugue types could for it is no small philosophical proposal to set art and beauty at odds. How should we approach such a loaded premise? We should being clarifying that by "art" we mean three things. The first is poiesis, that is, art as something brought into creation by man. The second is techne, or craft, that is, art as the concerted act of crafting by the hands of men. The third is form, that is, the traditional structures of art such as sonnets, fugues, or portraiture in which artists work. The German's critic's statement is significant for it subjugates all of these aspects of art to beauty. Is he right to do so?

Let us begin with poiesis and remember that any work of art would not exist without the artist. This creative aspect of art is probably the most considered today, if only for our vague appreciation of the word "create." When we say "create" we usually mean "express oneself," with some vague debt to Freud's ego.  There is, though, an honest aspect to this conception, more nearly Hegelian than Freudian, which is that of art as an expression of genius, that is genius in the Roman sense of one's innermost spirit. If we recall the Latin verb gigno, to bring into being, from which genius is derived, its full meaning becomes clear.

It is not hard to think of great art across genres and cultures which is the peculiar expression of a particular artists joys or sufferings. One might be tempted, or at least a philosopher would be tempted, to negate this individualistic aspect of art and say such works are only significant because they have, perhaps unwittingly, revealed some universal principle. He might be tempted to say that the individuality of an individual expression is only significant to the artist who made it. This is not a criticism to be scoffed at but it can serve the unhelpful purpose of obfuscating, or worst eradicating, the truth of a man's authentic and unique spirit. Here we are not speaking of deliberate elements of style or the fruits of labor or products of intellectual power but traces of spirit. Anyone who has studied the work of a great artist sees amidst the forms and structures of his age notes and strokes, sprinkled dissonances and slices of light, which belong, which still belong only to the artist. Such is the truth of the saying that one can write in the style of Bach, but one cannot write Bach.

Is this element, however, the central aspect of a work of art? We have already spoken of its traces so we may already sense that it is not. No work is strictly the product of an individual as no individual is strictly the product of himself. In a similar way no work could be wholly made up of unique elements or it would not be recognizable to others as significant. It would move from being a unique variation to an incomprehensible anomaly.

Now we may look at techne, which includes the aspects of a given piece as a crafted work, for example choice of words, pitches, color, material, plot, length, tempo, et cetera. As these elements constitute the work they surely cannot be done away with, but are they the most important part of the work? On the one hand it seems each element exists for its own sake but of course it also exists for the purpose of the whole work as part of the unfolding of the whole work. Alone any given element is at best limited in meaning. Individual materials are just that. Individual notes, words, and colors may have meaning alone but if so then such meaning by nature exists apart from the intentions of the artist. We see now that we have a missing element of art: form.

Form most of all amongst the elements we have discussed is inherited. Forms are developed slowly over time and handed down. They give shape to the elements which without a larger structure would be amorphous but for this reason they also limit the artist. One can only make so many changes before the form ceases to be the form. An artist can only break so many conventions of the sonnet, the hexameter, or the canon before it becomes unrecognizable as a sonnet, and so forth, and becomes a free structure incomprehensible to anyone but its creator. Yet while some structures suit certain materials and expressive elements, structures are also empty vessels. One may write a very nice sonnet with perfect scansion or a canon in perfect accord with the rules of stretti and each may be utterly meaningless.

We see then as our anonymous critic observed that the great artist must subordinate the constituent elements of art to its animating principle. Now, you might ask, "Why beauty?" Can another idea, such as liberty or wisdom, not be the animating force of a work? Indeed such ideas can animate a work but only to an extent.

For example, suppose you wanted to make a movie about wisdom. You could decide on the words, music, and visual elements, you could choose the appropriate length, and so forth, all to promote the idea that wisdom is good. This is well and good but it does not eliminate the aesthetic dimension to the work. Aside from the plot which must be logically coherent, why make any element a given way? Well, one makes it a certain way because that way is beautiful. Why make it beautiful? Because beauty persuades and beauty persuades because it signifies rightness and appropriateness in accord with its nature.

