Hodie

Today is Christ born;
today the Savior has appeared;
today the Angels sing,
the Archangels rejoice;
today the righteous rejoice, saying:
Glory to God in the highest.  Alleluia!

These are the words of the beautiful antiphon: Hodie Christus natus est, found originally at the end of the Lauds service for Christmas day.  As I pondered what to share this week, surrounded by so much rich and meaningful music, this antiphon sprang to mind – a fairly simple but also more well-known piece.  The text has been used by many composers over the centuries, Sweelink, Poulenc, and more recently Britten who used the Gregorian chant in its original version and helped make it a better know piece to many.

The melody starts with a sort of trumpet call – Hodie Christus natus est! – 3 notes rising.  Each time the word Hodie (today) is restated we hear that same pattern, and as it builds to the final statement the tune rises to its highest point – today the righteous rejoice, saying:  Glory to God in the highest.  Alleluia! 

Some images below show this antiphon’s history – the oldest written version found in the Hartker manuscript, Saint Gallen, Switzerland, 10th century.  It was surely being sung even before that but passed on orally. The next version is from a 16th century manuscript, thought to be from a Latin American country, a piece likely brought over to the Americas with early missionaries. Finally we have the most current version, type-set as we’d see it today.  It’s incredible to imagine all those over the centuries and across the globe joining in this prayer at Christmas!  Enjoy the sound link below to hear the antiphon.

 

Rejoice! (in peace….)

by Cantor

Let me start by saying that when I see the word “rejoice,” or the Latin “Gaudete,” I do not expect the opening of this Introit chant that opens the third week of Advent. My natural inclination to expect something more instantly declamatory and “trumpeting” such as the opening of last week’s introit, “Populus Sion.” This is one of the reasons I love the chant—it shines with so many different colors of the scriptures.

Upon further study of the text, an attitude of quiet and peace is really quite perfect because this text is telling us to rejoice in the Lord, letting our modesty be seen before all men. Indeed, it carries on even further to tell us to worry for nothing—to make all of our petitions to the Lord. Truly, one can almost see the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the heart of this chant.

In fact, I do not  believe a more perfect example of chant reflecting the text exists in the repertoire. Much of the chant is in the lower to middle range of the mode, with multiple indications in the ancient Einsedeln notation for lingerings over the entire first phrase. Most amazing to me is where this chant actually does rise to the top of the range—“Nihil soliciti sitis”—“Be anxious for nothing!” Finally, the chant returns gently to the lower part of the mode, highlighting the text “…but in all things, bring your petitions before God.”  What better message leading to the final week of Advent.

Populus Sion

by a Cantor

As we enter Advent, it seems as though the scriptures are calling us to wake up, look up and prepare! No doubt, the lessons are pointing to the coming of Christ, growing with intensity in each passing week. One only need take the briefest of looks at the Introit for Week 2 of Advent to instantly see the chant reflect this same message!

The opening melody quickly leaps up a fourth and then another step underscoring this “theme of announcement” that the Lord is coming to save His people. However, what I find most moving and exciting is that it keeps right on rising as the text speaks of “hearing the Lord’s glorious voice!” Indeed, the chant sails up in the “stratosphere” for a relatively long time, before coming to rest on the phrase “in the joy of your hearts.”

Sometimes, when looking through these gems in the chant repertoire, I am amazed at the directness and simplicity of the chant and its ability to highlight a central message of the given scripture. But then, I remembered Dom Cardine’s famous statement: “The tones of the chant are drawn directly from the tones of the words.” I don’t believe there is better example than this message which we will hear next Sunday!

Translation:

People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations: and the Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart.

The Alleluia for the Feast of Christ the King

by Sister Fidelis

This past Sunday was the celebration of Christ the King, and for this next week we will be singing the Alleluia from Trinity Sunday. It is interesting to look at this piece as we come up to Advent. The text is a paraphrase taken from the three young men in the fiery furnace, and is full of praise: Blessed art thou, Lord God of our fathers, and to be praised for ever. 

Looking at the music we see a melody rippling with joy. There are numerous repetitions of pitch and repeated 2- and 3-note patterns that give this bubbly feeling. Then at the start of each phrase we see a triumphant leap up – a fourth or fifth – sounding like a trumpet call. This is a little musical motive that we often see at special feasts through the year – Christmas, Palm Sunday, Pentecost. The Alleluia is fairly short but full of exuberance, and it gives us a vehicle through which to lift up our eyes and praise.

Approaching Advent

by Sister Fidelis

As we approach Advent, days becoming shorter and the church year coming to an end, I’ve been looking ahead to the rich repertoire of pieces we have for this season. Mass XVIII, assigned to the Advent Season, is one of the “simpler” but well known and beloved Masses. It is interestingly also used in Lent and has been borrowed or expounded upon by many composers over the ages—Palestrina, Fauré, Duruflé, to name a few.

