25 March 2014, In Annuntiatione BVM

25 March 2014, In Annuntiatione BVM 

EF Missa Cantata, 8am

Introit: Vultum tuum, begin on F (as re)

Gradual: Diffusa est, begin on B (as re) [begin on C if women sing the verse to *]

Tract: Audi filia, begin on D (as re) [begin on F if men/women sing the 2nd & 3rd verses to *]

Offertory: Ave Maria, begin on D (as fa)

Communion: Ecce Virgo, begin on D (as re)

Recessional: Ave Regina Caelorum, PBC, p. 110, begin on A

Ordinary from Mass IX. Credo I.

This is one of the Church's oldest feasts and can be traced back to (at least) the 5th century. Its chants are contained in the oldest manuscripts, although the Mass as such is post-Gregorian. In the manuscripts this Introit is assigned to the 1st of January, with the superscription Statio ad Sanctam Mariam, as well as to today's feast, to the feast of the Assumption, and also to the feasts of St. Agnes (21 January) and St. Euphemia (16 September), perhaps as a reflection of the second and third phrases. It is also one of the Introits of the Common of one Virgin. It has three (or two*) phrases:

  1. Vultum tuum deprecabuntur omnes divites plebis:
  2. adducentur regi virgines post eam;
  3. proximae ejus adducentur tibi in laetitia et exsultatione.

*Some manuscripts connect the 2nd and 3rd phrases into one.

            The melody moves up and down gracefully but in a very tight way, sensing the presence of the majesty of Him whom Mary carries in her womb: super quem Reges continebunt os suum. The second phrase presents Mary as an ideal of perfect virginity. Following in her footsteps (post eam), countless virgins (virgines) have found their perfect joy in the King of Kings. The accented syllable here, as is often the case, has only one note while the syllable following has several. The same holds good with regard to the secondary accent on deprecabuntur and adducentur. The melody moves in simple fashion within the tetrachord d-g. The first half of the third phrase likewise confines itself to a tetrachord (c-f). The interval of a fourth over adducentur looks back to (di)-vites of the first phrase.

The Gradual has four phrases:

  1. Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis:
  2. propterea benedixit te Deus in aeternum.
  3. V. Propter veritatem et mansuetudinem, et justitiam:
  4. et deducet te mirabiliter dextera tua.

The text ties us back to Christmas, when we sang it on the octave day and on the feast of the Presentation. It is also sung on the feast the Assumption (15 August), of St. Lucy (13 December), and St. Anne (26 July), as well as in the Common of one Virgin. The first phrase rises to suprising heights. Singing the words Iabiis tuis today is particularly appropriate. The tonal as well as the harmonic foundation of the second half of the second phrase is formed by f, and the high point of the melody, previously b, now becomes b. The melody reaches a climax over the final syllable of mansuetudinem, then returns to the tonic. The melodic formula of et justitiam is reminiscent of Epiphany; that which follows, of the feast of the Assumption; the conclusion, of the second Mass of Christmas.

The Offertory and Communion antiphons are also sung on the 4th Sunday of Advent, whose Mass formulary also celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin. This Offertory is always at or at least near the top of the list of 'most beautiful' or 'most beloved' pieces in the Gregorian Mass repertory. It has four phrases:

  1. Ave Maria,
  2. gratia plena,
  3. Dominus tecum:
  4. benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

The melody tries valiantly to capture the awe-some nature of the most momentous event in human history, one completely beyond human undertanding or appreciation. So it sinks into the deep with gratia, tecum, fructus; rises slowly with Ave, gratia, ventris; and again soars over Maria. Over Ave the passage f a f g f e is soon followed by the similar f a f g a g. After the upbeat over the first note of Maria, the grouping of the neums here given suggests a division into two-note groups: a cc cc | cagf | gaca | fgg. The two bistrophas, naturally, are to be sung with a very light swing. Plena is made prominent by its pressus, the first in this piece. We do not find the passage Dominus tecum in the early manuscripts; its melody is found in the Offertory-verses Posuisti and Angelus over the words gloria and stetit respectively. With some variations, this tyle of singing the verses was adapted to the text of the Offertory Beata es, which is sung on September 8 and on some other feasts. Here the melody occurs over the word virgo.

            The second member is a repetition of the first. The brilliant phrase benedicta is characterized by its high pitch and by repeated and impressive accents: c d e e-c d d c-c d a a g-g c c b; then by the fourths d-a, g-c, a-d. These accents are still active in the last phrase: f g a a g, g a f f e , and g a a gg.

The Communion antiphon has two phrases.

  1. Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium
  2. et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel

This Communion has many echos of that of the first Sunday of Advent: the same mode, the same range, the same divisions, an arsis-movement in the first phrase resting on the dominant, then a thesis-movement in the second phrase. Both over benignitatem and pariet we find the use of a five-step scale with no semitones (pentatony). But with this Communion Ecce virgo, we have a descending fourth over virgo, sol-re, and a fourth higher over pa-(riet), re-la; then an ascending fourth over et vo-(cabitur), sol-do-do. In pariet filium, the melody echoes the high pitched cry of a woman in the pangs of childbirth, then goes on to settle quietly as we contemplate the awe-some & wonderful reality of who this child is: emmanu-El. God with us.


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