Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Adoremus in Aeternum

People find chant intimidating mainly because they fear revealing their ignorance about it, which is a strange thing, if you think about it. After all, Gregorian chant is the largest body of music in the world, so vast that no one in a lifetime will likely ever see or sing it all.

To discover chant is like wandering through a castle filled with treasure in room after room and the castle is seemingly without end. You know this going into the castle, so you abandon the hope that you will see the whole of it and instead fulfill yourself by examining small parts in detail, and moving on only when you are ready.

So it has been in my life for about six years, and just when I think I've mostly familiarized myself with the core repertoire, I suddenly stumble across something I didn't know but should have known. So it is for most all of us. No matter how much we study and learn, we remain appallingly ignorant.

A few weeks ago when I received a call from a neighboring town. It seems that a post-Benediction prayer group had formed, and one member suggested that they all sing Adoremus in aeternum. He had remembered chant this vaguely from some trip he took in France. Only one problem: no one knew the chant.

The sad thing is that I didn't either. But I faked it well on the phone: "Oh, no problem, that's a snap! I'll be right over."

Then I had to look it up. It turns out to be the first chant listed under Cantus Varia in the Liber Cantualis. In other words, this is not obscure. Probably everyone reading this blog knows this chant, for all I know.

In any case, the words translate as: "Let us adore for eternity the most holy Sacrament; Praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise Him all ye peoples; Because his mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remains forever."

The mode is V, and if you think it terms of modern music, it begins on what we might call the major third of the chord. But as we sing "aeternum," there is a challenge for modern ears; the ti before do. It lifts the whole melody in an other-worldly way. A friend says this sounds angelic--"requiring just a bit of effort"--and says it is used by, among many, Gabriel Faure' in his piece "Lydia." You can sing it again and again as an antiphon and it always remains interesting. It is impossible to sing it without dwelling just a bit on that one note.

The verses alternate between the cantor and everyone, which makes for great drama, and then you settle back into the antiphon.

Should everyone know this? Surely. I didn't until just a few weeks ago, but now it is added to the store of glorious music I carry in my heart.

Here is a printable version.

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