INDING organ accompaniments for the Divine Office can be challenging. The best source is the Nova Organi Harmonia, but sometimes I desire more options. I am capable of improvising harmonizations “at sight” (directly from the Gregorian notation), but this approach has disadvantages. I have heard certain organists (e.g. Dr. Horst Buchholz) brilliantly improvise harmonies. On the other hand, I have heard some “improvised” accompaniments that were just awful. Common sense dictates that Registration, Harmonies, and Harmonic Rhythm be adjusted based on the particular choir and acoustic situation—but some organists seem incapable of this.
I invite you to examine my harmonization:
* PDF Download • AD REGIAS AGNI DAPES
—Harmonization by Jeff Ostrowski using the “corrupt” text from 1632.
* PDF Download • AD CENAM AGNI PROVIDI
—Harmonization by Jeff Ostrowski using the traditional text from the 4th century.
Both texts come from the Brébeuf hymnal, which contains many additional musical settings for this ancient hymn. It serves as the Vespers Hymn for Eastertide or (in some churches) as a Communion hymn.
Here’s how the Hymn looked approximately 1425AD, although they chose a different melody:
To understand why Mediæval monks often chose different tunes for the same text (just like the Brébeuf hymnal), please carefully read this. This technique was also discussed at length during Sacred Music Symposium 2019—and important information was included in the booklets given to each participant. [By the way, have you signed up for Sacred Music Symposium 2020 yet?]
In 1632AD, this hymn was greatly altered by the revisers under Pope Urban VIII; only three lines remained unaltered. The Brébeuf hymnal makes it easy to compare the traditional hymn text (“Ad Cœnam Agni Providi”) with the version produced in 1632AD by Pope Urban VIII:
To understand why the Brébeuf hymnal places so much focus on the traditional hymns—along with the revisions by Pope Urban VIII—read what Fr. Adrian Fortescue wrote about the Urbanite revision:
In the seventeenth century came the crushing blow which destroyed the beauty of all breviary hymns. […] Attempts to reform them had been made before, but so far they had been spared. Pope Urban VIII (d. 1644) was destined to succeed in destroying them. He appointed four Jesuits to reform the hymns, so that they should no longer offend Renaissance ears. […] These four Jesuits, in that faithful obedience to the Holy See which is the glory of their society, with a patient care that one cannot help admiring, set to work to destroy every hymn in the office. They had no concept of the fact that many of these hymns were written in meter by accent; their lack of understanding those venerable types of Christian poetry is astounding. They could conceive no ideal but that of a school grammar of Augustan Latin. Wherever a line was not as Horace would have written it, it had to go. The period was hopelessly bad for any poetry; these pious Jesuits were true children of their time. So they embarked on that fatal reform whose effect was the ruin of our hymns. They slashed and tinkered, they re-wrote lines and altered words, they changed the sense and finally produced the poor imitations that we still have, in the place of the hymns our fathers sang for over a thousand years. Indeed their confidence in themselves is amazing. They were not ashamed to lay their hands on Sedulius, on Prudentius, on St. Ambrose himself.
The Brébeuf hymnal is the first hymnal to provide a literal translation of many ancient Latin hymns. The translations were created with the assistance of FSSP priests. The literal translation for “Ad Cenam Agni Providi” is found on page 24:
I have seen misguided people online erroneously claim that the Brébeuf hymnal is the first hymnal to write out each verse. The truth is, Solesmes Abbey has been doing this since the 1930s. For example, consider how this hymn was printed in the Liber Usualis.