Art without beauty, of only poiesistechne, and form, is simply an argument and since we would no more call an argument art than an equation, for both are in fact theories not being, we must say that beauty is an essential element of art. Beauty is the proof, the existence, the being of the good.

We have seen also that the other elements of art, poiesistechne, and form, apart from being insufficiently significant on their own, can overwhelm the aspect of beauty. We also saw that while another idea, such as wisdom, might animate the elements of poiesis, techne, and form, that idea itself would be argued for but not fulfilled without being beautiful. It is therefore desirable to subordinate all artistic elements to beauty, the only element which can unify and vivify them all. To man, then, art is not the mistress but the handmaiden.

[1] Butt, John. Bach's Metaphysics of Music. in The Cambridge Companion to Bach. John Butt. (ed.) Cambridge University Press. 1997. p. 46. 

[2] Stauffer, George & May, Ernest. (ed.) J. S. Bach as Organist: His Instruments, Music, and Performance Practices. Indiana University Press. 1986. p.133.

[3] David, Hans T. & Mendel, Arthur. (ed.) Wolff, Christoph (revised) The New Bach Reader. W. W. Norton and Company. 1998. p. 367-368.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Movie Review: Battleship

Directed by Peter Berg. 2012.

Battleship begins with a scene in which a young man breaks into a convenience store in an attempt to steal a chicken burrito for Brooklyn Decker. This scene is set to the Pink Panther theme. Now I know what you're thinking: that I'm going to criticize this scene. You think I'm going to talk about how silly or out of place it is or make some such complaint. Yet I have come not to criticize this scene but to praise it. Why? Because it is a scene, a scene during which something happens, a scene with a clear beginning, middle, and end. This is more than I can say for the middle two hours, yes, two hours, of Battleship. I was going to write "Peter Berg's Battleship" but you know what? I don't think he directed this, or at least most of this. Why?

Well, there really are no scenes in the middle two hours of the movie. The film lists lazily back and forth between Brooklyn Decker hiking in the Hawaiian foliage and a destroyer sailing in circles around an alien craft. It seems as if they filmed without a script for the majority of the shoot because you could cut or rearrange any of what happens without any effect on the story and the dialogue reads like it was written an hour before filming. My guess is the filmmakers shot the finale, rendered the effects shots, edited everything together, shot pickups to fill in what was totally incomprehensible, and lastly padded it with wide shots. In fact there are so many wide, flyover, and effects shots that it doesn't even feel like any people are in the movie. Battleship does not so much feel directed as assembled from 2nd unit material.

The end of the movie is clearly the premise pitched to the produces as well as the only part mapped out in any detail. The gist is, and brace yourselves: the heroes need a ship that can take as much damage as it dishes while engaging the final enemy ship so they turn to the retired Battleship Missouri and re-fit her for combat. Frankly, I think the idea is a hoot and not just because I thought of it many years ago (although I had in mind to use the carrier Intrepid.) The final battle and its preparation are a good deal of fun. I liked the old-timer veterans showing today's crew how to man the ship and the crews straining and sweating to carry the massive shells for the guns. I enjoyed watching the veteran who just regained use of his legs going mano-a-mano with an alien. These brawny scenes (hooray for scenes!) with their rock and roll soundtrack and corny one-liners finally established a tone, and a vigorous and good-natured one at that.

This final scene is fun but any battle scene is only as good as the preparation for it. This can be done with varying degrees of skill and ingenuity, but it has to be done.  That the penultimate scene with the veterans is in fact the preparatory scene for the final battle makes the two almost a movie in themselves and shows just how utterly empty are the preceding hours. Battleship is far from the first movie with a simple idea and a lot of padding but seldom has so much of a movie been phoned-in. There is room in the world for light movies and craftsmanship can redeem slight fare, but there is no room for laziness.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

Directed by Joss Whedon. 2012.

N.B. Due to recent criticism I have taken special effort to ensure all images used are precisely appropriate to the review.

Samuel L. Jackson shoots down a fighter jet with a bazooka.

