Magi viderunt stellam

My New Year’s resolution is to post a bit more this year. I promised some comments on Spanish polyphony, so here goes. I had the opportunity to program Victoria’s Magi viderunt stellam some years ago and I wondered how well known this lovely motet is. It’s set in the transposed mode 2 (a favorite of the Spanish), but the frequent Eb’s and cadential F#’s lend it a decidedly G minor flavor. There is a bit of musical imagery at the beginning as the Magi’s melodies travel up and down in a wavy pattern. Note the rise in the line at “stellam” as well. The entire second half of this beautiful work is taken up with repetitions of the 3 gifts, featuring some nice passages of parallel 3rds. I would often take the tempo up slightly at the Alleluia section for a bit more effect.

Victoria’s style is certainly Spanish, but Palestrina’s (or perhaps a general Roman) influence is never far away. Unlike Morales, Spaniards never thought of Victoria as a “foreign” composer. What is Spanish? I hear it in the lower ranges (perhaps to fit the shawm ranges) and occasionally the local chants, when they are present. Also the liberal use of cadential chromaticism is something one hears a lot in late Renaissance and Portuguese polyphony. A joyous Epiphany, everyone!

The score is the Victoria volumes of MME, but also at CPDL

“Truly Blended Worship”

This Sunday our schola will enjoin the congregation in singing both at the Offertory,
and in singing THE Offertory.
As we know, the gospel for the Feast is the account of Dismas, the “good thief”, acknowledging and defending Christ against the taunts and mockery of the other crucified thief and centurians. It’s interesting to note that Dismas recognizes Jesus as Messiah and true King, despite the legalistic placard that Pilate deemed be noted above our Lord’s head on the cross, with “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus responds with a different metaphor, “…this day you will be with me in Paradise,” something considerably more than an earthly deliverer.
As we all know, Jacques Berthier’s most familiar composition is likely the musical refrain “Jesus, Remember Me” that congregations world-wide have taken up as easily as any melody ever written. But upon reflecting about this most modest of songs, and its mustard-seed size potential and power, I also remembered that there might just be a kinship between the narrative of the gospel and the actual Offertorio text, excerpted from the verses from Psalm 2  in particular:
Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession.
Those of us who regularly use the Simple Choral Gradual Propers by the great Richard Rice have likely noticed that he sets his homophony most often in F Major. So, it occured to me that by alternating some repetitions of the Berthier with the Rice Offertory Antiphon links the Old with the New Covenant. So, that’s what we’re going to do this Sunday. I’ll let you know how I think it succeeded or not.

Okay, official post-script- IT WAS GREAT! We alternated three repetitions of the Berthier ostinato, and then interpolated a verse/refrain of the Rice Offertorio. The congregation seemed to be in step with our mp/mf/forte pyramid-crescendo for each of the reps of the Berthier and then we seemlessly moved into the “fauxbourdon” verses of the Rice via the common F Major tonal center. But the neat little shift to G minor of the Rice antiphon provided the ear some measure of refreshment before cadencing back in F Major, and resuming the Berthier. I love synchronicity.

It worked so well at our schola Mass, we repeated it at the ensemble Mass as well with just classical guitar single rolled underpinning. Sweet.

The Classical Guitar as “voices”….Dirait on by LAGQ

Over at the Musica Sacra Forum, I alluded to the LA Guitar Quartet’s virtuosity. I’ve also shared there the encounter I had one summer workshop with Paul Salamunovich, where I gave him a CD containing the following version of his protege, Morton Lauridsen’s famous “Dirait on” from Rilke’s Flower Poems. Here is a YouTube performance that has the LAGQ version with some shadow imaging.

I would like to dedicate this post to our bishop, John Steinbock, who is ailing and hospitalized with stage three lung cancer and severe blood clotting. Ora pro nobis….

Are you drawn in?

Some of you will remember Fr. Cizcek from the Colloquium. Look at this:

What is going to strike most of us is the choice of music in this video. I was puzzled at first. I am liking it more and more and here’s why: This is a video. It is a popular medium. It is not the Mass itself. If it were Mass, I don’t think Father would have allowed this pop, Euro sound. Coupling this music with beautiful shots of the priest, his actions, and the altar is startling and edgy and exciting. That’s what videos are supposed to be.

What do you think?

Chant Settings of the 2010 Order of Mass from Fr. Kelly

Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, has offered a selection chants for the revised Order of Mass in the new English Translation. These are settings that differ from those that will be found in the forthcoming Roman Missal, but are offered as a supplement to those chants, or perhaps as alternatives. Of particular interest are English settings of Gloria X, Credo I, and Sanctus XV. Find them at the Sacred Music Project.

“Francis Cardinal George, President of the USCCB, has recently announced that the new Missal translations will be implemented for liturgical use on the First Sunday of Advent, 2011. Therefore, the new texts are not yet approved to be used in Mass–not until November 27th, 2011. In the mean time, the task at hand is catechesis and preparation for the use of the new texts.

Fr. Kelly’s settings of the Order of Mass are provided here in modern notation, according to the convention found in the forthcoming Missal. We hope to soon offer them also in chant notation.”

You can download these settings in modern chant notation here.

The “Catholic Public Domain Version” Bible

Does anyone know anything about this translation of the Bible? I just found it this morning and it seems to have been completed in 2009. If I were to guess, I would guess that this is an effort to give Catholics a dignified translation of Scripture, quite possibly in accordance with Liturgiam Authenticam, which they can use without being assessed copyright or royalty fees.

