Pope's Playlist: Pontiff Reveals Classical Favorites

Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 06:08 PM

Pope Francis, long reputed to be an opera lover, has opened up about his tastes in classical music, which turn out to be remarkably voracious and specific. His comments were part of a wide-ranging interview given to 16 Jesuit journals worldwide in which he also spoke about a host of social issues and about making the church more welcoming.

The Pope tells America magazine:

"Among musicians I love Mozart, of course. The ‘Et incarnatus est’ from his Mass in C minor is matchless; it lifts you to God! I love Mozart performed by Clara Haskil. Mozart fulfills me. But I cannot think about his music; I have to listen to it. I like listening to Beethoven, but in a Promethean way, and the most Promethean interpreter for me is Furtwängler.

"And then Bach’s Passions. The piece by Bach that I love so much is the 'Erbarme Dich,' the tears of Peter in the St. Matthew Passion. Sublime. Then, at a different level, not intimate in the same way, I love Wagner. I like to listen to him, but not all the time. The performance of Wagner’s Ring by Furtwängler at La Scala in Milan in 1950 is for me the best. But also the Parsifal by Knappertsbusch in 1962."

The Pope's interest in Wagner may seem particularly striking given the composer's idiosyncratic views on religion. Parsifal, Wagner's most enigmatic work, was conceived on Good Friday 1857, but also inspired by Eastern spirituality, including Buddhism. Performances of the opera were treated almost as a religious rite in the decades after Wagner's death.

Later in the interview, when talking about how the church must drop worn out dogmas, Francis returns to Parsifal and considers how the hero's path to compassion and understanding can be a metaphor for the church. "The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching," he said.

Also notable is the Pope's interest in Haskil, a Romanian pianist whose career was beset by serious health problems and the adversities of World War II. As a whole, his tastes appear to lean towards Golden Age performers and the Germanic side of the canon.

Along with music, Francis also names his favorite films (Fellini's "La Strada" and "Rome, Open City"), painters (Caravaggio and Chagall) and literature (Cervantes's Don Quixote).


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Comments [19]

DaveG from Manhattan

I never would have expected Wagner.

But also a Catholic pope liking Protestant Bach makes me trust him more...he goes beyond ideology to the universal ("catholic", small "c") language of music.

Jul. 10 2015 01:22 PM
Brad Miner from New York

"Rome Open City" is Rossellini, not Fellini.

Jul. 07 2015 10:33 PM
Carol from NYC

I'm really impressed with his love of music....and his choices. There is an inner sensitivity to him which is confirmed by his words and actions. I am seeing a one-of-a-kind religious leader, a positive influence on the world, appear right before my eyes....and as a Lutheran, that's praise for a pope! I would have loved to know his impressions on Tallis (especially Spem in Alium which is as divine as divine can be), or Allegri's Miserare Mea which can be heavenly spellbinding. Now I'm curious on how he tailored his tastes. Had he studied music before and during his priesthood? I love the fact that he's not cornered into a box of religious piety, as so many people are....or just plain pious like so many of the commentators in this section are....

Jul. 06 2015 11:02 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

The Catholic church issued thousands of false documents helping the Jewish people. There is a fine docu-film called The Assisi Underground. Among the protaganists was a young bicyclist named Bartali. He would hide documents in his bike to bring to the church for the Jewish Italians they were hiding. Bartali is honored in Israel by a monument for the Righteous Gentiles. There is also a fine documentary called The Righteous Gentiles.
Italy, a Catholic country, had the highest rate of survival for the Jews.

Sep. 27 2013 08:56 AM
Robert Marcus from Brooklyn

In keeping with the Churches history of aggravating silences, the Pope mentions nothing about the ugly head of philosophies against the Jews by Wagner.

Wagner should have written another sublime opera rather than waste time on that dirty book of his about Jews. (Paraphrase from statement by Daniel Barenboim.)

Sep. 24 2013 12:48 PM
Aimee Wiest from Lewes, DE

Pope Francis is truly making a difference.

Sep. 23 2013 11:06 AM
Howard from Florida

I think His Holiness would like Verdi's "Quatro Pezzi Sacri". I like the recording by Carlo Maria Giulini and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus with Janet Baker. As an aside, if he's interesed in music theory, there's Verdi's use of the "scala enigmatica" in the "Ave Maria".

Sep. 23 2013 10:54 AM
Kenneth-K.Stewart, M.DIV, LMSW. from New York City

Pope Francis, like his patron, St. Francis of Assissi, proclaims the presence of the loving God everywhere in the beauty of creation, through the beauty of the human person, and through the sublime spirit of music and the arts. Be careful not to assign words and actions to the Pope as when you wrote: "Later in the interview, when talking about how the church must drop worn out dogmas,..." The Pope never said in his article that the church must drop dogmas. He emphasized that The Church must put all in proper perspective in relationship to the God of Love and Mercy.

