By Sr. Fidelis
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The Advent/Christmas Season came to a close yesterday with the celebration of the Solemn Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast marks the beginning of his public ministry.
One of the loveliest Responsories for the octave of Epiphany brings us right to the scene of the Baptism of Jesus. The text is as follows: “In the form of a dove the holy Spirit was seen; the Father’s voice was heard: ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ V. The heavens opened over him and the voice of the Father thundered.”
The Responsory follows a particular pattern: the first section of the piece is chanted, after which a verse is sung, usually by a single voice. Then all begin at a point halfway through the first section, and chant to the end.
This Mode 2 Responsory has an almost plaintive quality to it. You’ll notice the FA clef, so often used with Mode 2 chants. The high point of the chant comes on the text paterna vox — the voice of the Father. If you look closely at the chant below while listening to the recording, you’ll notice that in some instances, the notes differ from what is written in square notation. This particular piece was chanted and recorded according to the ancient neumes, taken from the Hartker Antiphoner — a manuscript from around the early 11th century! Listen to it a second time, while looking at the ancient neumes written above the square notation, and you’ll “see” what you are hearing! It is fascinating to note the slight variation in the melody and how it has changed over the centuries.