Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Sequence of Music for Lent, St. Joseph, and the Annunciation

I haven't figured out what music on this CD is for St. Joseph, but listening to Miserere on the vigil of the First Sunday of Lent, I appreciated the mixture of plainhant, Renaissance polyphony, and contemporary liturgical music composed at and performed in Westminster Cathedral. Unlike Harry Christopher's The Sixteen, the Westminster Choir has boys singing the soprano parts, and realizing that this choir sings this music in the context of the Mass and not in a concert hall added to the devotional impact for me. Then when we went to Mass on Sunday the choir sang an English translation of the first chant on the CD, "Attende Domine" and everything just fit. The liner notes describe the chant melody thus:

Plainsong exists to solemnify the text that it adorns. Attende, Domine has its origins in the Mozarabic Rite of the tenth century and is one of the more emotionally complex melodies in the literature. It is classified by Solesmes dogma as a Lydian tune, although it is authentically Ionian. On the one hand the chant drives the physical momentum of litaneic procession, while on the other it colours the plangency of Lenten supplication. The aural hook of this hymn of exhortation comprises two consecutively occurring perfect fourths (heard at the beginning of the second phrase of the refrain). This descending medieval solecism occurs to great effect no fewer than eleven times, and since the nineteenth century this chant has beguiled the willing ears of Anglicans as well as those of Roman Catholics, as witnessed by the melody’s prominent inclusion in the English Hymnal of 1906 under the title ‘A Lent Prose’.

It "beguiled [my] willing ears" too!

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