Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Gregorian Chant: Four Antiphons of the Virgin Mary

The last four melodies in Rutter's Eleven Gregorian Chants are Four Antiphons of the Virgin Mary, compositions from between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries which closed the office of Compline (the last Office of the day). An Antiphon is the root of 'Anthem' (Old English antefne), meaning a song of praise or devotion. The Marian antiphons are anthems sung to the Virgin Mary, using independent texts without psalms. Here are some links to Gregorian notation and performances. These Marian hymns can also be found gathered here.
Alma Redemptoris Mater

Written by Hermannus Contractus (Herman the Cripple, 1013-54). Like the others below, this is given int he longer version known as 'Solemn Tone'. Opening with a long melisma, this is sung at the Advent to Candlemas. There are some comments by musicologists and other information here.

Ave Regina caelorum (Candlemas to Holy Week). The Marian hymns were used as the basis for many arrangements in the Renaissance and later. There is a useful gathering here of some of these polyphonic versions.

Regina caeli laetare (Easter Even to Pentecost). See this site for different versions and performances.

Salve Regina

Sources and Further Reading
History and background to Marian Antiphons
Entry by Richard Taruskin from Oxford History of Western Music

Romanesque Art: Apse of St Pere d'Urgell

Fitxer:Absis de Sant Miquel (la Seu d'Urgell).jpg
Apse of St Pere, Seu d'Urgell. MNAC, Barcelona. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

This is the first monumental fresco to confront the visitor to the Romanesque Collection in MNAC. It is the decoration of the apse of the church of St Pere, which forms part of the Cathedral complex of the Seu d'Urgell (the church is now St Miquel). The painting dates from the first half of the twelfth century.

Subject  The subject matter is, characteristically, a theophany - that is, a vision in which divine majesty is revealed. Christ appears in a mandorla (mystical almond shape), manifesting the Maiestas Domini (the Majesty of the Lord). Around him are the creatures making up the Tetramorph, the symbols of the Four Evangelists: to the right of the mandorla we see the eagle (St John) and the ox (St Luke). It is notable that Christ is standing, not enthroned - imagery which goes back to Early Christian models. This fact, together with the pleats of the drapery and the vertical elongation of the figure, have led some to suggest that the subject is the Ascension. But other elements of the iconography point to the Second Coming, when Christ returns at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead. We notice that Christ holds the Book of Life in his left hand, and has his right hand raised in blessing. Beneath the horizontal band, the fragmentary inscription comes from a Latin liturgical hymn concerning the Last Judgement.

On the lower level, Mary and the Apostles stand in pairs. They are identified in Latin shorthand (S Petus: Sanctus Petrus, S Iohs: Sanctus Johannis etc.) and by their attributes. From the left: St Andrew carrying the cross (on which he was crucified); St Peter with the keys to heaven; St Mary, holding a crown in her covered left hand (identifying her as the Queen of Heaven; the covered hand reminds me of the covered left hand of Justinian and attendants in the S Vitale Ravenna mosaic); St John holding his gospel with a similarly covered hand; on the right, we can just identify Paul from his name.

Style  Romanesque art was formed from a diversity of stylistic influences, and we can see several of them here. The scene of Theophany itself derives from Early Christian art of late antiquity. Here, the modelling of the figures, and the loosely geometrical approach to the drapery, point to the art of Provence, which was strongly influenced by classical models. The white background of the upper part is characteristic of southern and central France, while a similar image has been identified in a manuscript from St Mary of Lagrasse, dated to the time of Abbot Robert (1086-1108). The lands of this community included Urgell in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Observations One of the striking features of this painting is the interlaced geometrical schemes, especially in the beautiful central band where the pattern gives an impression of depth: this takes us to another stylistic source, the geometrical art of the barbarians and the early Middle Ages (the Celtic patterns in the Book of Kells, for example). The love of pattern is shown in the mandorla, in the semicircular configuration where Christ's feet extend (he is either taking off or coming in to land), and around the window openings. The band around the central window, punctuating the white horizontal line of the inscription, helps to join the separate spaces (as the trumeau abuts the lintel at Moissac). Deep browns and reds give a unifying tone to the whole composition, while among the vivid colours we notice the blue of Mary's mantle, made from lapis lazuli. Faces are elongated and - by modern realist standards - inexpressive. Yet the large eyes, with their deep mirada fuerte, give them a compelling intensity; and the painter has clearly tried to differentiate them with different beards, hair colour etc. (We think of the row of elders on the lintel of the tympanum at Moissac - first apparently identical, but each given a distinctive posture). We notice the love of symmetry when we look across the pairs of figures beneath, and see the disposition of hands being mirrored. The bodies seem to face outward to the viewer, while feet and hands indicate they are turned slightly inwards towards each other: the pictorial plane is ambiguous. There is a blend of space and intricate detail, animation and stillness, creating the drama of theophany, the transcendence from the earthly to the spiritual realm.

