Friday, 6 April 2007

Music for Good Friday

At the Solemn Commemoration of the Lord's Passion, the Passion is chanted, with the part of the turba, or 'crowd' being taken by the choir, singing to Tomas Luis de Victoria's setting. The conclusion of the Passion suddenly soars into an extraordinary form of plainchant, more wailing than singing - many think that this is an ancient Jewish form of lament incorporated into the plainchant. Victoria's also was the setting of the Improperia (Reproaches) - the lament spoken by Christ to his faithless people, whom he had always treated with kindess:

Popule meus, quid feci tibi? Aut in quo contristavi te? Responde mihi?
(O my people, what have I done to you? how have I offended you? Answer me.)

If I'm kind to the Master of Music, he will include on Good Friday a piece by my favourite composer, Carlo Gesualdo. Gesualdo (1561 - 1613) was Prince of Venosa (near Naples), and a nephew of St Charles Borromeo. Most notoriously, he murdered his wife and her lover, and spent the remainder of his years in seclusion in his castle, writing extraordinary music drawn from the depth of his tortured soul - there is nothing quite like it: sudden chromatic shifts, unlikely chords, discordant harmonies, wringing the drama and horror out of the text. Today the choir sang his O Vos Omnes:
O vos omnes qui transitis per viam:attendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus.
(O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.)
The choir then showed off and sang the same text to a setting by Pablo Casals (1876 - 1973)

During the Veneration of the Cross, after the Solemn Service, a number of the Lay Clerks gather in the apse to sing Thomas Tallis' stunning setting of the Lamenatations of the Prophet Jeremiah. This music is so powerful and so moving that a translation is scarcely needed - indeed Tallis sets the Hebrew letters (Aleph, Beth and so on) that begin each section, and even seems to provide them with a musical theology. There could be no more suitable background to the Veneration than this inspired and plangent work:

Plorans ploravit in nocte, et lacrimae ejus in maxillis ejus: non est qui consolatur eam ex omnibus caris ejus: omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam, et facti sunt inimici.

(She passes the night in weeping, and tears bedew her cheeks. Amongst all her lovers, not one there is to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, and are become her enemies).


Anonymous said...

Breathtaking music today - probably literally so for the clerk whose job it was to sing the long narrative of the passion.

For me at least the effect of the sung gospel narrative is to provoke a different sort of response in the listener. The slower pace, and varied, lingering, ornamentation on certain phrases, makes for a much more prayerful and reflective response - something akin to lectio divina.

We are very privileged to be able to participate in such a liturgy, so beautifully rendered. Thanks to all concerned.

Anonymous said...

Of the many wonderful and beautiful pictures of the Cathedral that you have posted, one of my all time favorites is picture #3, the Lay Clerks singing the Lamentations in the apse. When enlarged, we can see the choir stalls and space without the singers. While not messy, we can see the everyday "working space" of the choir. As it must be, the space is functional with handy access to books, keyboard etc... As one who "live" in a choir loft, I can appreciate this.

Sometime, Monsignor, please share your background/biography. You have great knowledge of music and art. Anyone who loves Gesualdo shows the ultimate in good taste!

Resurrexit sicut dixit.

John the organist said...

Breathtaking indeed but also prayerful and moving. This year some of the servers sat in the front row of the nave and led the veneration after the service. The cardinal gave a wonderful homily about how all are welcomed by Christ and His church.