Sep. 23 2013 10:52 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I would suggest "St. Matthew Passion" conducted by Furtwa"ngler with the Vienna Philharmonic, the "Missa Solemnis" conducted by Toscanini and NBC Symphony, and the "Petit Messe Solennelle" with Romano Gandolfi Piano One, the La Scala chorus, and Freni, Pavarotti, Valentini-Terrani, and Raimondi the soloists.

Sep. 23 2013 10:29 AM

"...when talking about how the church must drop worn out dogmas" is hardly what the Pope meant or even said.

I'm sorry he dropped Rossini as one of his favorites, but what he meant about dogma is how it is presented and interpreted to the modern world. Not even a pope can change dogma, but he can interpret it to a world that has vastly changed. To use his own words "The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong."

Sep. 23 2013 05:57 AM
Kathleen Collins from Dumont, NJ

I am here (Sunday morning) reading anothor GREAT book and Annie Bergen's lovely voice catches my attention coming out of the background of the music and I am off to the computer to catch Pope Francis thoughts and his musical preferences. So interesting. I am 84 and own a computer now for a year or so. What a wonderful possession. Thanks WQXR for the interruption.

Sep. 22 2013 12:49 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Pope Francis also recently told priests they do not need luxury cars. He uses a 1984 car. The recent remarks about the Catholic Church being more Catholic and not a country club was very welcome indeed. I am pleased that he is from the new world. About time. Mr. Bey, he secretly helped dissidents. You must be watching MSNBC too often. Enough leftie propaganda.

Sep. 22 2013 09:00 AM

If he's an opera lover pope he should get acquainted with Donizetti's Poliuto, about a warrior who chose to die in 500 AD for refusing to renounce Christianity. And converted his wife in the process too. Gorgeous music and singing, I suggest the Callas/Corelli recording. Or maybe this opera which got banned in Naples is too controversial for him, as he likes to play safe. His close ties to the Argentinian military junta that tortured and brutalized the population of that country in the 1970s prove it.

Sep. 21 2013 02:24 PM
Rodolfo from New York

The Pope's interest in Wagner may seem particularly striking given the composer's idiosyncratic views on religion." that's precisely his point when he talks about agnostics and the excessive emphasis on abortion, contraception and homosexuality and several other things that divide instead of unite. It is not about where you stand but how you carry your love for the people...

Sep. 21 2013 01:28 PM
Dorothy Tucker Katzenstein

Thanks for the photo of Pope Francis and his comments. These brought memories growing up in Buenos Aires, absorbing its culture, feeling its music,its poetry and its people. Its parks and paseos through the exquisite rose garden, the Rosedal; the horse-back riding through Palermo Park; its museums and distinctive neihborhoods of one-story homes with open interior patios. Glamorous and exciting was to attend the Teatro Colon, opera house of Buenos Aires. for operas, concerts and recitals. Its horseshoe shape generated an intimacy across the boxes. As in every society, to see and be seen was automatic. In our teens, my frinds and I would stand at the balcony wall or sit on the adjacent steps. The accoustics were magnificent;. Buenos Aires has been compared as the Paris of South America, its Teatro Colon to the Opera of Milan. My memories include sitting on the floor of the paraiso at the Teatro Colon, and then the palcos (boxes) and watch the lights as they were lifted.

Sep. 21 2013 12:58 AM
dr antoun aneed from phoenixville,pa.....origin..liban

wth humbleness and modesty..i and the pope share the beauty of wagner...heavenly indeed....your humble servant..mar antoun

Sep. 20 2013 04:47 PM
Tom Fennell from Los Angeles

I love his preference for Clara Haskil and this love of the Mozart c minor mass. For me, however, the soprano solo of the KYRIE is one of the most transcendent moments in music, rivaled by the quartet in the Kyrie of the Missa Solemnis of LVB. I disagree with his preference of Furtwangler; I prefer Toscanini but de gustibus non est disputandem. :)

Sep. 20 2013 03:10 PM
Franklyn Dunne from Guadalajara Mexico

Very interesting remarks.

Sep. 20 2013 01:09 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

The Pope would seem to have fairly sophisticated musical tastes.The Wagner performances mentioned in the article are particularly popular among record collectors.It would be interesting to hear what he thinks about "Benvenuto Cellini",including the prohibition by the Parisian censors of depicting a Pope on the operatic stage.

Sep. 20 2013 01:17 AM

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