I am pleased to announce a new project – a course on Singing the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Latin. I thought it would be an easy project. However, as with just about everything to do with Sacred Music, there is so much more to it than you expect.
Way back a good decade ago, I bought seven copies of the Little Office, beautifully printed by Baronius Press, only to find out that the music contained was insufficient to actually sing the Office. My knowledge of the Roman Divine Office helped a bit, putting psalms to psalm tones but one hour remained impenetrable.
The Invitatory was all written out, so that was fine. The hymn and psalms were just like other hours, but the Responsories were bewildering.
In the Liturgy of the Hours of 1975, Matins morphed into the Office of Readings, which makes it sound like a good bedtime storybook. And I bet the overwhelming majority of people praying Matins read it and relish the words, but it also contains the lion’s share of the Music in the Office.
When looking for the music for Matins, one is bound to come across Holger Peter Sandhofe who typeset the Nocturnale Romanum, 2002, which contains a whole lot of music for Matins for the whole year. Unfortunately Sandhofe died very young and the work is said to be “rife with transcription errors both in the musical notation and texts“. I’m not in a position to assess the accuracy, as I don’t have the sources he was transcribing, but some of the neumes he used are quite different compared to the Liber Usualis.
Fortunately there is another source: Le Petit Office de la Très Sainte Vierge, Noté en Plain-Chant, 1893 – a 92 page booklet which forms part of a larger book, Cantus Varii, 1902.
Thanks go to Jonathan Kadar-Kallen who mentioned this in his article about his own work on the Little Office.
And here is how Le Petit Office describes that piece:
The notation is more like what we are accustomed to from the Liber Usualis. The tune in some ways is closer to the Nocturnale. I would love to know what sources each one was working from.
And here is the piece from the Baronius Press Little Office book:
Which follows the Nocturnale Romanum, complete with ascending puncta inclinata and other oddball neumes. Being the first of six complicated responsories, this one is an accurate copy, but subsequent pieces get more ragged:
Even more odd is this phrase, which seems to be raised a third in a scattered way:
So, it seems that there were two hurdles to singing the responsories from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary as published by Baronius Press:
- The unusual patterns of neumes employed in the Nocturnale Romanum.
- The typographical errors in transcribing the Nocturnale as well as possible typographical errors in the Nocturnale itself.
So, while I can’t guarantee that the French book from 1893 will be more authentic, it will be easier to sing, so I think I will join Jonathan Kadar-Kallen in working from that music rather than that printed in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2011.
If you would like to see my work so far on explaining how to sing the Little Office, check out my new course Singing the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Latin on Udemy. It has been a great diversion while restrictions on singing in my area were tightened. Even if singing the Mass is deemed hazardous, we can still sing at home.