Friday, April 10, 2020

Gregorian Chant repertoire recorded at monstery; chants to be posted online

From The Guardian, April 9, 2020:
Benedictine nuns release Gregorian chants to help ease coronavirus isolation

A monastery of Benedictine nuns living in seclusion in southern France has opened its doors to allow recordings of its Gregorian chants to be made available to the outside world.

In what is believed to be the largest recording project ever conducted, the US musician John Anderson followed the 45-strong order for three years. He installed microphones in the abbey church of Notre-Dame de Fidélité de Jouques near Aix-en-Provence in southern France and captured the nuns singing their eight daily “offices”. The result is thousands of chants, the entire Gregorian repertoire, about 7,000 hours long.

The Gregorian chant originated in the 8th century and spread throughout Europe. It accords to St Benedict’s “rule”, in which the day is divided into balanced divisions of manual and intellectual work, prayer and rest, starting at 5am with the chanting of matins, and concluding with compline at 8pm, followed by the “great silence” of night.

You can access the Holy Week chants at the link in this paragraph: 
They have ... allowed the release of a week’s worth of their chants for the six days Christians refer to as holy week, preceding Easter Sunday, the highlight of the religious calendar, when the chants have a particular importance. The rest is to go live next month.

Quite a great thing.  More at the link above.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Gradual for the Baptism of Our Lord: Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel ("Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel")

The singers here are the Benedictine Monks of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.

This chant was originally appointed for "The Sunday Within the Octave of the Epiphany."   It's gorgeously melismatic and extravagant, with a beautiful text:
Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, qui facit mirabilia magna solus a saeculo.
V. Suscipiant montes pacem populo tuo: et colles justitiam. Alleluia, alleluia.

V. Jubilate Deo omnis terra: servite Domino in laetitia. Alleluia.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone doth wonderful things.
V. Let the mountains receive peace for thy people: and the hills justice. Alleluia, alleluia.—
V. Sing joyfully to God all the earth: serve the Lord with gladness. Alleluia.

The first part of the chant comes from Psalm (71)/72, verse 18:
Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.
The verse after that first section is taken from Psalm (71/)72:3:
The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
The Alleluia (Verse 2 as given above) is the famous incipit from Psalm (99/)100, along with more of Verse 1 and some of Verse 2:
 O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands:  serve the Lord with gladness.

Here's the chant score:

It's a bit complicated to explain the history of Epiphany and Baptism of Our Lord in a couple of sentences, so I'll just cite the following passages, which come from the Wikipedia entry for Baptism of the Lord, and its pre- and post-Vatican II history:
The Baptism of the Lord is observed as a distinct feast in the Roman rite, although it was originally one of three Gospel events marked by the feast of the Epiphany. Long after the visit of the Magi had in the West overshadowed the other elements commemorated in the Epiphany, Pope Pius XII instituted in 1955 a separate liturgical commemoration of the Baptism.

The Tridentine Calendar had no feast of the Baptism of the Lord for almost four centuries. Then the feast was instituted, under the denomination "Commemoration of the Baptism of our Lord", for celebration on 13 January as a major double, using for the Office and the Mass those previously said on the Octave of the Epiphany, which Pius XII abolished; but if the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord occurred on Sunday, the Office and Mass were to be those of the Feast of the Holy Family without any commemoration.[1]
In his revision of the calendar five years later, Pope John XXIII kept on 13 January the "Commemoration of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ", with the rank of a second-class feast.

A mere 14 years after the institution of the feast, Pope Paul VI set its date as the first Sunday after January 6 (as early as January 9 or as late as January 13) or, if in a particular country the Epiphany is celebrated on January 7 or 8, on the following Monday.[2]

To give the flavor of what "The Sunday Within the Octave of the Epiphany" was like a hundred and fifty years ago, I'll quote from Dom Prosper Guéranger's Christmas volume on the Liturgical Year.  Guéranger was Abbot of Solesmes Abbey, and he wrote extensively on the Liturgical Year (among other things); this volume was first published in 1867.

