Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Feast of the Nativity of S. John the Baptist (June 24)

Here are the hymns for the upcoming feast day of one of my favorite of all Christian saints, from Hymn Melodies for the Whole Year from the Sarum Service-Books: :
On the Feast of the Nativity of S. John the Baptist (June 24) & during the 8ve (when the Service is of the Feast) :-
Evensong:   Ut queant laxis
On the day at both Evensongs ... ... ... 56
During the 8ve & on the 8ve day ... ... ... 60
Mattins:   Antra deserti
On the day ... .56
During the 8ve & on the 8ve day... ... ... 60
Lauds:   O nimis felix ... ... ... ... 44
I've written about these hymns in several other posts before, but wanted to get my Office Hymns listing totally up-to-date and complete (including all chant scores).

The famous Ut queant laxis is the star of the show today; that's a link to the 4th most-hit post on Chantblog.  UQL is the Evensong hymn, sung as prescribed above to these two melodies:

The first melody above is the same one Hymn melodies often gives for Iste Confessor (as here for the Feast Day of Martin of Tours); the tune is the one on this mp3, from the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood. (The words sung on that sound file are those of Iste Confessor, not Ut queant laxis.)

The second tune is unknown to me at the moment; I'll try to find audio of it and will post it if I can.

Authorship of the hymn is generally credited to Paulus Diaconus, a Benedictine monk who lived in Lombardy during the 8th Cenutry. This is another example of a long hymn broken up into shorter ones for use at the various Office hours of a particular feast or season; the Ut queant laxis section (about the first third of the hymn) is used at Vespers; the Antra deserti teneris sub annis section is used at Matins; and the O nimis felix, meritique celsi section is used at Lauds.

Hymn melodies for the whole year's melody prescriptions, though, are different than the one that makes this hymn so famous.  That's this tune (the video provides only the first two stanzas, plus a doxology):

This mp3 is the same recording, as far as I can tell.   Below are all the words to the entire hymn, in Latin on the left, with English translation from the Hymner on the right:

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes!

Nuntius celso veniens Olympo
te patri magnum fore nasciturum,
nomen et vitae seriem gerendae
ordine promit.

Ille promissi dubius superni
perdidit promptae modulos loquelae;
sed reformasti genitus peremptae
organa vocis.

Ventris abstruso positus cubili
senseras regem thalamo manentem,
hinc parens nati meritis uterque
abdita pandit.

Antra deserti teneris sub annis
civium turmas fugiens, petisti,
ne levi saltim maculare vitam
famine posses.

Praebuit hirtum tegimen camelus,
artubus sacris strofium bidentis,
cui latex haustum, sociata pastum
mella locustis.

Caeteri tantum cecinere vatum
corde praesago iubar adfuturum;
tu quidem mundi scelus auferentem
indice prodis.

Non fuit vasti spatium per orbis
sanctior quisquam genitus Iohanne,
qui nefas saecli meruit lavantem
tingere limphis.

O nimis felix meritique celsi
nesciens labem nivei pudoris,
prepotens martyr heremique cultor,
maxime vatum!

Serta ter denis alios coronant
aucta crementis, duplicata quosdam;
trina centeno cumulata fructu
te, sacer, ornant.

Nunc potens nostri meritis opimis
pectoris duros lapides repelle
asperum planans iter, et reflexos
dirige calles,

ut pius mundi sator et redemptor
mentibus pulsa luvione puris
rite dignetur veniens sacratos
ponere gressus.

Laudibus cives celebrant superni
te, deus simplex pariterque trine,
supplices ac nos veniam precamur:
parce redemptis!
O for thy Spirit, Holy John, to chasten,
Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen,
So by thy children might thy deeds of wonder
Meetly be chaunted

Lo ! a swift herald, from the skies descending,
Bears to thy father promise of thy greatness ;
How he shall name thee, what thy future story,
Duly revealing.

Scarcely believing message so transcendent,
Him for a season power of speech forsaketh,
Till, at thy wondrous birth, again returneth
Voice to the voiceless.

Thou, in thy mother's womb all darkly cradled,
Knewest thy Monarch, biding in his chamber,
Whence the two parents, through their children's merits,
Mysteries utter'd.

Thou, in thy childhood, to the desert caverns
Fleddest for refuge from the cities' turmoil,
Where the world's slander might not dim thy lustre,
Lonely abiding.

Camel's hair raiment clothed thy saintly members ;
Leathern the girdle which thy loins encircled ;
Locusts and honey, with the fountain-water,
Daily sustain'd thee.

Oft in past ages, seers with hearts expectant,
Sang the far-distant advent of the Day-Star,
Thine was the glory, as the world's Redeemer,
First to proclaim him.

Far as the wide world reacheth, born of women,
Holier was there none than John the Baptist;
Meetly in water laving him who cleanseth
Man from pollution.

O More than blessed, merit high attaining,
Pure as the snow-drift, innocent of evil,
Child of the desert, mightiest of martyrs,
Greatest of prophets.

