Deller Consort, Dir. Alfred Deller
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In all ancient religions, the dead have been honoured in prayer and song, so that their life in the hereafter might be a rest and a refreshment in silence and eternal peace.
We continually find in the varied repertoire of the Latin West this faith in the afterlife and at the same time an imploring to the Supreme fudge that he should grant this rest and peace to the soul of the dead in spite of the shortcomings of his earthly life.
The chants of the ancient Hispanic Liturgy are for the most part composed in the Dorian mode, which, among the ancient modes has always best expressed the mood of solemnity and grief We commence with a Requiem, in this case in the Phrygian mode, followed by funeral anthems with an ancient psalmody in which the mediant does not occur. Here are pieces which have been preserved despite official suppression of Mozarabic chants in Spain by an edict of Alexander II (d. 1073). It is a fact that the chants and prayers for the dead, especially those of Holy Week which are in part chants for Sepultura Christi, are among the pieces to which the faithful were most attached. The anthems are followed by litanies for the dead, divided between a soloist and the choir. Here again we are dealing with extremely ancient compositions peculiar to Spain but later passing into southern France to Albi and Moissac where they were transcribed and set to music, thanks to which they have survived.
The Gregorian chants have been taken from the Office for the Dead, less familiar than the Mass for the Dead. In the Middle Ages it was sung every day except Sunday which would explain its presence in the Books of Hours intended for use by the faithful.
The last response is that of the Absolution. It was composed in the west of France in the 10th or 11th century and sung after a response peculiar to the Abbey of Saint-Denis-en-France as ordered by Abbot Adam (1099-1122), the predecessor of Suger, for the repose of the soul of King Dagobert (d. 639), founder of the Abbey, on 19th January of every year.
The second part comprises a group of funeral elegies - Planctus - chosen from a form which is textually rich though melodically rather thin. Those elegies have been selected in which the musical notation for the text has survived in early manuscripts. The most ancient of the genre is incontestably that which Paulinus, Bishop of Aquila, issued on the occasion of the tragic death in 799 of Eric, Duke of Friuli, in north-eastern Italy. But noblesse oblige, and the selection commences with the elegy composed after the death of Charlemagne (28th January 814) by Colomban, Abbot of St. frond. Note the cycle of four different melodies recurring in the same order with each series of four-strophe verses. The specialist will undoubtedly notice that our version differs from that which the Lille musicologist Edmond de Coussemaker published in 1864. This difference is explained by the fact that the only document in which this melody is to be found -a manuscript of St. Martial dating from the 10th century - does not include a key indication and can therefore be transcribed in any mode: we have chose the Dorian - the elegiac mode par excellence.
The natural son of Charlemagne, Hugo, Abbot of St. Bertin, died on 14th June 844 at Charroux in the Vienne, and he too had the right to his elegy, which was written anonymously - no doubt by a monk at the Abbey. The melody is preserved in the same manuscript of St. Martial which contains the preceding Planctus.
After (he assassination of Guillaume Longue Epee, Duke of Normandy, by the soldiers of the Count of Flanders, Arnoul II, in 942, an elegy was composed which comes to us in the form of a single manuscript which unfortunately lacks musical notation. On the other hand both text and melody of the elegy for the most celebrated of Norman Dukes, William the Conqueror, who was crowned King of England in 1066 and who died on 9th September 1087, have been preserved thanks to a manuscript bearing alphabetic notation. This piece, of a noble and restrained solemnity, which was sung at Westminster at Christmas 1966, in celebration of the ninth centenary of the Coronation, admirably concludes this set of funeral "frescoes" designed to commemorate some of the greatest characters in the history of France.
Mass For The Dead
The custom of associating the remembrance of the faithful dead and giving prayers for the repose of their souls with the celebration of the Eucharist is attested to by numerous witnesses reaching back into the first centuries of Christianity. This usage eventually gave rise to the Mass for the Dead, or Requiem Mass (from the first word of the Introit), although its final elaboration only emerged towards the end of the Middle Ages. A relatively abundant repertoire of primitive chants existed, offering a choice from among several specimens of each part of the Mass. Out of this early repertoire, with various modifications, suppressions, and additions arose the series of pieces we know today, which, in spite of a certain heterogeneity of style, due to the varied origins of each part, forms an ensemble of splendid verve, incomparably expressive of the two opposing sentiments inspired in the faithful by the theme of death: anguish and the fear of judgment on one hand, and hope of salvation and divine mercy on the other.
These two emotions are expressed in musical terms of an intensity to which it is not possible to remain unresponsive. There is a particularly inspired use of the "ethos" of the early modes - the two "major" modes, the plagal Hypolydian and Hypomixolydian (C - C with a final F and D - D with a final G) filled with light and peace, and the "minor" Dorian and Hypodorian (D - D and A - A with a final D), dark and profound in mood. The two "major" modes dominate and invest the Mass with an appeasing tonality constantly evoking the words "Requiem aeternam" which occur several times in the different pieces, almost in the manner of a leitmotiv.