It is interesting that although the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, were not composed together—not even within the same century—they have many similar qualities. For one, the narrow range is notable: the Kyrie covers the distance of a seventh, the Sanctus a fifth, and the Agnus Dei a mere third! Looking through the entire repertoire of ordinary Masses we don’t find any other Mass with such a narrow range. We also see in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei almost entirely syllabic writing, which adds to the feeling of humble simplicity. Then we find a motive, a repeated pitch followed by a whole step,  which appears both in the “eleison” of the Kyrie throughout, and twice at the start of the Sanctus. The reverse of that same motive is the intonation of the Agnus Dei—two repeated pitches followed by a whole step upwards! There is something comforting and calm about the way in which this motive weaves in and out and in the way the overall compositions seem to rise and fall. What is it about this music that lends itself so well to the season of Advent?  As we take some time this season to prepare for the coming of Christ we can let these pieces lead us and point our hearts towards the simple manger of Bethlehem.

Nativity, 1622, Gerard van Honthorst

So be it, I say to you!

A blog from the archives! We haven’t heard the Mass propers for several weeks now, but this just makes us all the more eager for the chants of Advent that we’ll be singing before we know it.

By Cantor

We often hear the phrase “chant is so peaceful.” Certainly, many chants do have an inherent sense of peace about them. But not all of them — sometimes the chant demands our attention, insisting that we stand up and listen!

Last week, the communion antiphon at the Church of the Transfiguration began with the text “Amen, dico vobis.” Translated, that means “So be it, I say to you.” These words of Jesus are not set to a gentle recitation but rather burst forth on a trumpet-like motive that leaves no room for doubt that we need to listen to Jesus’ words that follow.

All week, I found myself “hearing” that trumpet motive from other times of the church year. In fact that same sound occurs in the communion for Pentecost — “Factus est repente de caelo sonus” (A mighty sound came rushing out of Heaven); the introit for Christmas Day mass — “Puer natus est” (A boy is born unto us); the procession for Palm Sunday — “Hosanna, Filio David” (Hosanna to the Son of David), to name a few. In moments, I had been taken through much of the church year, reminded by a simple musical motive of the Kingship of Christ.

holycross

The Turn

by Sister Spero

I’ve heard that the Psalms reflect all the emotions of the human heart. I saw an example of this at Lauds a few weeks ago. We chanted Psalm 57 — “I am in the midst of lions . . . men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” Then “they spread a net for my feet — I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path.” This all sounds pretty grim.

But immediately it turns: “They have fallen into it [the pit] themselves.” “I will sing and make music! Awake my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! [I will be so loud and excited that] I will awaken the dawn.” All this happens in five verses — deep sorrow turns into deep joy.

No wonder the Psalms are so beloved, and are prayed and chanted daily by so many. They remind us that God knows what we’re going through, and knows how to turn it around.  

Salve Regina

by Sister Fidelis

As we approach Advent my mind turns to the many Marian chants that come with this time of year. Salve Regina, a very beautiful and well-known piece is one of four Marian Antiphons sung at Compline. It is traditionally assigned to be sung from the Saturday before Trinity Sunday until the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent. I have memories of chanting or hearing this sung in a number of different monasteries and churches. In Italy it seems that everyone knows the Salve Regina by heart!  

A mode V antiphon, the melody of this piece has a simple feel – for the most part one note per syllable. At the same time it has long phrases that spin up and downwards and then finally seem to climax with the final three statements: O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Here below is a link to the antiphon sung by Gloriæ Dei Cantores Schola on the CD Chants of Mary, and a translation of the text written in 1000 AD.

Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy,

our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve;

to you we send up our sighs,

mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn, then, most gracious advocate,

your eyes of mercy toward us;

and after this, our exile,

show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

All Saints Day

by Sister Fidelis

November 1 is the Solemn Feast of All Saints – a holy day whose tradition dates back to the 4th century AD. In the earliest centuries it was celebrated during the Easter season and came originally from liturgies held in honor of the martyrs in those times. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory set the date as November 1 which in the Western church has continued up to today. In a number of countries it is still a national holiday and very much a part of life, with special services and family traditions.

There are many pieces of Gregorian chant connected with this Feast – Litanies, Masses, Propers, and Antiphons – too numerous to mention them all!  One lovely and well-known Antiphon that has a connection with this day is “In Paradisum” a chant traditionally sung at funerals as part of the Mass for the Dead. It is a very simple piece, Mode VII, composed as a mainly syllabic melody with a clivis or pes interspersed at points.  The lack of ornamentation draws our focus right to the text:  “May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.” The melody lofts upwards from the very start and hovers in the higher range giving a heavenly sense. There is a sweetness and feeling of reassurance to the prayer being offered up for those who have now become Saints. Below is a link to this chant sung by Gloriae Dei Cantores schola members.

We wish you a happy All Saints Day!