Thirty-fold increase some with glory crowneth ;
Sixty-fold fruitage prize for others winneth;
Hundred-fold measure, thrice repeated, decks thee,
Blest one, for guerdon.

O may the virtue of thine intercession,
All stony hardness from our hearts expelling,
Smooth the rough places, and the crooked straighten
Here in the desert.

Thus may our gracious Maker and Redeemer,
Seeking a station for his hallow'd footsteps,
Find, when he cometh, temples undefiled,
Meet to receive him.

Now as the Angels celebrate thy praises,
Godhead essential, Trinity co-equal ;
Spare thy redeem'd ones, as they bow before thee,
Pardon imploring. Amen.

As you can see, this hymn is in my favorite meter: 11 11 11 5, called the "Sapphic and Adonic meter."  You can follow along with the square notes at this PDF offered on the St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum website, or using the image of that file below:

The interesting thing about this hymn - and what makes it famous - is that it's where the  musical scale syllables "Do-Re-Mi," etc., originated.   Per New Advent :
The hymn is written in Sapphic stanzas, of which the first is famous in the history of music for the reason that the notes of the melody corresponding with the initial syllables of the six hemistichs are the first six notes of the diatonic scale of C. This fact led to the syllabic naming of the notes as Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, as may be shown by capitalizing the initial syllables of the hemistichs:
UT queant laxis REsonare fibris
MIra gestorum
FAmuli tuorum,
SOLve polluti LAbii reatum, Sancte Ioannes.

Guido of Arezzo showed his pupils an easier method of determining the sounds of the scale than by the use of the monochord. His method was that of comparison of a known melody with an unknown one which was to be learned, and for this purpose he frequently chose the well-known melody of the "Ut queant laxis" . Against a common view of musical writers, Dom Pothier contends that Guido did not actually give these syllabic names to the notes, did not invent the hexachordal system, etc., but that insensibly the comparison of the melodies led to the syllabic naming.

Here's a score that clearly shows this ascending scale, using only the first verse of the hymn:

And here's what Wikipedia says about "Do-Re-Mi" at its solfège entry:
The use of a seven-note diatonic musical scale is ancient, though originally it was played in descending order.

In the eleventh century, the music theorist Guido of Arezzo developed a six-note ascending scale that went as follows: ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la. A seventh note, "si" was added shortly after.[6] The names were taken from the first verse of the Latin hymn Ut queant laxis, where the syllables fall on their corresponding scale degree.

Sheet Music for Ut Queant Laxis

Ut queant laxis resonāre fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

The words of the hymn (The Hymn of St. John) were written by Paulus Diaconus in the 8th century. It translates[7] as:
So that these your servants can, with all their voice, sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John!
"Ut" was changed in 1600 in Italy to the open syllable Do,[8] at the suggestion of the musicologue Giovanni Battista Doni, and Si (from the initials for "Sancte Iohannes"[dubiousdiscuss]) was added to complete the diatonic scale. In Anglo-Saxon countries, "si" was changed to "ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter.[9] "Ti" is used in tonic sol-fa and in the song "Do-Re-Mi".

In England during the Elizabethan era a simplified version of this system (using only the syllables "fa", "sol", "la" and "mi") was used (see below #Solmization in Elizabethan England).

Sing Antra deserti at Mattins using the same two melodies as above; take the words from the second of the the three parts of the poem above.

O nimis felix is the Lauds hymn; the words come from the third of three parts of the poem.  The melody prescribed for O nimis felix is #44, the same tune used on this mp3 of the hymn O Pater sancte, sung at the Lauds Trinity Office (again the audio file is courtesy of the LLPB). 

John the Baptist seems to be a sort of empty slate for artists to write upon using their own conceptions; there are many very different takes on him.  Here are a couple I haven't posted on this blog yet.

This is Joachim Patinir's "Baptism of Christ," from 1515:

And this is Alexander Ivanov's "Sermon of St. John the Baptist," from sometime in the 19th Century:



Caelius said...

A local art museum was exhibiting works by Mattia Preti in the spring. Preti was a member of a devotional society of John the Baptist and very much enjoyed painting scenes from his life. One of the more amazing works shows the Baptist condemning Herod for his incestuous marriage. To the side, you can see Herod's plate displayed. To most Europeans of the day, this would have seemed normal. People with any wealth displayed the objects on which they put their food. However, Preti uses this everyday custom to foreshadow the martyrdom of the saint and indirectly condemn the pride intrinsic to the custom. Sadly, I can't find the painting online.

bls said...

Interesting. I found two by him of "the Baptist reproaching Herod" - a theme you don't see all that often, actually! - but neither has a plate in it.

I'd really like to see that one....

Caelius said...

It's this one:

The funny part is that you can't see the plate in the Web image very well. It's in the dark area beneath the Baptist's arm. It's much clearer when you're looking at the canvas in real life.

bls said...

Yeah - that was one of the ones I saw, but didn't see the plate, because it's pretty dark....