Most of the above is derived from the Guia art romanic published by MNAC.

Wikipedia netry on St Miquel de la Seu d'Urgell

Further bibliography on Ars Picta

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Gregorian Chant: Victimae Paschalis laudes

Eleventh-century chant. Sequence sung on Easter Sunday. Attributed by some to Notker the Stammerer. Rutter, Eleven Gregorian Chants, p.8

Monday, 23 July 2012

St Vicenç, Cardona

This church is in the ‘First Romanesque’ style. The First Romanesque is a style of building of roughly 950-1050, the first century of Romanesque. This was a period when builders were experimenting with developing new forms and new solutions to the problems of vaulting and lighting a church. The style is common to churches in the Mediterranean area from Lombardy to Catalonia, from which it subsequently spread upwards to the regions of France. As well as being an example of this particular style, St Vicenç in Cardona exemplifies some of the key elements of Romanesque architecture: clearly organised space, with the units marked out by architectural elements; stone vaulting; a Latin Cross groundplan; the development of the East end with chapels projecting from transepts; blind arches decorating the exterior; and a general sense of restraint and fitness for purpose. As Eric Fernie puts it, “nothing is superfluous, nothing confused” (entry on Romanesque architecture in Grove). Studying this church is thus a good introduction to ‘reading’ Romanesque church architecture in general.

Cardona is in the county of Bages, roughly in the centre of this map.

A church is documented on the site from 980. Around 1019, it was redeveloped by the Viscount Bermon, who reformed a religious (Augustinian) community that was present there from the late tenth century. The present church was built beween c.1029 and 1040, when it was consecrated by Eriball, the Bishop of Urgell .The church and community were under the control of the lords of the castle of Cardona – a reminder of the close association of Romanesque architectuyre and the feudal system.  Typically of many Romanesque churches, especially in Catalonia, it is dramatically situated on a rocky hilltop.
Groundplan. Source:


·        The church is compose of a wide nave and two narrower aisles.

·        Naves and aisle are crossed by a transept, which is slightly wider, but not very long: it barely projects beyond the basic rectangular plan. Nave crossed by transept gives the Latin Cross groundplan.

·         The East end is emphasised, with chapels projecting from the North  and South arms of the transept, giving three semicircular apses.

Interior Elevation
Interior elevation. Source:
·       Barrel vaulting is used in the nave, with transverse arches clearly articulating three bays + crossing. Aisles have groin vaulting.
·       The Tribune at the West forms a special gallery, an elevated space for the noble family of the castle: this is a feature derived from Carolingian architecture.
·       Inside the Crossing Tower is a dome carried on pendentives – a feature from Eastern architecture. Above that is the octagonal drum (cimborio).
·       The vaults are notably high (more than 19 metres), a characteristic feature of Catalan Romanesque churches, and also of Eastern derivation.
Piers; shafts continue into transverse arches. Barrel vaults

Nave: shafts join the two storeys; raised Chancel

Transverse arches and groin vaults in aisles.
Dome inside Crossing Tower. On pendentives, with scallop shapes.
·         Inside the Crossing Tower is a dome carried on pendentives – a feature from Eastern architecture.
·         The Crossing is marked by an octagonal  tower.

·        Blind arches create a regular rhythm and unify the parts of the building. The decoration is very restrained, consisting of repeated shapes largely defined by straight lines.

·       The three chapels are clearly legible in the outward appearance of the East end.

·         A three-aisled crypt with columns carrying vaults from simple pyramidal capitals lies beneath the Chancel, which is raised above the level of the nave.

Features typical of Catalan Romanesque: Nave and two aisles; high vaults; Latin Cross plan.
Features typical of Romanesque: articulation – clear division of space (bays, aisles, transepts, apses all clearly defined by simple lines and arches); symmetry in plan; austere decoration.
Another example of the 'First Romanesque' is St Philibert, Tournus.

Text, photos, plan and video on
Excellent photos, with images of the original painted decorations (c.1200) now in MNAC, are on the Catalan Monastery site.
Fernie, Grove entry; Zarnecki, Romanesque; Focillon, Art of the West.

Gregorian Chant: Vexilla Regis, Pange Lingua, Adoro te devote

More Gregorian chants, following the selection in Rutter's Eleven Gregorian Chants.

Vexilla Regis

Text (and possible melody) by Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-c.600/609), who composed this hymn in 569 to celebrate a procession bringing a fragment of the True Cross to Poitiers.  Unsurprisingly, it is concerned with the Cross and Christ's Passion; in the Church calendar, it is sung at Vespers in Passiontide (Holy Week).  A selection of Venantius' poems can be found on the Latin Library, including the text below. More Venantius poems, with facing translation, are printed in Helen Waddell's Medieval Latin Lyrics (4th ed., 1933), 58-67.

Vexilla regis prodeunt

Vexilla regis prodeunt
Fulget crucis mysterium
Quo carne carnis conditor
Suspensus est patibulo.

Quo vulneratus insuper
Mucrone diro lanceae
Ut nos lavaret crimine
Manavit unda et sanguine.

Impleta sunt quae concinit
David fideli carmine
Dicens In nationibus
Regnavit a ligno Deus.

Arbor decora et fulgida
Ornata Regis purpura
Electa digno stipite
Tam sancta membra tangere.

Beata, cujus brachiis
Saecli pependit pretium
Statera facta corporis
Praedamque tulit tartari.

O Crux ave, spes unica
In hac triumphi gloria
Auge piis justitiam
Reisque dona veniam.

Te summa Deus Trinitas
Collaudet omnis spiritus:
Quos per crucis mysterium
Salvas, rege per saecula. Amen.

For text with Blount's 1717 translation, see here.
Text and literal translation here

Performance by Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis

Text, video and Gregorian notation are given by the excellent Brasil-based site

Two Hymns by Thomas Aquinas

Pange Lingua

Text written in 1263 by St Thomas Aquinas, to an earlier melody. Hymn sung at the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Adoro te Devote

Eucharistic Hymn.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Gregorian Chants: Hodie Christus Natus Est, Kyrie de Angelis, Veni Creator Spiritus

I have been enjoying geeting to know Eleven Gregorian Chants, edited (in modern notation) by John Rutter. Here are some notes and links to the first three chants in this publication, which may help in appreciating and, above all, singing them.

Hodie Christus Natus Est
Ad Magnificat, Antiphona, In II Vesperis In Nativitate Domini (Antiphonale Monasticum (1934)p.249; Liber Usualis (1961), p.413). Mode 1, Dorian (D to D on white notes, with the final, or home note D)

Hodie Christus natus est:      Today Christ is born:
hodie Salvator apparuit:        today the Saviour has appeared:
hodie in terra canunt angeli,  today on earth the angels sing,
laetantur archangeli:               the archangels rejoice:
hodie exsultant justi,              today the righteous exult,
dicentes:                                 saying:
Gloria in excelsis Deo,          Glory to God in the highest
alleluia.                                    alleluia.

Here is a beautiful rendition, with neumatic notation, by the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of Notre Dame d'Argentan.

Kyrie VIII (de Angelis)

This is the opening of the Missa de Angelis, from the 15th / 16th century. Note the extended melismas (one syllable sung across many notes). Mode VIII (Hypomixolydian: 'Mixolydian', a so-called authentic mode has the scale dewscribed by G to G, with D as the dominant; Hypo- indicates a 'plagal' mode, ie an even-numbered mode lying 'beneath' the authentic. Hypo-mixolydian has the same final as Mixolydian (G) but runs from domiannt to dominant (D to D).

Solo voice:

Other performances:

Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (organ accompaniment)

Veni Creator Spiritus

This is one of the great hymnns of the Western Church, attributed to Rabanus Maurus in the 9th century, and in general use by the 12th century. It is sung at the Feast of Pentecost, and at important ceremonies such as Ordination. (Mode VIII)

Liber Usualis P.885
A splendid blog entry by Clerk of Oxenford gives links to various performances and an interesting account of various translations.

For Gregorian notation, Latin text with literal English translation, see Chants of the Church (pdf text, p.175)