The Introit and the Kyrie, both in the Hypolydian mode, are closely linked by their mood and expression. They avoid the lower regions of the mode, which enhances the impression of peacefulness and the confidence produced by a melodic line of great purity and unity and with inflections of infinite sweetness.
The Gradual and the Tract as a rule adopt material common to similar pieces in the same mode: the Hypodorian (transposed to A) for the Gradual and the Hypomixolydian for the Tract. The simplicity of the latter in comparison with other Tracts in the same mode and the neatness of its psalmodic structure with the alternations of sung and recited passages are notable. Even more remarkable is the richly elaborated vocalise of the Gradual which bears a striking resemblance to the development of the Gradual in the Easter Mass: a musical analogy which forms a fine subject of meditation !
All the gravity inherent in the Dorian mode invests the celebrated Sequence "Dies Irae" and the Offertory "Absolve", both evoking the punishments of Hell, and the first developing the theme with singular dramatic passion. The "Dies Irae " is the most recent addition to the Mass. It is attributed to Thomas of Celano, a 13th century monk and disciple of St. Francis of Assisi.
The Sanctus with its archaic mode and structure, on the other hand, goes back to a very early period. It is followed by an Agnus and a Communion, both in the Hypomixolydian mode. The serene, luminous climate of the mode here approaches that of the Introit and the Kyrie, but is invested with a more ecstatic, mystical tone by the transcendental clarity of the G-A-C fourth, which is the basis of the mode. Our modern major key, based on the third, is, by comparison, far more "earthy".
By contrast with the former two sections, the Dorian mode returns in the Response "Libera me", sung during the Absolution, and with it the atmosphere of gravity of the "Dies Irae" and the Offertory. After this magnificent section, developed along broad lines, although shortened by several verses of the original version, hope returns with the Antiphon "In paradisum" (in the Hypomixolydian mode). With this chant the procession moves to the cemetery and it is difficult to conceive of a chant more comforting than this melody of a truly celestial calm, with a melodic line even more rapturous than that of the Agnus and the Communion, to which it is the spiritual termination.
The Wedding Of Cana
The theatre was born in the forecourts of the church, while the first liturgical dramas, which preceded the theatre proper, took place inside the church itself These were in the form of a succession of readings and sung pieces within the liturgy, later enriched by special monodic or polyphonic compositions based on recitations from the Scriptures and often rendered into verse. Certain sections of the liturgy supply the theme for a drama in miniature; in the choral recitation the underlying dramatic scheme is hardly noticeable: in the Middle-Ages as in the present performance, the distribution of the piece between two reciters and the full choir animated the interpretation, as is shown by indications found in ancient song-books.
The recording opens with a vibrant hymn for the festival of All Saints dating back to the end of the Carolingian period, a vivid reminder of the troubled times when the Normans besieged Paris from November 885 to October 886. The story of the miracle at the Wedding of Cana, where Christ changed water to wine, is dispatched in three very brief episodes: the narration of the miracle, a dialogue, and a prodigious concluding episode. The anthem Montes Gelboe, from the 11th century, is a compressed elegy, suffused with a sensibility at once highly expressive and discreet An Ambrosian hymn for the confession with its lively melody introduces an element of variety into the prose chants. The Old Testament served often as inspiration to the composers of dramas: in Precatus est, the composer presents Moses in prayer, imploring forgiveness for an erring people in three startlingly contrasted sections: the descriptive, majestic exordium, the vehement prayer, the brief, incisive and serene conclusion. The Ambrosian hymn Veni Redemptor was used in the Christmas service in Provence in the 6th century and later inspired Bach in his Nunkomm, der Heiden Heiland. The anthem Magnum nomen, a curious synthesis of the carol and a trope in free rhythm, could be considered as an ancestor of the French Noel.
If Gregorian chant succeeds admirably in adapting itself to a variety of textual expressiveness, it also conveys by freeing itself from actual words "the ineffable praise which liberates itself from the Word" (St Augustine). The wordless jubilus is vocalised on "a", and many great offerings commence with the word Jubilate. After two of these offertories, briefly separated by a hymn, comes a Gallican hymn, an example of an alleluia anthem with two different tones; certain churches in Normandy had preserved as part of the Easter service, and ancient two-tone psalmody, probably inherited from the old Gallican liturgy, and adapted here to Psalm 47, a psalm formerly known as the Ascension Psalm: "God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet". A metrical hymn for Matins at Pentecost concludes this collection of pieces which, with the highly limited expressive means of the time, are remarkably successful in conveying the joyfulness and happiness which animate so many early liturgical chants.