This review will proceed for the two of you not satisfied with the above.

The Avengers should have been a disaster. It should have had a lame end-of-the-world plot, wall-to-wall and incomprehensible action, generic dialogue, and the big name franchise characters stuffed in to draw the crowds. What we got was not only competency in all said areas but a whole which is a good deal more than the sum of its parts.

The plot is bound to be the weakest link in an action movie and though The Avengers is no exception its plot succeeds largely because it lacks the pitfalls of a slight script inflated to accommodate 100 minutes of action. We are spared decoy maguffins and the trading of essential items back and forth umpteen times. We are spared double, triple, and quadruple crosses as well as double-agents, betrayals, inexplicable changes of heart, and suddenly finding out who the "real" enemy is.

Instead Joss Whedon decided to keep it simple: a bad guy wants to take over the world and he needs a device to do it. Stop the bad guy and take the device. There is little to say about the plot other than that it works and lacks the usual cliches. The characters are introduced swiftly and quickly realize they must work together. There are no unnecessary delays because one of them must be persuaded or cannot be found. No one takes a powder or throws a hissy fit. Although tempers flair, and Whedon's snappy wit is a delight in these scenes, the characters realize the world is at stake and remain onboard the plan.

This is not to say the plot is wholly devoid of juicier fare. In fact we are treated to a few intellectual morsels. First off, we learn about the ideology of head bad-guy Loki. He doesn't just want to rule Earth but thinks humans are unfit to govern themselves. Yes, the idea of ruling rather implies that people need to be ruled but it is fair and good to see the implications of authoritarianism explicated a bit. More specifically he calls freedom a great lie and asserts that people want to be ruled, that people are lost in their individual quests for purpose and identity.

I would have liked to hear some more retorts to these old Platonic criticisms of liberty from the heroes beyond Captain America's response, paraphrasing, that "The last time I was in Germany and one man stood over others, there was a disagreement," which doesn't really address the arguments. This is not to say Captain America's response is foolish or naive for although it does not address all of Loki's points with an argument, Captain's statement does respond to the notion that "people like to be ruled" by citing an instance in which people refused such an "offer." I wasn't expecting a philosophical debate about liberty in the middle of a battle but I hoped somehow these ideas could have percolated up somewhere in the movie.


Nick Fury
S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury also presents us with some ideas to chew on when he lays out his problem: there are too many individuals with extraordinary powers who cannot be stopped. Fury had had two plans to fix this. The first was to acquire the Tessaract and use its power to create an arsenal of weapons to defeat these new powerful enemies. The second, the AVENGERS Initiative, involved recruiting the best individuals to meet the challenges S.H.I.E.L.D, which is to say ordinary people, could not. If we recall that Fury works for some secret council, one which seems to claim unlimited authority when they make the call to nuke New York to stem the invasion, we see all three fundamental types of government represented. Loki represents an absolute monarch, Nick Fury's bossy council represents oligarchy, and the Avengers democracy. Loki and the council seem obvious enough villains, but what do we infer about democracy from the Avengers?

For all their fighting Fury recruits the Avengers with great ease. Too he expects them to return when needed simply because they are needed. Such makes a powerful and rather unambiguous statement about the practicality of democracy. They come together after relatively little persuasion, they quarrel a little but work together for the greater good, they depart with no reward or extra authority, and they'll return when needed. Politics solved! The important political question, though, is how to get the best people to step up and prevent the worst from doing so.

It is Fury who accomplishes this and if we view the Avengers as agents of democracy we can see Fury as a presidential figure. Yet he wasn't elected even though he seems to represent ordinary people. The Avengers certainly don't trust him, with both Tony Stark and Captain America spying on him and ultimately discovering his secret plan to build weapons of mass destruction. Stark, ironically given his own powers, criticizes him for his plan of nuclear proliferation. Later, one of the Avengers says that Fury has as much blood on his hands as Loki. Really? Surely criticism of him could be made if we knew more about him, but without such information isn't that verdict a bit much? The scene in which Fury's plan is revealed and the Avengers begin to criticize him and fight amongst each other has a very democratic flavor consistent with the symbolism we discussed above. Because we don't have enough information to judge these other issues the scene becomes more about the problems of democracy than any one issue in particular. That the Avengers are attacked during this debate seems to carry an obvious implication: internecine problems to shrink in significance when an army's at the door. Is this so?

