As the conductor’s baton urged them briskly forward in a swift Allegro with the simple, direct movements learned from noted Chicago Grant Park Symphony founder Thomas Peck, a dozen or more professionals began Handel’s chorus in B flat major, “His Yoke is Easy, and His Burden is Light.”
First sopranos, then tenors, then altos, then bass squarely hit each others’ mark. Glances and smiles shot around the chorus as if to say, “This is great tempo, great rhythm, great pacing; I’ve never sung or heard Handel this way before; This conductor really knows his stuff; I’ve never had so much fun.” Each singer then took off–together–with confident abandon, and let the music dance and ripple, or if you prefer, rip. His yoke is indeed easy, they sang–and meant with all their hearts–and His burden indeed light. Despite having sung Messiah a hundred times before, each sang as if seeing the notes in first light.
The date was Sunday, May 22, 1994, at St. Michael’s Church in Orland Park, IL, the parish where the conductor began his first priestly assignment in 1953. And on May 22, 2013, nineteen years from the very date of that memorable concert of Messiah, in the sixtieth year of his Roman Catholic priesthood and in the eighty-sixth year of his life, Rev. Stanley R. Rudcki met the Lord he had served so faithfully and so creatively.
Rev. Stanley Rudcki, M.A., S.T.L., M.Mus. was a graduate of the Chicago Archdiocesan Seminaries and the Chicago Music Conservatory, with studies at the University of Chicago. Ordained in 1953, he served at St. Michael’s Church in Orland Park, Quigley Seminary, for a time as organist at Holy Name Cathedral, and from 1961 until its campus closed in 1994, Niles College Seminary, then the Chicago archdiocesan college seminary, where he taught Music and English Literature.
Shortly after his arrival at Niles College he organized the Niles College Seminary Concert Choir and the Niles Symphony, whose members were professional musicians drawn from the Lyric Opera Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. Among the many works performed during the 1960s through the 1990s by the Chorus and Orchestra at a number of Chicago locations including Orchestra Hall and Holy Name Cathedral, St. Mary’s Riverside, St. John Cantius, St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, were Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” (Chicago Premier, 5/20/1968), John Rutter’s “Requiem” (U.S. Premier), Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” (Chicago Symphony Hall Premier, 1967), Poulenc’s “Gloria,” Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” Verdi’s “Requiem,” a fully dramatized version of Honegger’s “Joan at the Stake,” Mozart’s “Requiem,” and many other major choral symphonic works. Rev. Rudcki directed the Hillenbrand Sacred Music Project for the former Hillenbrand Institute at the time of the 1994 Messiah Concert, and after retirement conducted community concerts at St. Alexander Church in Palos Heights, IL and in the Southwestern suburbs of Chicago, while serving as a Sunday Mass celebrant in his retirement.
Stanley Rudcki was the son of the Polish and Bohemian owners of a past and noted South Side Chicago bowling alley. His humble demeanor blended somehow with his absolute confidence in several arenas, including bowling, water polo, music, literature, and theology.
His talent as a young pianist was so exceptional that the very structured Quigley Seminary of his 1940′s high school days allowed him to walk downtown after school to Chicago Music Conservatory, where he studied with a Dr. Brazelton, christening the young Rudcki thereby a “grandson” by tutelage of Franz Liszt. Stanley Rudcki played Schumann’s A Minor Concerto to mark the end of his high school days (“Watch that third movement, kid,” a member of the Chicago Symphony had advised him). Rudcki’s father had promised him that if he could learn Chopin’s “Heroique” A flat major Polonaise his father would let him use his car to drive to Mexico (the war had just ended), and young Rudcki memorized it in a week. At the major seminary, young Rudcki organized an orchestra of fellow students, and performed the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor in a school concert. Humble to a fault, Fr. Rudcki sometimes stated that Cardinal Edward Egan, a Chicago seminary near contemporary, was a better pianist.
When given the chance to formally study Gregorian chant in Rome, Fr. Rudcki chose instead to continue his musical studies in Chicago, and to master composition (he crafted a Mass named in honor of Chardin among other works) and conducting.
