The curious case of the missing ‘O’

Reposted from Dei præsidio suffultus

Holy Week is now upon us. Today is Palm Sunday already. For those who consider themselves immersed in the bibliography of Holy Week, as one way of putting it, having elected which side of 1955 to hold dear to their hearts, it is a time to ponder again about the missing ‘O’ in the antiphon Hosánna fílio David.

The Missale Romanum, up until the 1962 edition by Saint John XXIII, printed the antiphon with the O. So did the 2004 re-typesetting of the 1920 edition, and the 1862 Pustet edition.

Hosánna fílio David : benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini. O Rex Israël : Hosánna in excélsis.

The interjection ‘O’ disappears in the books from 1962 onward:

Now, we are talking about the text of the Liturgy, the published text. Let us now examine the music printed for this text. Understandably, the 1962 edition of the Liber usualis (which received a thick wad of signatures inserted in the place of the Old Holy Week) did not have the interjection. Interestingly, however, we discover that in the edition of the Liber usualis prior to 1962, we likewise do not see the interjection!

The 1954 edition did not have. So did the 1924 edition in modern notation. In the 1903 edition (as Paroissien Romain), however, we find the interjection, with a slightly different chant; as well as in the 1896 edition.

Before the advent of a unified chant book, particular churches held their own chant traditions. Chant books were produced by churches endowed with enough resources to commission such monuments to sacred music. We say monuments because of their sheer size and volume, and the detail with which they were created. Had human frailty and compromise with the times not intervened, these chant books would have survived.

Let us concern ourselves with the chant books of the Philippines, as this is our locus. We have hypothesised here that only after the onset of American colonisation did the Philippine Church move from the Spanish colonial church music practice to the wider Roman practice, buoyed collaterally by the general desire to rid the Philippine Church of certain perceived abuses in praxis inherited from the Spaniards.

From the Introitale Baclaianum, we have the following entry:

We can see that the interjection is present.

Why the interjection disappeared from the Liber usualis from the 1920’s onward, even if it remained in the Missale Romanum until 1962, is a very delicious question. We may never know why exactly the interjection disappeared in the Liber usualis. Perhaps, we can accept the theory that, when the reform of Gregorian chant gained ground, intent on recovering the authentic chant that had long fallen into misuse and corruption, the resulting recovered chant had no place for the lowly interjection, and the people charged with this objective thought it best to banish it into oblivion.

Many believe that the removal of the interjection in the latter editions of the Missal was encouraged in part by its disappearance in the chant books. (This would not be the first time that choral praxis altered the Liturgy. After years of seeing the propers of Advent inserted ahead of Christmas in chant books, the Liturgy finally gave in and the liturgical year now begins with Advent.) Since the text of the Mass and the chant of the Mass existed in disparity, the reformers decided to adjust the text and ended up removing one letter from it.

In any case, this would be the second liturgical ‘O’ that failed to survive. The first one is great ‘O’ prolonged immediately upon intonation, at the Magnificat during the transferred feast of the Annunciation in Spain. Hopefully, in both cases, we can find an answer in our lifetime why the interjection fell out of use.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Tinieblas 2018

Three days ago, our tinieblas ended, chanted to honour the Lord, contemplating on His holy Passion, in fervent prayer, in that natural darkness that recalls the spiritual darkness that once enveloped the world awash in sin, that we may rejoice in the light of His resurrection, having reconciled the world unto Himself when He died on the Cross.

Schedule - Tenebrae

We managed to record the first parts of our tinieblas.

Spy Wednesday
Maundy Thursday
Good Friday

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Miserere: falsifying the drone

The first time the Miserere was sung at the end of the Tenebrae was in the evening of Spy Wednesday, 7 April 1514. Paride de Grassi, ceremoneer of the Sistine Chapel, describes the new method as symphonizando, which we translated here as harmonising. However, the Latin gerund declined in the ablative, encodes a more specific meaning: the technique we now know as falsobordone. We might be led to believe that this technique creates an impression that a note or a chord is continuously sounded. And our perception is more or less correct.


Different regions expressed this technique differently. The French cultivated fauxbourdon, where two voices are added below the melody. The English developed faburden, where the melody is sandwiched between two additional voices. The Spaniards employed fabordón, where voices are added to the melody akin to the French counterpart, a praxis criticised by some Spanish musical authorities as coarse and unschooled, as opposed to the more refined counterpoint. Italians, on the other hand, structured falsobordone in such a way that the first part is a recitation in one chord, and the latter part is a cadence.

