Thursday, October 10, 2019

Traditional Ambrosian Chants from the Choir of Milan Cathedral

Yesterday, the Church of Milan marked the centenary of the birth of Mons. Luciano Migliavacca. Ordained to the priesthood by the Bl. Cardinal Schuster in 1942, he studied Gregorian chant in Rome at the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, where he obtained a degree in music composition; he also studied at the theological faculty of the Univ. of the Sacred Heart in his native city, where he wrote a thesis on the Ambrosian orations of the seasonal Masses. In 1957, he was appointed director of the cathedral choir, and served in that role for 41 years; after some years in retirement, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 94. His original compositions include over 70 Masses, numerous motets based on the texts of the Ambrosian liturgy, settings of the Magnificat and various psalms, as well as pieces for organ, and an oratorio for soloists, choir and orchestra called “The Gospel of St Mark.” He was also an active contributor to many scholarly publications in the field of sacred music, and directed a project to transcribe the innumerable polyphonic works in the musical archives of Milan cathedral.

Mons. Migliavacca (lower left) conducts the choir of Milan cathedral during an Ambrosian Pontifical Mass celebrated coram Summo Pontifice in St Peter’s Basilica during the first session of the most recent ecumenical council.
Here is a recoding of several different pieces of Ambrosian chant, sung by the choir of Milan cathedral, conducted by Mons. Migliavacca, with one exception. Some notes on the individual pieced and their liturgical use are given below.

The recording begins with three hymns by St Ambrose:
1. (0:01) Splendor paternae gloriae, which is sung in the Ambrosian rite at Lauds every day when the Office is of the season per annum; in the Roman Rite, it is sung at Monday Lauds per annum.
2. (3:57) Agnes beatae virginis, for the feast of St Agnes.
3. (7:30) Apostolorum passio, for the feast of Ss Peter and Paul.

4. (10:14) Omnes patriarchae, the antiphon ‘in choro’ of Second Vespers of the Epiphany.
5. (11:31) Tenebrae factae sunt, the responsory sung at the service “post Tertiam” of Good Friday, before the Passion of St Matthew. In choir, the solo parts of this are supposed to be sung by the senior cleric present, which in the Duomo means the archbishop, but the piece is very complex, and it was commonly sung by a canon standing next to the him instead. Many parts of the Ambrosian liturgical repertoire are assigned by the liturgical books to be sung by specific people or groups. (This part of the recording was conducted by Luigi Benedetti.)
6. (15:18) The Ambrosian version of Rorate caeli, which, like its Roman counterpart, is an optional chant commonly sung at Benediction. In this recording, it is sung in a manner common to many Ambrosian pieces, alternating between the men’s and boy’s choirs, and concluding with both choirs singing together.
7. (16:58) The psalm In exitu Israel (113) with a triple Hallelujah after each verse, from Vespers of Easter Sunday. In the actual liturgy, the entire Psalm would be sung, with psalms 133 and 116 added on, followed by a single doxology; this is the oldest form of festive psalmody in the Ambrosian Rite.
8. (18:14) The antiphon Venite omnis creatura, from Matins of the Epiphany. In the Ambrosian Office, all antiphons are semidoubled; this is one of a handful of exceptions, called “double antiphons”, which are sung in two parts. Before the Psalm, the first part is sung by the men’s choir, the second by the boys’; the reverse is done after the Psalm. “Venite, omnis creatura: adoremus Dominum, qui illuxit nobis, quem praedicaverunt prophetae a Moyse usque ad Joannem Baptistam. V. Hodie apparuit Christus, Deus de Deo, lumen de lumine. – Come, every creature, let us adore the Lord, Who hath shown upon us, Whom the prophets foretold, from Moses to John the Baptist. V. Today Christ hath appeared, God from God, light from light.”
9. The psallenda Pax in caelo, from Vespers of the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany. A psallenda is a chant like an antiphon, sung in full before and after the doxology, but without any psalmody, at the end of Lauds and Vespers; there is usually more than one, and it is also used make commemorations. “Pax in caelo, pax in terra, pax in omni populo; pax sacerdotibus ecclesiarum Dei. – Peace in heaven, peace on earth, peace among every people; peace to the priests of the churches of God.”
10. (21:42) The psallenda Videntes stellam Magi from Second Vespers of the Epiphany. “Videntes stellam Magi, gavisi sunt gaudio magno: et intrantes domum obtulerunt Domino aurum, thus et myrrham. – Seeing the star, the Magi rejoiced greatly, and entering the house, they offered to the Lord gold, frankincense and myyrh.”

In the photograph which provides background for the video, Mons. Migliavacca is wearing the cape of a “mazzeconico”, as they were called, an Italian/Milanese corruption of “magister canonicus – a master canon.” These were a group of cantors assigned to the two chapters of the cathedral specifically to maintain a high level of liturgical chant. The boys are standing with him in a circle, during the singing of an antiphon ‘in choro’ at Vespers, which was originally sung by the cantors in a similar formation around the throne of the celebrant.

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