Agent Phil Coulson
There is, however, one more unusual bit. About halfway through the movie Earth's situation looks grim. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying carrier-battleship has been attacked and Loki has escaped. Dr. Banner and Thor are lost somewhere. Agent Coulson has been killed. How will Fury rekindle the team spirit? He shows them Coulson's prized Captain America trading cards, covered in his blood. Out of all that could have motivated them, he thought they needed a martyr. That Fury lied about the cards being on Coulson's person at the time of his death is not as significant as the fact that he decided to use the agent's death as an example at all.

Overall Whedon's script is commendable. He avoids many action movie pitfalls and cliches and succeeds in infusing some meaningful ideas and questions. There is very little essential dialogue in which to get tangled and there are no inessential reversals, deceptions, et cetera to gum up the works. This feat ought not be underestimated; I think this script cost Whedon no small amount of grief.

That said, The Avengers is two hours twenty minutes long and most of the attention is not on the aforementioned intellectual bits but action and snappy dialogue. Both satisfy.

Alien Invasion
The opening heist scene is probably the worst action in the movie. With its generic car and helicopter chase and the collapse of the S.H.I.E.L.D. compound lacking all depth it looks like part of a much chincier flick. The final action scene, however, is deftly handled. Whedon develops and maintains a clear sense of space but I still grew a tad weary watching the nameless aliens get whacked. Despite this, the scene ought not be underestimated. Whedon does a fine job making each hero seem heroic even while other heroes perform more impressive feats. Hawkeye's arrows aren't as spectacular as Iron Man flying around but he seems pretty powerful picking off the invaders. Captain America is not as strong as the Hulk, but he looks powerful fighting as he is. He does not seem less heroic fighting ground troops while the Hulk is fighting some giant flying creature because he is doing what is appropriate to him and his abilities.

The Hulk
Ultimately these characters are the highlight of The Avengers and though I would want more development of the ideas it is hard to complain after seeing these characters interact. Robert Downey Jr.'s cocksure Iron Man is as disarming and grudgingly entertaining as ever. Captain America as a by-the-books soldier is as good a foil for him as Roadie was in the Iron Man series and Iron Man is a better foil than Captain America had in his own movie last year. There is a palpable and logical tension between the narcissistic Tony Stark and the self-sacrificing Captain Steve Rogers. Chris Hemsworth's Thor has an appropriately aristocratic flavor with his accent, diction, and physical stature which pleasantly contrast Stark's 21st century playboy and Captain America's dutiful humility. Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner is a surprising treat. There is a subdued tension to his comportment which lends credence to what would be a silly one-liner in a lesser movie. Likewise a brief moment on the deck of the carrier  where he awkwardly shuffles around some passing soldiers with refreshing subtlety how he's rearranged his life and who he is to control the Hulk. It also helps explain a later scene when he is able to turn into the Hulk seemingly at will.

Flying Battleship
Speaking of the flying battleship-aircraft carried, I didn't care for it. Too much of the movie takes place aboard it. I think Whedon ran into a setting problem with the script. "Where should all of this take place? Does it even matter? I guess it should be in a S.H.I.E.L.D. base but then they're underground the whole time and the enemies have to come to them and then we need a vehicle for them to get around in anyway. Besides that'll remind people of X-Men. Tony Stark's lab is too small and people have seen it already. A submarine is worse than a base, a ship is too much like the military and a plane is too small. Hey. . . wait. . a flying ship!"

