HEN IT COMES TO Gregorian accompaniment, the simple version of the Alma Redemptoris Mater is surely the “pons asinorum.” I have been thinking about this piece for more than 15 years, yet I still can’t fully decide upon the rhythm. I very much appreciate what Professor Patrick Russill of the London Oratory wrote in 1998: “In style, [our accompaniments] observe the disciplines of the Solesmes tradition, though now that Solesmes has abandoned its notion of the ictus, the opportunity has been taken—in syllabic word-setting—to bring chord changes into closer line with verbal accents.” Those familiar with the with official chant edition (Editio Vaticana) remember that the Germans lengthen every spondee—which makes “sense,” but also makes the plainsong very heavy and monotonous. The French prefer to elongate only the final syllable of a spondee.
* PDF Download • “Alma Redemptoris Mater”
—English translation by Father Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923).
To make matters worse, even the Solesmes monks hedge their bets—notice in this recording how they elongate spondees such as “máter” and “mánes.” So I guess I will continue thinking about these issues, and maybe on my deathbed I’ll arrive at the answer…
“Alma Redemptoris Mater” • 13 Accompaniments
You will notice that my harmonization—written on 17 November 2020—reflects more of a “German” approach. You will also notice the literal English translation comes from Father Adrian Fortescue:
* Version 1 • (Jeff Ostrowski)
—The literal English translation is by Father Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923).
* Version 2 • (Father Green)
—Father Andrew Green, OSB, assisted Father Herman Koch with a 1942 hymnal.
* Version 3 • (Dom Desrocquettes)
—Dom Jean-Hébert Desroquettes was organist at Solesmes Abbey.
* Version 3B • (Dom Desrocquettes)
—At a lower key; taken from a Scottish Hymnal.
* Version 4 • (Dom Murray)
—Dom Andrew Gregory Murray was organist at Downside Abbey.
* Version 5 • (Bragers)
—Achille P. Bragers studied at the Lemmens Institute (Belgium).
* Version 6 • (Marier)
—Dr. Theodore Marier founded St. Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
* Version 6B • (Marier)
—At a lower key; otherwise it’s identical.
* Version 8 • (Potiron)
—Henri Potiron was choirmaster of Sacred Heart Basilica (Paris) and taught at the Gregorian Institute.
* Version 9 • (Montani)
—Nicola A. Montani (d. 1948) was a student of Monsignor Antonio Rella.
* Version 10 • (Fr. Jones, 1952)
—Father Percy Jones was Music Director for the Archdiocese of Melbourne (1940-1975).
* Version 11 • (Lapierre, 1953)
—Dr. Eugène Lapierre studied with Vincent d’Indy, Marcel Dupré, Henri Potiron, and Dom Desrocquettes.
What am I missing?
I’ve never really enjoyed singing the “Alma Redemptoris Mater”—neither the simple nor the solemn version. Yet Father Tomás Luis de Victoria (d. 1611) wrote a huge number of pieces based on it. Kevin Allen’s setting is an absolute masterpiece. Palestrina, Guerrero, Dom Gregory Murray, and many other great composers used this melody for inspiration. So maybe someday I will mature enough to love this melody. The text is certainly beautiful, and has been loved by Roman Catholics. Here is a remarkable translation—courtesy of the Brébeuf hymnal—for the “Alma Redemptoris Mater” which was created by Roman Catholics in 1687AD:
And notice the beautiful use of enjambment in this version of “Alma Redemptoris Mater”—again, created by Roman Catholics—dating from 1669AD:
Thou, the Redeemer’s Mother bright,
gate whereby souls ascend
to heav’n, thou star that rul’st the sea:
thy helping hand extend
To people fall’n, who strive to rise;
thou who hast brought to light
thy Father, while wise nature stood
astonished at the sight,
Virgin before and after birth,
taking from Gabriel’s speech
this happy Hail: on sinful souls
have mercy, we beseech.
Marvelous stuff, folks!