His attitude to sacred music is symptomatic of the modern age's attitude to religious art
The Leveson inquiry into press standards has ground on all week, but it has thrown up this gem, as reported by the Daily Telegraph, but missed by some other papers. Charlotte Church was asked to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding to his present wife, Wendi Deng, back in 1999, when she was thirteen years old. She told the enquiry:
”I had been told by my management that he had specifically asked for me to sing Pie Jesu.”
She said she had raised the issue that it was a requiem – a funeral song – but was told Mr Murdoch specifically wanted it performed.
”He said he didn’t care whether it was a funeral song and he liked that song and he wanted me to sing it, which I did.”
It is heartening to see that at the age of thirteen Miss Church had a keen sense of what was and what was not liturgically appropriate at a wedding. Pie Jesu is part of the Requiem Mass, specifically part of Thomas of Celano’s mighty poem the Dies Irae, which describes in graphic terms the Last Judgement, and the terrible day of God’s anger, hardly suitable for a wedding, even a civil one on a yacht in new York Harbour. The section of the poem usually called the Pie Jesu is in fact a gentle coda to the whole thing, but even here the words are hardly what you want to hear when you are about to tie the knot with your lovely new wife. “Sweet Jesus, give them rest, give them eternal rest. Amen.” It is indeed a funeral song.
People should not be surprised that the young Miss Church knew more about the Church’s liturgy than the powerful and mature Mr Murdoch. Charlotte Church is of course a native of Cardiff, and her family used to (indeed, for all I know, they may still) go to St Mary’s in Canton, which is a parish with a strong liturgical tradition, once staffed by Benedictines from Ampleforth. It was no doubt in this community that Miss Church learned the difference between a wedding and a funeral, and that one should, unlike Mr Murdoch, care about the difference.
Mr Murdoch’s attitude to sacred music (which is what Pie Jesu is, though we are not told who the composer is in this instance) strikes me as symptomatic of the modern age’s attitude to religious art in general. People like pretty things, and want to enjoy them, but they do not care about the context in which such beautiful things emerged. But context matters: out of context, Pie Jesu is just another nice song, shorn of most of its meaning. Moreover, it is an abuse of a work of art to transplant it from its rightful context, as the thirteen year old Charlotte Church instinctively knew. Singing Pie Jesu at a wedding makes no sense; it annihilates meaning. People may say that this is what they like and so what? But if personal liking is to be the only criterion of choice, then everything can mean exactly what I choose it to mean, which would result in a world without common culture and shared meaning.
Charlotte Church is firmly rooted in her Welsh culture, which is why she knows that you cannot make things mean what you want them to mean, even if you are Rupert Murdoch. And that too, I suspect, might have been a lesson she learned at St Mary’s in Canton.