Saturday, September 28, 2019

Music for Vespers of St Michael

When Pope Urban VIII had the hymns of the Roman Breviary revised in a more classicizing style, few were altered as completely as the hymn for Vespers of St Michael. The original version, traditionally attributed to Blessed Rabanus Maurus (ca. 780-856) was written in four stanzas of six lines, in a trochaic meter (alternating long and short syllables, with one syllable missing at the end of each even-numbered line); Pope Urban’s version is in the iambic dimeter (eight syllables per line, alternative short and long) popularized by St Ambrose. This rearrangement, the version still used in the Roman Breviary of the Extraordinary Form, necessitated a complete recasting of the music as well. (English translation by Fr Edward Caswell C.O., 1814-78.)

Te, splendor et virtus Patris,
Te vita, Jesu, cordium,
Ab ore qui pendent tuo,
Laudámus inter Angelos.
O Jesus, life-spring of the soul!
The Father's Power and Glory bright!
Thee with Angels we extol;
from Thee they draw their life and light.
Tibi mille densa millium
Ducum coróna mílitat;
Sed éxplicat victor Crucem
Míchaël salútis sígnifer.
Thy thousand, thousand hosts are spread,
embattled o’er the azure sky;
but Michael bears Thy standard dread,
and lifts the mighty Cross on high.
Dracónis hic dirum caput
In ima pellit tártara,
Ducemque cum rebéllibus
Caelesti ab arce fúlminat.
He in that sign the rebel powers
did with their dragon prince expel:
and hurled them from heaven’s high towers,
down like a thunderbolt to hell.
Contra ducem superbiae
Sequámur hunc nos príncipem,
Ut detur ex Agni throno
Nobis coróna gloriae.
Grant us, with Michael, still, O Lord,
Against the prince of pride to fight;
So may a crown be our reward,
Before the Lamb’s pure throne of light.
Deo Patri sit gloria,
Qui, quos redémit Filius,
Et Sanctus unxit Spíritus,
Per Angelos custodiat. Amen.
To God the Father, with the Son
And Holy Paraclete, with thee,
As evermore hath been before,
Be glory through eternity. Amen.

Many churches, including St Peter’s basilica, as well as the various orders of monks, and the religious orders that retained their own liturgical (Dominicans, Premonstratensians and Old Observance Carmelites) did not accept the revised hymns of Pope Urban, and continued to use the original version. It has also been restored to the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours, with only two small alterations, which are included in this recording; the words “omnes caeli milites” are changed to “inclytos archangelos”, to reflect the recasting of the feast as that of the three Archangels named in the Bible, and the word “zabulum”, an early medieval version of “diabolum”, is replaced, purely in function of Dom Lentini’s literary taste. (English translation by John Mason Neale, 1818-66).

Tibi, Christe, splendor Patris,
Vita, virtus cordium,
In conspectu Angelórum
Votis, voce psállimus:
Alternantes concrepando
Melos damus vócibus.
Thee, O Christ, the Father’s splendor,
Life and virtue of the heart,
In the presence of the angels
Sing we now with tuneful art,
Meetly in alternate chorus,
Bearing our responsive part.
Collaudámus venerantes
Omnes caeli mílites,
Sed praecípue Primátem
Caelestis exércitus:
Michaélem, in virtúte
Conterentem zábulum.
Thus we praise with veneration
All the armies of the sky;
Chiefly him, the warrior primate,
Of celestial chivalry,
Michael, who in princely virtue
Cast Abaddon from on high.
Quo custóde procul pelle,
Rex Christe piíssime,
Omne nefas inimíci:
Mundo corde et córpore,
Paradíso redde tuo
Nos sola clementia.
By whose watchful care repelling,
King of everlasting grace,
Every ghostly adversary,
All things evil, all things base,
Grant us of Thine only goodness,
In Thy paradise a place.
Gloriam Patri melódis
Personémus vócibus,
Gloriam Christo canámus,
Gloriam Paráclito,
Qui trinus et unus Deus
Exstat ante sáecula. Amen.
Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three, and ever One,
Consubstantial, co-eternal,
While unending ages run. Amen.

The earlier version was, of course, the one known to the great composers of the Counter-Reformation; here is a particularly beautiful setting in alternating chant and polyphony by Tomás Luís de Victória (1548-1611.)

The antiphon for the Magnificat at First Vespers – Aña Dum sacrum mysterium cérneret Joannes, Archángelus Míchaël tuba cécinit: Ignosce, Dómine, Deus noster, qui áperis librum, et solvis signácula ejus, allelúja. – While John beheld the sacred mystery, the Archangel Michael sounded his trumpet: Forgive, o Lord our God, Who openest the book, and loosest the seals thereof. Alleluia.

And for Second Vespers – Aña Princeps gloriosíssime, Míchaël Archángele, esto memor nostri: hic et ubíque semper precáre pro nobis Fílium Dei, allelúja, allelúja. – O Prince most glorious, Michael the Archangel, do thou remember us; here, and everywhere, always entreat the Son of God for us, alleluja, alleluja.

The text was set as a motet by Palestrina’s contemporary Luca Marenzio (1553-99), who was famous as a composer of madrigls, of which he wrote over 500, but also wrote a large number of sacred works.

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