Chants To The Virgin
Devotion to the Virgin - is there a subject that has been of greater or more powerful inspiration to Western composers of sacred music, from Machault to Poulenc or from Palestnna to Penderecki ? Praise, tenderness, supplication, compassion are the sentiments which foster and imbue an adoration expressed with equal fervour regardless of the differences of language or style.
The same abundance and variety are found in the early, virtually always anonymous repertoire of monodic, i.e. purely melodic, composition. Marial monody encompasses a relatively late part of Gregorian chant (as well as an extremely rich blossoming of the Post- Gregorian, first in Latin and then in the vernacular). We have selected some of the finest and most representative examples. Most of them are contained in the Saint Gall Antiphonal by the Benedictine Hartker (10th century), which permits us to establish the rhythmic nuances not indicated in the editions of Solesmes (Processionale Monasticum, 1873, Variae Preces, 1888, Liber Responsorialis, 1895, with several melodic corrections). The order we have adopted corresponds to the chronological succession of events rather than to the liturgical cycle, thereby giving us a kind of chanted biography of the Virgin, like that of Rilke's Marienleben set to music by Hindemith...
Nativity Of The Virgin
The programme opens with the beautiful Respond Solem justitiae, attributed to King Robert the Pious but actually from the School of Chartres around 1000. The majestic intonation is a celebration of Christ after which the chant lingers emotionally on the words Stella Maria maris (Mary, Star of the sea), and then expands in a broad vocalization on process it (has given birth).
The four verses of the Hymn O Gloriosa are based on a harmonious and balanced melodic curve, with the two symmetrical sections ending in an identical formula (ABCB' scheme). The words are a song of praise to the Virgin without reference to any specific event.
The two Responds Suscipe verbum and Gaude Maria explicitly commemorate the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1, 26-38). The two pieces are not in the same mode, however; first the Hypophrygian mode underlines the mystery, gravity and significance of the appearance (note the brief and expressive ascent to a high Con the word tibi, thy). Mary is then exhorted to rejoice (gaude) in her role as redeemer in the luminous Hypolydian mode.
The Offertory Ave Maria is taken from the Proper of the Mass for the fourth Sunday of Advent. The text combines the "angelic salutation" with that of St. Elizabeth (Luke 1, 28 and42). This is the original nucleus of the famous prayer to which the non-scriptural invocation (Sancta Maria...) and the mediant (Dominus tecum), of which several versions exist in manuscript, were later additions. The remarkable fluency of the melody with its delicate arabesques reflects the image of Mary "full of grace", bathed in the totally spiritual light of the Hypomixolydian mode.
The Visitation, already suggested in the Ave Maria, is connected with the Magnificat, Mary's response to the greeting of St. Elizabeth (Luke 1, 46-55). Like the Benedictus, this chant traditionally takes the form of an ornate psalmody, all the verses being sung in the same tone. We have chosen the Hypomixolydian and placed it, according to the rule, within the framework of an antiphon in the same mode, nativity of christ .
From among the numerous compositions glorifying the miracle of the Virgin Birth, we have chosen to begin with a group of three Antiphons with a melodic line of subtle perfection. The first evokes the Precursor, John the Baptist, the second the image of the Tree of Jesse (Isaiah 11,1), and the third that of the Burning Bush (Exodus 3,2) which the Oriental Fathers and, later, those of the West, regarded as a symbol of the Immaculate Conception.
These Antiphons are followed by two Responds, the first of which, Confirmatum est is, like Solem justitiae, in the Dorian mode. It is also, though less lyrical, similar in mood. The melodic line is striking in its profusion of ornamental neumes whose function is mainly decorative, since the words hardly have any specific expressive intention. On the other hand, the Respond Congratulamini (rejoice in me) in the Mixolydian mode, is radiant with joy, but it is a joy tempered by the sweetness of the final syllables, prolonged by a melisma, and a certain solemnity on the words genui Deum (I am the Mother of God).
Purification And Presentation In The Temple
After a song of praise to Mary herself, the Antiphon Adorna thalamum recalls the episode of the aged Simeon (Luke 2, 25-35). The intonation F-A-C seems to announce the Lydian mode, but the melody establishes itself around the note of C, finally forgetting its normal final tonic and unexpectedly ending on the same C, the only structural pivot of this curious piece.
Passion Of Christ
Composed in the 13th century by the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi, the poem Stabat Mater, after having been the subject of numerous polyphonic masterpieces, had to wait for modern times to be given one, indeed, two liturgical settings; The more interesting of the two develops in the coupled stanza form of the sequence (AA BB CC, etc.). It was written by Dom Fonteine, Precentor at Solesmes in the mid-nineteenth century.