Along the way, he deepened his knowledge of literature, especially tragedy, Dostoyevsky, and Chesterton. As a Chestertonian, Fr. Rudcki suggested that the dozens of Chesterton’s Illustrated London News articles be hunted down and published (they were). Few of his students will forget Fr. Rudcki’s stirring lecture on the Grand Inquisitor scene from the Brothers Karamazov, or his course on tragedy.
Fr. Rudcki also taught music appreciation to Chicago seminarians, many of whom had no background in classical music whatsoever, and gave a few of them private lessons. (He also kindly gave my oldest daughter a few lessons, gratis, and she continues to teach others the ways of excellent music). The performance Fr. Rudcki mounted of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis to enthusiastic press reviews at Holy Name Cathedral in the 1960s, sung by dozens of seminarians, parishioners, and professionals along with members of the Chicago Symphony, was in many ways a high point of Catholic culture in Chicago. But such culture, according to Fr. Rudcki, was possible to experience within any Catholic parish church.
Fr. Rudcki’s view of art was bound to the Thomistic distinction between prudence as the recta ratio of acting or doing, and art as the recta ratio of making. But Fr. Rudcki’s Thomism was living, dynamic, and poetic, witness his nuanced 1987 article in the journal Thought, entitled “The Loss of Art: A Cultural and Theological Perspective.”
Fr. Rudcki’s Christmas music during the late Advent prayer service at Niles College was a memorable annual spiritual ascent that realized his vision of art in service to the Gospel. But it didn’t hurt that legendary Chicago Symphony trumpeter Adolph (Bud) Herseth rang out the downward run from high A in the Hallelujah Chorus. Fr. Rudcki combined community musicians with just the right spike of professional excellence. He knew that inspiring music required great composition and musicianship, not simply good intentions. He also had a discerning ear for new music, and very early on performed the works of John Rutter. Chicago soprano Sarah Beatty was a regular soloist at Fr. Rudcki’s concerts.
Fr. Rudcki also humbly sweat the small stuff. He would plan his concerts for weeks, and personally lay out the music for each symphonic position. One day, he decided to give up smoking, cold turkey, after decades, and simply did. He very much liked Robert M. Hutchins’s joke about lying down and resting whenever he had the urge to exercise.
Fr. Rudcki could not abide Wagner’s Parsifal (“Even Wagner’s religious music is profane,” he said, echoing Chesterton), nor could he stand when the 1960′s seminarians sang “Rambling Boy” at Mass. For his own 50th priestly anniversary, he chose Mozart’s Coronation Mass, K. 317.
It was Fr. Rudcki who proposed the name “Niles College” to end a faculty impasse on the question of the name of the new Chicago Archdiocesan Seminary in the early 1960s, a decision he later regretted. With his colleague Fr. Martin N. Winters, Fr. Rudcki taught at this college seminary at the time of its rise, and of its fall, of which he wrote in a 1995 New Oxford Review article, “The Tale of a Dead Seminary.” (See my earlier post on the bad old days of Niles College).
One friend and colleague described Fr. Stanley R. Rudcki as the last of the true liberals, meaning not a New York Times editorial page political true believer, as the word has come to mean, but liberal in the sense of a humanist educated in the liberal arts freeing the human spirit to hear the Divine and to fully realize the authentically human.
Chicago’s former Quigley Seminary had an expression, “Days of the Giants,” to describe a past era of manly, spiritual commitment and accomplishment. In Fr. Rudcki, quiet giant is what we’re talking about. He was a gentleman when the word meant something.
Fr. Rudcki will be waked at St. Alexander’s Catholic Church in Palos Heights, IL on the afternoon and evening of Wednesday, May 29, 2013, with a funeral at that same church at 10:30 AM, Thursday, May 30. Funeral announcements are expected to be in the papers and on the web as of Sunday, 5/26/13.
May Fr. Rudcki’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in the Lord’s peace.
I regret I will not be able to sing the Salve in person on May 30th, but I will be singing it in my heart. Later that day, I’ll play a Mazurka or two for Fr. Rudcki.
© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved