Reformer of church music, founder of the St. CeciliaSociety for German-speaking countries, and composer, b. at Walderbach, Upper Palatinate, 9 Feb., 1834; d. at Landshut, Bavaria, 2 Dec., 1888. The son of a school teacher, Witt was instructed in singing and piano and violin playing from his earliest youth, and when he entered upon his Classical studies at Ratisbon he became a member of the cathedral choir under the direction of Joseph Schrems, through whose masterful interpretations of the long neglected sixteenth-century composers, Dr. Proske's reform ideas were beginning to be put into practice. Witt's unusual musical gifts enabled him to grasp and remember every composition performed by the choir, and his musical development received from his humanistic, philosophic, and theological studies a solid foundation. Ordained priest, 11 June, 1856, for the next three years he was assistant pastor in Oberschneiding. Although so zealous for the care of souls that for a time he thought seriously of becoming a missionary, he continued the study of music in all its branches, and acquired the remarkable technical, historical, and æsthetic knowledge and equipment so necessary for his future work. On 17 Aug., 1859, he was called to the theological seminary at Ratisbon as teacher of Gregorian chant, homiletics, and catechetics. After three years he applied for the position of director of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary and choiormaster at the Church of St. Emmeran in Ratisbon. On 1 Jan., 1866, appeared the first number of his papers, "Fliegende Blatter fur Kirchenmusik", for teachers, organists, and choirmasters, founded, according to his own words, to make war upon existing conditions in church music. The journal met with immediate success, and continues its mission to this day. He also served the cause of reform with great effect as a forceful speaker and as a composer. On 1 Jan., 1868, he began the publication of "Musica Sacra", a complement to "Fliegende Blatter", for the adequate treatment of all questions regarding the relation of music to the liturgy. During the same year, at the general diet of German Catholics held at Bamberg, Witt founded the St. Cecilia Society for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. At the request of twenty-nine bishops the society was approved and given a cardinal protector by the Holy See in 1870. Witt served as its president for twenty years. In 1873 he became pastor of the parish of Schatzhofen, but, two years later, failing health forced him to retire to Landshut, where he spent the last ten years of his life without pastoral charge. Father Witt united practically all the requisites of a successful reformer. Indomitable energy and a highly artistic temperament were made to serve the theologian and zealous pastor who realized the harm which was being done to the faithful by unworthy music. With his vigorous pen and spoken word he urged upon church musicians, priests, and laymen the moral obligation of obeying the laws of the Church, and a return to the Gregorian chant as the basis and informing principle of all music for liturgical use. His reform ideas, propagated through the St. Cecilia Society with its 14,000 members, several music schools, and a large number of journals devoted to the cause, have not only transformed musical conditions in the countries where they were put forth, but have had an echo throughout the Catholic world. As a composer Witt created a style entirely his own. Virility in his melodic material, vivid and striking declamation of the text, masterful contrapuntal construction, spontaneity, and organic cohesion are some of the characteristics of his works. He wrote more than twenty masses for different combinations of voices, some with organ, some with orchestra accompaniment, and others a cappella, litanies, motets, covering practically the whole liturgical year, and a large number of other compositions, most of which are standard and included in the repertoire of the best choirs throughout the world.
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online