In their first incarnations, these etymologically-related techniques, in their varied expressions and executions, were applied to liturgical singing, generally for chanting the psalms, harnessing the voice in such a way as to honour and render sublime the worship celebrated inside every consecrated edifice. In the Tenebrae, the Miserere, which is Psalm 50, is chanted every day as the first psalm of lauds. On Spy Wednesday, it is chanted in 8G; on Maundy Thursday, 7c; on Good Friday, 4c. It is not as the first psalm of lauds that the Mierere obtained its fame; it is as the final psalm before the collect that it did. In this position, the tone that presented naturally was the disarmingly haunting tonus peregrinus, sometimes ranked as the ninth tone of the Gregorian modes. In the Tenebrae, the tonus peregrinus is used mainly in the Lamentations, which are read in the first nocturn on all three days.

Hayez - La distruzione del Tempio di Gerusalemme
La distruzione del Tempio di Gerusalemme | Francesco Hayez | 1867

That first attempt to sing in falsobordone the Miserere unmasked its own nascent shortcomings. Experience of beauty is impermanent if the execution is not simultaneously attended by the so-called excellence of form and by holiness worthy of the liturgy, to borrow terminology from Tra le sollecitudini, if it is marred by an imbalance favouring technique rather intelligibility. The bitter failure kicked off, fortunately, a robust project, a fateful journey, a salutary pilgrimage, to seek after that composition worthy of occupying a lofty niche in the stratosphere of sacromusical achievements. We can say that Allegri’s Miserere is a very important milestone, if not the most fitting culmination, of that pilgrimage.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Petrine drawl

The antiphon at the Magnificat today is quite interesting. Briefly, using Mt. 26, 73, the Office allows us to hear the voice of the high priest’s maidservant calling out Saint Peter.

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Feria IV Maioris Hebdomadae

The maidservant said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee.

Bloch - Verleugnung Jesu durch Petrus (fragment)
Peters fornægtelse | Carl Heinrich Bloch | 1873

Let’s translate it into modern colloquial Tagalog. Imagine a chimay, let’s name her Inday, hearing over the evening news that members of an accused narco-outfit are at large after their boss suffered arrest following a successful but bogus drug buy-bust operation. She even catches a few minutes of an interview of said drug lord, before she goes out, perhaps to buy prepaid load from Aling Bebang, or to meet Dodong at the vacant lot next block. En route she overhears a group of tambay chattering their woes away. Eavesdropping, she hears one tambay joke about another tambay having worked for the drug boss whom the evening news reported arrested; and notices the other tambay firmly, with swearwords and expletives not recordworthy here, denying it, for fear of tokhang. Realising that that tambay speaks with the same drawl as the dubiously arrested drug boss, she calls him out saying:

Isa ka nga talaga sa kanila! Kasi kahit punto mo pa lang buking ka na!

Let us allow this somewhat familiar scene sink in, and then we can perhaps understand the fear welling up in Saint Peter’s heart at the thought of being lynched with the blessing of the authorities. Elsewhere has been expressed the opinion that the Lord was a victim of an extrajudicial killing. Absence of a fair trial, sentence never pronounced, jury tampering, all the kicks were present enough to miscarry justice.

Saint Peter was a Galilean. He was from Galilee. He spoke Galilean. What gave Saint Peter away, therefore, was his speech, his drawl, his twang, his accent. In the same speech he had used to assure Christ that he would not abandon Him, Saint Peter denied that he knew the Man being led to trial. He even swore. He even cursed. Our Lord knew that Peter would deny Him. He prophesied it. Saint Peter saw Christ robed in glory atop Mount Tabor. Abandoned, in chains, meek as a lamb led to slaughter, the Lord’s appearance that evening could not be reconciled by Peter with His glory in the Transfiguration. Peter did not recognise the state to which the Lord had allowed Himself to be cast. He could not accept it. And so he denied knowing Him. And so he repented these three denials when he remembered the words of the Lord.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Power and obedience

Yesterday, we heard at Vespers, at the Magnificat, our Lord politely putting Pilate in his place, with a rephrasing of Jn. 19, 11.

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Feria II Maioris Hebdomadae

Thou shouldst have no power over Me, unless it had been given thee from above.

Today, we heard the following quotation from Jn. 10, 18:

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Feria III Maioris Hebdomadae

Power have I to lay down my soul, and to take it up again.

On Monday, our Lord responded to Pilate’s absurd and naive claim that he had the power to crucify Him. That power was not granted to Pilate from God; rather, that power was given to Pilate from the Roman emperor. Today, the Office tells us why, having told Pilate point blank he had no power to crucify Him, He eventually died on the Cross. No man takes away the Lord’s life; only He can lay it down, for He has the power to take it up again.

