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).