The Introit is this mystical one, taken perhaps partly from Isaiah 6:1 and perhaps partly from Revelation and Daniel 7 (see below for citations); the Psalm verse from the Jubilate Deo: (Psalm (99/)100):
In excelso throno vidi sedere virum, quem adorat multitudo Angelorum psallentes in unum : ecce cujus imperii nomen est in aeternum. Ps. Jubilate Deo omnis terra : servite Domino in laetitia.

I saw a man seated on a high throne, whom a multitude of Angels adored, singing all together : Behold him, whose name and empire are to last for ever. Ps. Sing joyfully to God, all the earth : serve ye the Lord with gladness.

(Isaiah 6:1 is this:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Revelation 4:2:
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
Revelation 5:11:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
And these verses from Daniel 7 could very well be source inspirations, too:
9 “As I looked,
thrones were placed,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
    and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
    its wheels were burning fire.

13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.)

Prior to the singing of the gradual, the priest prays a collect for the day, and then a collect for the commemoration of the Epiphany:
According to thy divine mercy, O Lord, receive the vows of thy people, who pour forth their prayers to thee : that they may know what their duty requireth of them, and be able to comply with what they know. Through etc.

O God, who by the direction of a star, didst this day manifest thy only Son to the Gentiles ; mercifully grant, that we, who now know thee by faith, may come at length to see the glory of thy Majesty. Through the same, etc.
Then the Epistle is read; it comes from Romans 12, vv 1-5:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 
Guéranger then has this to say about the gradual; he introduces it here by first commenting on the Epistle above:
The Apostle invites us to make our offering to the  new-born King, after the example of the Magi ; but,  the offering which this Lord of all things asks of us,  is not anything material or lifeless. He that is Life,  gives his whole self to us ; let us, in return, present  him our hearts, that is, a living sacrifice, holy,  pleasing unto God ; whose service may be reasonable, that is, whose obedience to the divine will may  be accompanied by a formal intention of offering  itself to its Creator. Here again, let us imitate the  Magi, who went back another way into their own  country — let us not adopt the ideas of this world,  for the world is the covert enemy of our beloved  King. Let us reform our worldly prudence according to the divine wisdom of Him, who may well be  our guide, seeing he is the Eternal Wisdom of the  Father. Let us understand, that no man can be  wise without Faith, which reveals to us that we must  all be united by love, so as to form one body in  Christ, partaking of his life, his wisdom, his light, and his kingly character.

In the chant which follows the Epistle, the Church returns to her praise of the ineffable wonders of a God with us : Justice and righteousness have come down from heaven, to take up their abode on our mountains and hills.

And then, immediately following this gradual came the reading about the event in the Temple, from Jesus' childhood.  It's taken from Luke Chapter 2, vv 42-52:
And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Guéranger comments:
Thus, O Jesus! didst thou come down from  heaven to teach us. The tender age of Childhood,  which thou didst take upon thyself, is no hindrance  to the ardour of thy desire that we should know the  one only God, who made all things, and thee, his Son,  whom he sent to us. When laid in the Crib, thou  didst instruct the Shepherds by a mere look ; when  swathed in thy humble swaddling-clothes, and subjected to the voluntary silence thou hadst imposed  on thyself, thou didst reveal to the Magi the light they  sought in following the Star. When twelve years  old, thou explainest to the Doctors of Israel the  Scriptures which bear testimony to thee. Thou  gradually dispellest the shadows of the Law by thy  presence and thy words. In order to fulfil the commands of thy heavenly Father, thou dost not hesitate  to occasion sorrow to the heart of thy Mother, by  thus going in quest of souls that need enlightening.  Thy love of man will pierce that tender Heart of  Mary with a still sharper sword, when she shall  behold thee hanging on the Cross, and expiring in  the midst of crudest pain. Blessed be thou, sweet  Jesus, in these first Mysteries of thine Infancy,  wherein thou already showest thyself devoted to us,  and leaving the company of thy Blessed Mother  for that of sinful men, who will one day conspire  thy death.   During the Offertory, the Church resumes her  canticles of ioy; the presence of the Divine Infant fills her with joy.