Ciseri - Ecce homo
Ecce homo | Antonio Ciseri | 1871

Pilate willed to give the Son of God up to the Jews to be crucified. And so he did. The Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, Who is the first begotten of all creation, the first begotten from among the dead, could have easily nullified the decree of an earthly authority whose power proceeded from a superior, but ultimately another merely earthly, authority. But He did not. What made it possible for the most perfect sacrifice to take place on Calvary was the Lord’s obedience to the Father, Whose love for His Son manifested in the Lord’s power to to lay down His life and to take it up again.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

To Galilee

At Vespers yesterday, at the Magnificat, we chanted a short pericope from Matthew (26, 32, 32):

Antiphona ad Vesperas - Dominica in Palmis

For it is written: I shall strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered away: for after I shall have risen again I shall go before you into Galilee: thither shall you see Me, saith the Lord.

Christ calling the apostled James and John
Christ calling the apostles James and John | Edward Armitage | 1869

On Palm Sunday, the Lord speaketh. On Easter Sunday, when we chant the sequence, we hear the latter part of the pericope above restated by Mary.

I have seen the tomb of the living Christ, and the glory of the risen Christ; the angelic witnesses, the shroud, and the linens. Christ my hope hath risen again: He shall go before His own into Galilee.

Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis : angelicos testes, sudarium, et vestes. Surrexit Christus spes mea : praecedet suos in Galileam.

The Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday culminates in the triumph of the Cross when our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died on the cross on Good Friday. The Lord’s earthly ministry started in Galilee and ended in Jerusalem. He brought His disciples into this city, but when He had risen up again, He told them to meet Him in Galilee, the homeland of His apostles, where He can appear before all His disciples, and where He had first preached and performed miracles.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus,

Miserere: singing the final psalm

We are a week away from Holy Week. Jitterbugs we become. A lot of things are to look forward to during Holy Week, so much so that some of us experience that obscene sensation called excitement in the preceding days. Solemn and ancient liturgies often coax out a rare species of dedication to prepare and rehearse that the saner of our lot would call cramming. Left and right issue forth the trousseaus of damask and brocade earmarked for the hallowed days. Ceremoneers inventory all their servers and assign days for service, and rescue Holy Week ceremony books gathering dust in the sacristy drawer. Santeros and camameros fret about the missing accessory of their gerenciales. And choirs delve into their repertoire, vast or not, handpicking the de rigueur and rethinking the workable.

Una cofradía pasando por la calle Génova, Sevilla
Una cofradía pasando por la calle Génova, Sevilla | Alfred Dehodencq | 1851

Whether de rigueur or workable, one Holy Week piece commands admiration, exudes an unparalleled spellbinding appeal that has captivated, and continues to captivate for that matter, many souls, believers or not. It is Allegri’s Miserere, whose history is as interesting as the mystique surrounding its accessibility is mythological. Today, of course, when the ornamental technique so closely guarded by the papal choir has but faded, the restrictions having become quite likewise moot, or so we believe, we can experience its beauty from performances by historically-informed professional choirs.

The Miserere, of course, refers to psalm 50, the psalm whose first verse is chanted at the end of the Asperges every Sunday outside Eastertide. In the older praxis, the priest is expected to recite the entire psalm from memory while passing through the nave sprinkling blessed water. But this is not the part where the Miserere obtained its fame. Its stint in the Office of Darkness, the Officium Tenebrarum, what we fondly call tinieblas, is what poised it for the renown it was to acquire and accumulate. The tinieblas encompasses two canonical hours: matins and lauds. At the end of lauds, after the strepitus, that is, the din and crash signifying the astonishment of all creation at the death of the Son of God on the cross, those praying the Office, in a gesture of repentance and penance, recite the entirety of psalm 50, submissa voce and recto tono.

Up until 1955, the rubrics for its recitation indicated that it should be so. Choirs from many places of the world have for a long time chanted the psalm in ways equaling the respective variety of expertise and situation. After 1955, the reformers’ shears accidentally (or was it intentionally?) pruned it off the Office, so it officially ended its existence. But, for better or worse, fine taste and culture refused to submit to enforced desuetude. For that matter, since the Miserere gained fame during the Renaissance, we shall for the moment ignore its latter fate. The first time the Miserere was sung in the tinieblas was in the Sistine Chapel, in 1514, in the reign of Leo X. In the words of the then master of ceremonies of the Sistine Chapel, Paride de Grassi:

Office of Darkness, Wednesday, 1514. At the end the Cantors said the psalm Miserere with a new method: for they chanted the first verse while harmonising, and then alternately (with chant), which was well and devoutly executed.