So far the psalms look very nice and are very much of a “modern sacral” character, similar to the texts I’ve seen of the new Missal translation.

Please share, if you would, any information that you might have about this translation!

Signum magnum apparuit in caelo.

Guest column from Jake Tawney of Roma locuta est.


Tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. The Introit chant from the Graduale is the every timeless Signum magnum. Listen carefully to the chant:

Before discussing the translation, take a listen to a far better known Introit: the Puer natus from the Mass of Christmas Day.

Did you catch it? Listen to them both again carefully. The first thing you will notice is that they are both in mode 7, so they have a similar “sound” to one another. Mode 7 always strikes me as a “solemn joy” mode. It is bright enough to convey the sense of the jubilant, yet toned down enough to emphasize the great solemnity of the event. Keeping in mind that the Introit is the first thing heard at Mass, it (excuse the pun) sets the tone for the rest of the celebration. The mode is appropriate for Nativity of the Lord as well as the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. Both are joyous events to be sure, yet each in its own unique way is an event to be pondered with a great sense of awe and mystery.

The similarity is not just in the mode, however. If you listen to them once more, pay careful attention to the verse that is sung after the Introit and before its repetition. It is not only the same mode, but the same melody. This, of course is not unusual, for most of the mode 7 Introits take this melody for their verses. But these two Introits share not only the same melody for their verse; in this case they also share the same words.

Cantate Domino canticum novum: quia mirabilia fecit.

Sing unto the Lord a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds.

The verse is an alteration of the opening of the 96th Psalm and is appropriate for both of these great solemnities. The Nativity of the Lord is that day on which the darkness of the cosmos begins to decrease and the light of salvation begins its increase. Even the dating of Christmas near the winter solstice shows off this cosmic significance, as pointed out in The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ratzinger). The light will find its definitive victory in the Resurrection. (Incidentally, the very same verse, mode, and melody are found in the Introits for the Feria Quarta and Feria Qunita following Easter. Moreover, although different in structure and mode, the same phrase forms the main Introit text for the fourth Sunday after Easter, which has thus been dubbed “Cantate Sunday”.) As for the Assumption, the Church is emphasizing that perennial apologetic truth, that Mary’s bodily Assumption was not something she accomplished, but was a “wondrous deed” accomplished by the Lord. The first “wondrous deed” done through the Blessed Virgin was precisely that event of its paired Introit: the Nativity, which was the culmination of the event that begun with her fiat at the Annunciation. (As expected, there are musical connections between the Annunciation and the Assumption. The same mode 2 Introit is prescribe for the Feast of the Annunciation and the Vigil of the Assumption; the Introit is Vultum tuum and comes from the Common of Virgins.)

The very structure of the Introits themselves is similar, though some of this is to be expected given that most Introits are very similar in basic structure, and these two find themselves composed in the same mode. However, there is one melodic line that is identical and shares a similar text. In the Puer Natus we hear, “et vocabitur” which translates, “and shall be called.” (The phrase actually pairs with the subsequent words “et vocabitur nomen ejus” to translate, “And his name shall be called.”) In the Signum magnum we hear, “et in capite” which translates, “and on her head” (when the Latin ejus is added to the phrase). Both phrases share the same melody line with a sustained pitch (the Puer natus on the end of vocabitur and the Signum magnum on the end of capite. The word ejus, present at the close of both phrases and given an ornate melisima, can be translated from Latin as either “his” or “hers” according to context. By giving this pronoun a musical emphasis, the paired Introits point out the two key players in the history of salvation: Christ (the new Adam) and Mary (the New Eve). In fact, both Introits have the same word (ejus) ending the previous phrase as well. The full reality of the texts is that each eloquently describes the person whom the respective Mass is celebrating: the Puer Natus describes the infant Jesus and the Signum magnum describes the Assumed Virgin. Both are laden with lyrical and musical mystery appropriate to their reality.

The full translations of the texts are:

Puer natus est nobis,
et filius datus est nobis:
cujus imperium
super humerum ejus:
et vocabitur nomen ejus,
magni consilii Angelus.

A child is born to us, and Son is given to us: whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, the Angel of great counsel.

Signum magnum
apparuit in caelo:
mulier amicta sole,
et luna sub pedibus ejus,
et in capite ejus
corona stellarum duodecim.

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

It never ceases to amaze me the musical and lyrical connections found in the Gregorian Propers. The more one studies the chants, the more one comes to realize why these pieces form the official music of the Church. People who grew up with these melodies would have been all too familiar with the popular Puer Natus and, upon hearing the verse from the Signum magnum, would have been immediately transported to the Mass of Christmas Day. Whether the connection in their minds be conscious or subconscious, it would have been made nonetheless. Examples of these types of parallels are bountiful in the Gregorian repertoire. The reality is that the liturgy and Gregorian chant developed in tandem; as the liturgy, guided by the Holy Spirit, was finding its voice, that voice became expressed in the Gregorian melodies that grew up along side of it. For this reason, the two are inseparable. This is why, while other forms of music, such as Sacred Polyphony, may be appropriate to express the grandeur of the Sacred Liturgy, they will always be subordinate to the Gregorian compositions.* This is also why a period of history that has marginalized, or even eliminated, the Gregorian Chant that is proper to the liturgy is a period that will necessarily lose sight of the essence of the sacramental mysteries that constitute life in the Church.

* It should be pointed out, however, that the structure of Sacred Polyphony is based of the ancient Gregorian melodies, which is why they contain within themselves a continuity that suits them for use during the Sacred Mysteries.