The Offertory which follows is the first few verses of Psalm (99/)100 again, the beginning of the Jubilate Deo:
Sing joyfully to the Lord, all the earth : serve ye the Lord with gladness : present yourselves to him with transports of joy : for the Lord is God.
And then the Communion song refers back to the Gospel:

Fili quid fecisti nobis sic?  Ego et pater tuus dolentes quaerebamus te.  Quid est quod me quaerebatis?  Nesciebatis, quia in his, quae patris mei sunt oportet me esse?

Son, why hast thou done so with us?  I and thy father have sought thee with sorrow, — And why did you seek me?  Did you not know that I must be about the concerns of my Father?
So there was a lot going on in those days, on this Sunday!  I actually prefer it this way, personally; I love it when there are multiple themes on a single feast day.  These tend to draw together disparate Scriptural themes in very interesting and enlightening ways.  And so interesting that the Jubilate Deo plays so prominent a role on this Sunday; it's found in three of the five propers on the day.

I wish I knew more about this chant, though.  I looked at Dom Dominic Johner's commentary on the chants, published in 1934, but it is not there; he wrote on the "Feast of the Holy Family" (which has an entirely different set of proper chants), but not on this "Sunday Within the Octave of Epiphany." 

The Feast of the Holy Family is a recent addition to the calendar as well.  Here's that entry from Wkipedia:
The Feast of the Holy Family is a liturgical celebration in the Catholic Church in honor of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph, as a family. The primary purpose of this feast is to present the Holy Family as a model for Christian families.[1]
From the 17th century, the feast has been celebrated at a local and regional level and at that level was promoted by Pope Leo XIII. In 1921, Pope Benedict XV made it part of the General Roman Calendar and set on the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany; that is to say, on the Sunday between January 7 through January 13, all inclusive (see General Roman Calendar of 1954).[3][4] The 1962 Roman Missal, whose use is still authorized in the circumstances indicated in the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, follows the General Roman Calendar of 1960, which has the celebration on that date.

The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar moved the celebration to Christmastide, assigning it to the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, that is, the Sunday between Christmas Day and New Year's Day (both exclusive), or if both Christmas Day and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God are Sundays, on 30 December (always a Friday in such years). When not celebrated on a Sunday, it is not a holy day of obligation.[5]
Formerly, the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas was in fact celebrated only if it fell on 29, 30 or 31 December, since it gave way to the higher ranked feasts of Saint Stephen, Saint John the Apostle and the Holy Innocents. The Feast of the Holy Family that has replaced it outranks these three feasts.
 This explains the absence of "The Sunday Within the Octave of Epiphany" in Dom Johner's book.  Too bad; his comments are always so interesting and valuable.

You can see all the propers at this online Manuscript from Cluny ("Graduale et prosarium ad usum Cluniacensem"), published between 0975-1100.  It's in the old staffless notation, and looks as complex and melismatic as the one in the video above.  Looks like this is public domain, and I can use it here, so here's the first page; this chant begins at the bottom of the page. 

Source / BnF

Looks to me as if they used a different Introit for this day ("Venite, adoremus Deum et procidamus ante Dominum : ploremus ante eum, qui fecit nos : quia ipse est Dominus Deus noster" from Psalm (94/)95?), but that all the rest of the propers are the same.  That is interesting, and I'm going to see if I can find out where the Trent introit came from.

EDIT:  Just now found a slightly more recent ("before 1160-1170") manuscript from the Abbey of Bellelay in Switzerland that uses the In excelso throno Introit, so it's at least that old.

Michael Haydn apparently set this text, but there is no video recording of it online.


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