Thursday, November 02, 2017

An All Saints' Day Matins Responsory: Audivi vocem de caelo ("I heard a voice coming from heaven")

While searching for something recently (I don't remember what!), I came across this beautiful Taverner composition. CPDL describes it as the "8th responsory at Matins on All Saints. Source of text is Jeremiah 40:10 and Matthew 25:6."

It's a beautiful piece of alternatim:  composed melody alternating with plainchant.




Here's the full text; the translation is via CPDL at the link above.
Audivi vocem de caelo venientem: venite omnes virgines sapientissime;
oleum recondite in vasis vestris dum sponsus advenerit.
Media nocte clamor factus est: ecce sponsus venit.
I heard a voice coming from heaven: come all wisest virgins;
fill your vessels with oil, for the bridegroom is coming.
In the middle of the night there was a cry: behold the bridegroom comes.


Whenever I come across a new work sourced from the Breviary, I check Divinum Officium to see where the original chant came from, and learn more about its context - and also sometimes to get a translation.

This time, the responsory wasn't there - at least, not in this form.  The "Trident 1570" version of the Breviary at Divinum Officium has this for the 8th Responsory:
R. Media nocte clamor factus est:
* Ecce sponsus venit, exíte obviam ei.
V. Prudéntes vírgines, aptate vestras lámpades.
R. Ecce sponsus venit, exíte obviam ei.
V. Glória Patri, et Fílio, * et Spirítui Sancto.
R. Ecce sponsus venit, exíte óbviam ei. 
Translated there as:
R. At midnight there was a cry made:
* Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.
V. Trim your lamps, O ye wise virgins.
R. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost.
R. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.

None of the other versions of the Breviary (Pre-Trident Monastic, Trident 1910, etc.) had the Audivi vocem incipit, either.  

But, several other composers - Tallis, Duarte Lobo, Shepherd - had also set the Audivi vocem version of the responsory, so I knew it existed somewhere at that time.   Checking the Sarum Breviary at McMaster.ca (PDF) solved the problem; there it was, as the 8th Responsory at Matins of All Saints.

Here's the score from that PDF; you can follow along with the chant sections of the Taverner piece and see how it sounded.



Here is Thomas Tallis' setting, sung by the wonderful New York Polyphony:




Not quite sure about Jeremiah as a source, though!  That's this:
As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah, to serve the Chaldeans, which will come unto us: but ye, gather ye wine, and summer fruits, and oil, and put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that ye have taken.
Seems a bit tenuous, to me.  But, I will look further at this; I'm interested in its Advent-ish them anyway, and why that shows up here.  Also quite interesting is that so many composers set this rather obscure - although very beautiful - responsory; would like to find out more about that, too.

2 comments:

Ian Black said...

Something else -

I thought I might point out that there is another fascinating issue lurking in there.

You wrote: But, several other composers - Tallis, Duarte Lobos, Shepherd - had also set the Audivi vocem version of the responsory, so I knew it existed somewhere at that time. Checking the Sarum Breviary at McMaster.ca (PDF) solved the problem; there it was, as the 8th Responsory at Matins of All Saints.
Tallis and Shepherd are understandable - Sarum was "their" usage. But Duarte Lobo? Why would a conservative composer in Lisbon be using the Sarum form?

The answer (in part at least) seems to be that the royal chapel in Lisbon, and possibly the cathedral to a degree, did follow the Sarum usage of the liturgy in general - not just in this. Though it seems to be a matter that is somewhat opaque and not fully agreed on.

Something I learned from following up your post! So many thanks.

bls said...

That is very interesting, Ian! Thanks so much for looking into this and commenting about it; I wonder why the Portugual connection existed, if it did? Would be very interesting to know.

I was also wondering if it was perhaps a composer competition! That is, if this piece became widely known after Taverner (or whoever wrote it first) composed it, and others tried their hands at it, too, trying to exceed it.

Apparently this text is also used at Feasts of Virgins; I have to look further into that, too.

Thanks again for a great comment!

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