Natasha Romanoff
Anyway, Hawkeye and Black Widow seem the least drawn of the characters although Whedon cleverly works in their backstory at the service of the plot instead of as plodding exposition. Hawkeye spends most of the movie as a bad guy which is helpful because Loki has no underling and there are enough good guys to keep track of but it doesn't help his character. Natasha Romanoff / Natalie Rushman / Black Widow is most fun in her opening scene doing her spy thing but is not particularly well-utilized later on although her posterior is clearly the principal element of several shots.

Overall The Avengers is splendid entertainment. It is a rare example of an action movie where as much care was put into the writing as the visual elements. That it is so simple is a result of needing to keep clear so many other elements which could easily tear the film in many directions and thus apart. It would benefit from a little trimming of both dialogue and action while firming up the ideas, but still it's hard to complain about too much of a good thing. Cheers, Mr. Whedon.

Joss Whedon

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sacred Music V: Of Praise and Petition

Sacred Music: Part I | II | III | IV | V

I'm guessing that Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man got your attention just now. Doesn't he look happy? Look at those flailing arms and that big grin: he's ecstatic! He's ecstatic and he wants everyone to know. He just can't contain himself. Look at him!

In the course of affairs I have often heard the charge that Catholic sacred music is dolorous and depressing. It is not celebratory enough. Chant in particular is too serious. In place of such music Catholics should use big loud happy pieces during mass. Preferably this music should be in four parts and feature as much tinkling and thwacking accompaniment as possible. Mass should be HAPPY. After all we are "celebrating" the eucharist. Psalm 43.29 and the "sacrifice of praise" is then duly trotted out.

Now this sentiment is surely not to be condemned in toto any more than, say, the happy heart of Joseph Haydn that wrote his great symphonic masses should be castigated. The sentiment must, however, be moderated and for two reasons.

Foremost we must be reminded that prayer, all prayer, fundamentally maintains an element, even a prevailing element, of petition. We never simply praise God but always ask and hope that He be praised both to the utmost and per omnia saecula saeculorum. We hope that our humble offering of praise, subject as it is to our foibles, exalts. We hope that our love is pure and our craft refined. Thus even a laudatory prayer is not simply an effusion of joy but a hopeful request. All prayer, then, should maintain some spirit of supplication even as it exhorts or expresses.

Modern man of course has difficulty with this necessity because requesting implies submission and submission humiliates him, that is, it makes him humble. Petition seems to provide no vehicle for him to express himself or demonstrate the extent of his own genius and vast material resources but rather forces him to acknowledge his smallness and weakness.  Such an admission is uncomfortable for the modern man who has conquered so much and such brings us to our second reason that one must praise as supplicant, that otherwise the offering becomes a vehicle for the aggrandizement of the individual than of pure praise for God. This is a problem for much great music simply because the music is forever tied to its composer. In some way when we hear Handel will always hear not just music but Handel. Only the church's ancient and anonymous chants overcome this hurdle.

Now this imperative that prayer praise and petition God alone, what we might call the SDG imperative after the famous saying Soli Deo Gloria that  Bach appended to all of his music, has a profound implication, namely that all elements must focus on and only on a divine end. In other words, Christian worship is the worship of God. This means each element of sacred music must either directly contribue to a divine end by way of its overt meaning or by way of beautifying the work. For example, a text might worship in words and music might beautify it.

All else, by definition, serves another purpose. This implication itself has another: such music must be excellent. That which fails to be excellent contains, perhaps only in part, what is extraneous. Such is extraneous by virtue of having what is purposeless, and it is purposeless because it does not solely address God, is not beautiful, or accomplishes one of these aims but at some greater expense. For example, we might add words which unbalance the musical phrase or we may add notes which obfuscate the words. Too we may add either notes or words which are redundant and therefore undesirable as disruptive to the work's overall symmetry and logic.

The greatest works of sacred music contain the most excellent texts with no poor or extra words, the most excellent music in which all elements are necessary and meaningful, and harmony between these two elements.

If you enjoyed this essay you may also enjoy:

Theological Problems of Church Music by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Liturgy and Church Music by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The Anonymous Artist
Causa Pulchritudinis
On Gratitude
Music and Community
Would You Sing it on a Boat?