NE OF MY BROTHERS—in addition to being a great athlete—is a fabulous musician. About fifteen years ago, I showed him a Responsorial Psalm I’d composed, asking for his honest opinion. He immediately said: “I would never use this; it’s in a minor key, and sounds way too depressing.” He was correct; pieces for the congregation should sound bright, not mournful. The minor modes—which are far more interesting, in my opinion—must be used with great care. For instance, if I compose a verse in a minor tone, I will often use a major refrain … and there are other tricks, too.
A Happy Piece: A beautiful and “bright” piece comes to us from the 5th century: Corde Natus Ex Parentis. The complete version by Prudentius is very long, and—like many other ancient hymns—talks about our Redeemer’s entire life, including miracles he performed. But over the centuries, Corde Natus has become strongly associated with Christmastide and/or the Epiphany season (at least the verses which are commonly sung). The Brébeuf hymnal contains a gorgeous organ accompaniment:
Version for Two Voices: Needless to say, this song can be sung in Latin, not just English. Yesterday morning, I composed a version for two voices. I have no idea whether it’s any good, but feel free to download it—just remember it cannot be sung a cappella. It only works with the organ accompaniment found in the Brébeuf hymnal:
Melody Origin: The Brébeuf hymnal gives tons of “extra” information regarding the provenance of its texts and tunes. It even provides specific references to additional harmonizations by Richard Lloyd (1993 and Noel Rawsthorne (2011); and I know of no other hymnal which does likewise. The footnote on page 668 says: “The melody (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM) is an 11th century Sanctus trope, later adapted for Piae Cantiones (1582).” Do you think it sounds weird that this hymn used to be part of the SANCTUS?
Not Weird At All: It’s actually not very strange; and the reverse also happens. That is to say, many parts of the ORDINARIUM MISSAE came from other songs. Test your “musical knowledge” on the following examples. See if you can figure out which AGNUS DEI comes from the first example. And then see if you can figure out which SANCTUS comes from the second example:
Trivia: According to Dr. Joseph Dyer, the “Corde Natus” strophe is inserted into the hymn for the blessing of the oils on Holy Thursday (O redemptor, sume carmen).
This article is part of an ongoing (loosely connected)
series called: Repertoire for Small Choirs