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At the heart of the celebration of the liturgical year, the Easter of Christ and of the Church, Good Friday occupies a central position. Before proclaiming the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the Church identifies herself in her own destiny of death, involving herself totally in the experience of the Cross.
The liturgy of Good Friday is unlike that of other days. It has a special and exceptional dimension: Good Friday opens a window on the principal aspect of the Easter mystery. This is to be understood by the people of God through a total and personal participation in every way, from reason to imagination, from deep feeling to bodily gesture. This didactic preoccupation of the Church is shown in the many and various ritual elements that mark the action of the liturgy.
From the pre-Carolingian period, the afternoon celebration of Good Friday contained various elements that we find fundamentally unchanged still in the modern liturgy, the Liturgy of the Word, that ends with the solemn chant of the universal prayer, the Adoration of the Cross, the Communion.
The first three tracks of the present recording belong to the Liturgy of the Word. The tract Domine, audivi, illustrates the ancient practice of direct psalmody, consisting of the singing of psalm verses without the addition of other elements, such as antiphons. The mode of re (Mode I) reveals the derivation of this melody as from a Frankish source, when the melody is elaborated and enriched by the ornamentation proper to the tract.
The second chant is the responsorium graduale Christus factus est, which comes between the scriptural texts. Notwithstanding the melodic and melismatic development (notably the long vocalisation that underlines the central words of the verse, exaltavit illum, raised Him up), this chant betrays its origin as a psalm formula. Extreme care has been taken to suit the music to the text, something evident in all the nuances, with strong contrasts of expression (in addition to that already mentioned, one may draw attention to the treatment of the words mortem autem crucis, the death of the Cross).
The Passion constitutes the climax of the Liturgy of the Word. The ancient proclamation follows the customary cantilation, the singing of the Scriptures with fixed inflexions of the voice to correspond with the punctuation of the text. The narrative is elaborated to provide a dramatic element. The post-Carolingian tradition has called for the participation of at least three singers, to whom are given the words of the Evangelist, of Christ and of others, individuals and the crowd. The tradition has continued of allotting the part of the Evangelist to a tenor, singing in free rhythm, while the voice of Christ, deeper in register, has an air of solemn serenity. The other characters are sung at a higher pitch, as evidenced always by the manuscript sources that make use of various letters for the voices, such as h (humiliter - humbly) and t (tenere - tenderly) for Christ, c (celeriter - quickly) for the Evangelist, s (sursum - upwards) for other individuals.
The Adoration of the Cross, that opens with the antiphon Ecce lignum crucis, sung three times in succession, each time at a higher level, is accompanied by various chants, among which there stand out the Improperia that begin with the words of the Prophet Micah, Popule meus. The Improperia demonstrate various special features, with a rounded structure, a series of musical phrases that appear between the verses, the reproaches of Christ to the people of Israel, who have not recognised their Messiah and Saviour.
Of particular interest is the last track of the present recording, the hymn Crux fidelis. The text is the work of Venantius Fortunatus, born in 535 at Treviso. Unlike the hymns of the Divine Office, this processional chant has its opening words Crux fidelis...flore, germine, or its closing words Dulce lignum, dulces clavos, dulce pondus sustinet, repeated after each strophe of the hymn, a structure analogous to that of the Easter Salve festa dies by Venantius Fortunatus. This manner of performance reflects preoccupation with the participation of all those present in the chant: while it would be impossible to remember the whole hymn, it was possible to memorise a single strophe repeated several times as a refrain.