Officium Tenebrarum. Die Mercurii 1514. In fine Cantores dixerunt psalmum Miserere cum novo modo ; nam primum versum cantarunt symphonizando, et deinde alternatim, quod fuit bene et devote.

The following day, however, the opposite transpired:

Thursday, Office of Darkness. The Cantors at the end, since they wanted to harmonise cleverly, rather than pleasingly, were not praised.

Die Iovis. Officium Tenebrarum. Cantores in fine cum vellent symphonizare doctius, quam suavius, non fuerunt laudati.

On Friday, the papal choir returned to the original composition. And so, having thus weighed and found wanting, this composition never even received the honour of being included in the Sistine Chapel’s collection of misereres. The positive result of this tentative attempt is the fact that it launched a three-century love story that climaxed with Gregorio Allegri. The milestones of this project, the significant plot developments of this love story, according to Giuseppe Baini, are below:

1517 Costanzo Festa 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
1533 Luigi Dentice 2 verses of 5vv and 4vv
1582 Francisco Guerrero 2 verses of 4vv
1588 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
After 1601 Teofilo Gargano 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
Giovanni Francesco Anerio 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
Felice Anerio 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv with last verse of 9vv
Unknown 2 verses of 4vv
Giovanni Maria Nanino 2 verses by Palestrina with last verse of 9vv
after 1617 Sante Naldini 4vv with last verse of 8vv
after 1599 Ruggiero Giovanelli 4vv with last verse of 8vv
1638 Gregorio Allegri 5vv and 4vv with last verse of 9vv
1680 Alessandro Scarlati 4vv and 5vv with last verse of 9vv
1714 Tommaso Bai 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 8vv
1768 Giuseppe Tartini 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 8vv
1777 Pasquale Pisari 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 9vv
1821 Giuseppe Baini 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 9vv

In due time, the sequence was fixed: Baini on Spy Wednesday, Bai on Maundy Thursday, Allegri on Good Friday. This was for the Sistine Chapel, where the pope attended the Office. The canons of the patriarchal basilica of Saint Peter, canonically bound to the recitation of the Office in choro, chanted their own Tenebrae wherein the Miserere of Valentino Fioravanti was sung on Spy Wednesday, Francesco Basili’s on Maundy Thursday, and Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli’s on Good Friday. But of all the masterpieces here mentioned, alone Allegri’s reached the zenith of legend.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

[1] Giuseppe Baini, Memorie storico-critiche della vita e delle opere di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1828 Rome).
[2] Charles Michael Baggs, The ceremonies of Holy-Week at the Vatican and St. John Lateran’s described (1839 Rome).

Holy Week 2017

On 9 April this year, Palm Sunday ushered in Holy Week, days which Holy Mother Church, in union with Christendom, specially devotes to the commemoration of the perfect Sacrifice on Calvary offered by our Lord Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, with Himself as the Victim, our Paschal Lamb.  The Sacred Triduum relives in a very special manner this very sacrifice by which the Lord reconciled the world unto Himself, the very same sacrifice bloodlessly re-enacted on our altars.

Christ is risen, alleluia! Truly He is risen, alleluia!

Tinieblas 2017

The Office of DarknessOfficium Tenebrarum in Latin—comprises the offices of matins and lauds traditionally sung or recited in the evening for the last three days of Holy Week, what we call the Sacred Triduum. In the Philippines, this office is called in its Spanish name, tinieblas, which has also lent its name, at least in some localities, to the large wooden clapper installed in the belfries of those times, more widely known as matracas, apparently because when the time of the customary noise was come, the belfry clapper was also sounded. The Choir chanted the tinieblas at the new chapel of the Parish of the Most Holy Redeemer in the Diocese of Cubao progressively later in the evening of Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Tinieblas 2017

As in 2015 and 2016, the tenebrario, what we call in Latin as the candelabrum triangulum and in English as the tenebrae hearse, holding fifteen sockets to support fifteen candles, and the Lectionarium tenebrale pro Tridui Sacri matutinis proper to the Choir, containing the notations of all the lessons sung during the Office, were used. These fifteen candles are progressively extinguished after each of the nine psalms of Matins and five psalms of Lauds. The six altar candles are put out after each double verse of the Benedictus. As the Office progresses, the chapel increasingly becomes darker and darker. At the end of the Offices, only the topmost candle on the tenebrario remains lit.

Christus factus est pro nobis obœdiens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis !