Notes on the texts for the NCS concert in July 2007

Put together principally for my own edification, but made available in case anyone else finds them useful. The idea is to untangle contorted sentence structure, illuminate obscure references, and so on. Different people have different thresholds of obscurity; I've erred on the side of explaining too much.

If you find them less useful than they could have been for any reason (especially if I'm outright wrong about something), please let me know.

Parry, “I was glad when they said unto me ...”

I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is at unity with itself.
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.

Text is from Psalm 122. “The house of the Lord” is of course the temple in Jerusalem. Originally written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, and revised for the coronation of George V in 1911. (Hence the vivats, adapted a little for each new monarch.) The co-opting of Biblical texts about Jerusalem to refer to England is of course rather a tradition, which may be familiar from one of Parry's other well known settings :-).

“Jerusalem”, ironically given its history, means “city of peace”.

Walton, “A litany” (Drop, drop, slow tears)

Drop, drop, slow tears,
  And bathe those beauteous feet
Which brought from heaven
  The news and Prince of Peace.
Cease not, wet eyes,
  His mercy to entreat;
To cry for vengeance
  Sin doth never cease.
In your deep flood[s]
  Drown all my feaults and fears;
Nor let His eye
  See sin, but through my tears.

Text by Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650).

“The news and Prince of Peace”: i.e., the news of peace (the gospel) and the Prince of Peace (Jesus Christ). The feet in question are presumably meant to be those of Jesus himself. Compare Isaiah 52:7, Nahum 1:15 and Romans 10:15 (how beautiful [on the mountains] are the feet of them that bring good news) and Luke 7:38 (Jesus's feet being washed by the tears of one of his admirers).

The punctuation of the bit about mercy and vengeance may not be perfectly clear. I paraphrase: “My wet eyes, don't stop begging for Jesus's mercy, because my sin continually cries for vengeance to be taken on it”. The poet is hoping for that cry not to be answered.

Overall idea: my tears of repentance for my sin and gratitude for forgiveness will delight God so much that he overlooks the sin itself.

Stanford, “Beati quorum via”

Beati quorum via integra est,
qui ambulant in lege Domini.

Text is from Psalm 119, a lengthy panegyric to the “Law of the Lord”. Fortunately Stanford only set the first verse.

Beati quorum via integra est,
Blessed are they whose way is blameless (or perfect; lit. “whole”),
qui ambulant in lege Domini.
who follow (lit. “walk in”) the law of the Lord.

Walton, “Set me as a seal upon thine heart”

Set me as a seal upon thy heart,
Set me as a seal upon thine arm,
For love is strong as death.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can the floods drown it.

Text is from the Song of Songs, 8:6-7. The love in question is clearly the erotic sort, despite repeated attempts down the centuries to turn this love poem into some kind of spiritual allegory.

The Song of Songs takes the form of a dialogue between two lovers. These words are spoken by the woman.

Elgar, “Give unto the Lord”

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength,
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters:
The God of glory thundereth;
It is the Lord that ruleth the sea.

The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty;
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars,
Yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
Yea, the voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire;
Yea, the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness,
And strippeth the forests bare.

In His temple doth every one speak of His glory.
[Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.]
The Lord sitteth above the water-flood;
And the Lord remaineth a King for ever;

The Lord shall give strength unto His people;
The Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Text is Psalm 29, almost complete.

“Give” of course really means something more like “ascribe”. “O ye mighty”: literally “O ye sons of God”, presumably meaning angels or something of the sort.

“The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire”: i.e., causes lightning. All these things that the voice of the Lord doeth are (I think) descriptions of natural phenomena – thunder, lightning, earthquakes, forest fires, high winds, floods, and so on – the point being either that God is ultimately responsible for them or that they are straightforwardly caused by God shouting, blowing, etc. Make your own guess at the sophistication of the author :-).

Finzi, “God is gone up”

God is gone up with a triumphant shout,
The Lord with sounding trumpets' melodies:
Sing praise, sing praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your heads, ye lasting doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in!

Methinks I see heaven's sparkling courtiers fly
In flakes of glory down Him to attend,
And hear heart-cramping notes of melody
Surround His chariot as it did ascend,
Mixing their music, making every string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.

Text is by Edward Taylor (1646-1729); the first stanza is adapted from Psalm 47:5-6 (“God is gone up with a triumphant shout and sounding trumpets; sing praise”) and Psalm 24:7 (“Lift up your heads, ye gates and ancient doors, that the king of glory may enter”). The second stanza is a sort of meditation on the first. Finzi repeats the first stanza at the end.

“God is gone up ...” presumably originally referred to some ceremony in the Jewish Temple, in which God was deemed to have ascended the temple mount and entered the temple. Co-opted by Christians as a reference to the Ascension.

“seraphicwise” obviously means “like seraphs” (angels of the highest rank, whose job is to hover around the throne of God singing “Holy, holy, holy”). “They” in the following line refers back to the seraphs; and of course they are also “heaven's sparkling courtiers” in the following stanza. “Lasting” = “everlasting”, or at least “ancient”.

The second stanza is pretty straightforward. It's the poet, not the angels or God, who hears the heart-cramping notes of melody. The stringed instruments become more enravishing as the angels sing.

Finzi, “Lo, the full, final Sacrifice”

Lo, the full, final Sacrifice
On which all figures fix't their eyes.
The ransomed Isaac, and his ram;
The Manna, and the Paschal Lamb.

Jesu Master, just and true!
Our Food, and faithful Shepherd too!

O let that love which thus makes thee
Mix with our low Mortality,
Lift our lean Souls, and set us up
Convictors of thine own full cup,
Coheirs of Saints. That so all may
Drink the same wine; and the same Way.
Nor change the Pasture, but the Place
To feed of Thee in thine own Face.

O dear Memorial of that Death
Which lives still, and allows us breath!
Rich, Royal food! Bountiful Bread!
Whose use denies us to the dead!

Live ever Bread of loves and be
My life, my soul, my surer self to me.

Help Lord, my Faith, my Hope increase;
And fill my portion in thy peace.
Give love for life; nor let my days
Grow, but in new powers to thy name and praise.

Rise, Royal Sion! rise and sing
Thy soul's kind shepherd, thy heart's King.
Stretch all thy powers; call if you can
Harps of heaven to hands of man.
This sovereign subject sits above
The best ambition of thy love.

Lo the Bread of Life, this day's
Triumphant Text provokes thy praise.
The living and life-giving bread,
To the great Twelve distributed
When Life, himself, at point to die
Of love, was his own Legacy.

O soft self-wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps Balm for wounded man.
All this way bend thy benign flood
To a bleeding Heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my worlds of sins from me.
Come love! Come Lord! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal'd source of thee.
When Glory's sun faith's shades shall chase,
And for thy veil give me thy Face.

Text is by Richard Crashaw (1572-1626); Finzi selected bits of Crashaw's adaptations of two Latin hymns by Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te and Lauda Sion salvatorem. Much the most obscure of our texts in this concert. Interestingly, all the bits I found hardest to make any sense of turn out to have been Crashaw's inventions. (Finzi's programme note for the first performance remarks on the “involutions and obscurities not found in the original 13th-century Latin”.)

This is basically about the Eucharist. Crashaw was a Roman Catholic, a believer in the Real Presence (of the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist), and this text is all about body and blood and bread and sacrifice. And also sheep.

“the full, final Sacrifice on which all figures fix't their eyes”: cf. the Letter to the Hebrews (10:12 “one sacrifice for all time”, 12:2 “let us fix our eyes upon Jesus”). “Figures”, I think, means “prefigurations” or “symbols” (of Jesus and his sacrifice); certainly both the Aquinas hymns have the Latin “figuris” with that meaning.

“The ransomed Isaac, and his ram”: Isaac was offered as a human sacrifice by his father Abraham, but the sacrifice was called off at the last minute when God provided a ram instead. (Thus: Jesus, a human sacrifice offered by his Father, and also a substitute provided in our place.)

“Manna”: food miraculously provided by God to the Israelites in the desert. Compare John 6, where Jesus compares himself favourably to the manna: “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (Hence, later, “whose use denies us to the dead”.)

“Paschal Lamb”: the lamb eaten ceremonially by the Hebrews before their departure from Egypt, its blood smeared on their doors as a sign to the Angel of Death to spare them while massacring the Egyptian firstborn; and the lamb eaten annually thereafter in commemoration. A lamb was a common sacrificial animal after that among the Jews. Hence the idea of Jesus as “lamb of God”: crucified at Passover (that annual commemoration), as a sacrifice to save people from death.

“and faithful Shepherd too”: “We all like sheep have gone astray”, “I am the good shepherd”, etc.

The syntax of the stanza beginning “O let that love” is a bit strained. It's “that love which thus makes thee mix with our low mortality” (i.e., in the Incarnation); that love is to “lift our lean (i.e., hungry) souls”. “convictors”: nothing to do with conviction, convincing, or victory; it means “people sharing a table”. “coheirs of Saints” means “people who share the same inheritance as the Saints”, not “people who inherit from the Saints”. (Inherit what? Look five stanzas down.)

“Nor change the Pasture, but the Place / To feed of Thee in thine own Face”: i.e., “what we now eat (Jesus's body) is the very same thing as we'll eat in heaven, face to face with him; only the location will be different”.

“O dear Memorial of that Death / which lives still, and allows us breath”: it's the memorial, not the death, that “lives still, and allows us breath”.

“And fill my portion in thy peace”: i.e., give me my full share of your peace.

“Royal Sion”: Jerusalem. (Either literally or figuratively.)

“This day's triumphant text”: Aquinas's hymns were written for the newly instituted feast of Corpus Christi (“The body of Christ”, in honour of the eucharist). The Latin original is nearer to “theme” than “text”.

“To the great Twelve distributed”: at the Last Supper, perhaps with an echo of the feeding of the five thousand.

“When Life himself, at point to die of love, was his own legacy”: i.e., when Jesus (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”), who was shortly going to die on account of his love for us, made himself into an offering that would survive his death (i.e., the eucharist, understood as actually being his body and blood).

“O soft self-wounding Pelican”: there was a mediaeval tradition, entirely without foundation in fact, that pelicans would wound themselves so as to feed their young on their own blood. Hence the pelican became a symbol of Jesus.

“That long day for which I languish”: presumably that of arrival in heaven. “Come away”: here (and also in Shakespeare's “Come away, death”) “away” means “onward” or “along”, not “elsewhere”.

“For thy veil give me thy Face”: “for” = “in place of”, not “to serve as”. Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12 “At present we see dimly, as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face”.

Random irrelevant note: parts of “Lauda Sion salvatorem”, not translated by Crashaw (or at least not set by Finzi), are parodied in “In taberna” from Carmina Burana.

Greene, “Lord, let me know mine end”

Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days,
That I may be certified how long I have to live.
Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long,
And mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee;
And verily every man living is altogether vanity.

For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain;
He heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

And now, Lord, what is my hope? truly my hope is even in thee.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and with thine ears consider my calling.
Hold not thy peace at my tears.
O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength,
Before I go hence, and be no more seen.

Text is from Psalm 39.

“the number of my days”, “how long I have to live”: the point is of course to know that the answers are “not many” and “not long”, rather than to know the exact figures.

“a span long”: a hand's breadth. “in respect of thee”: from your perspective. “consider my calling”: hear my cry.

This is more or less the same text as “Herr, lehre doch mich” in Brahms's Deutsches Requiem.

Mendelssohn, “Verleih uns Frieden”

Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich,
  Herr Gott, zu unserm Zeiten!
Es ist doch ja kein Andrer nicht,
  Das für uns könnte streiten,
Denn du, unser Gott, alleine.

Text by Martin Luther (1483-1546).

Very straightforward text; all that's needed is a ploddingly literal translation. (The “translation” in ESM is pretty fanciful.)

Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich, / Herr Gott, zu unserm Zeiten!
Give us peace mercifully, Lord God, / throughout our times!
Es ist doch ja kein Andrer nicht, / das für uns könnte streiten,
For there is indeed no other / that for us can fight,
Denn du, unser Gott, alleine.
but you, our God, alone.

If you are familiar with the Anglican liturgy, or even with Chamberlain's words on returning from Munich, the above may seem familiar. Luther and the Anglicans both took the words from a mediaeval Latin hymn. Chamberlain took them from the Anglican liturgy.

Poulenc, “Salve regina”

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.

Eja, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Text is a mediaeval Latin hymn of unknown authorship but traditionally ascribed to either St Anselm of Lucca (note for philosophers: not the same as Anselm of Canterbury) or St Bernard.

First, a nearly word-for-word translation. The translation in ESM isn't bad, but Latin and English word order are quite different, so it's worth clarifying what corresponds to what.

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
Hail, Queen, mother of mercy,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
[our] life, [our] sweetness, and our hope, hail.
Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae,
To you we call, exiles [and] children of Eve,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
to you we sigh, mourning and weeping
in hac lacrimarum valle.
in this vale of tears.
Eja, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
O therefore, our advocate, your ...
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
merciful eyes turn toward us;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
and Jesus, blessed fruit of your womb,
nobis post hoc exilium ostende.
to us after this exile show.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
O kind, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Salve: Chris's remarks in rehearsal notwithstanding, “salve” isn't at all the same as “salva” (meaning “save” or “heal”) as e.g. in “Salva me, fons pietatis”. But it's related: “salve” literally means something like “be in good health”; compare English “hail”, related to “hale” and “healthy”.

vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra: “nostra” qualifies all three adjectives, or so I'm told, which would suggest that the little break we're putting between the second “dulcedo” and “et spes” is wrong. But it does no grievous harm to the sense if the BVM is addressed as “life, sweetness and our hope” instead of “our life, sweetness, and hope”, so no matter.

filii Evae: we, not the BVM, are the children of Eve here. The underlying idea is that the Virgin Mary is a second Eve, as Jesus is the second Adam (it doesn't do to think too hard about the family relationships here), the two of them undoing by their perfection what the original ones wrecked by their sin.

lacrimarum valle: I think this is the earliest occurrence of “vale of tears”.

illos tuos ... converte: the verb often comes at the end of the sentence in Latin; a less literal translation would of course be “turn your merciful eyes toward us”. Note in particular that (contrary to what anyone might guess) “s” doesn't mean anything at all like “e”, though the change of dynamic after it makes me wonder whether Poulenc thought it did.

(Note added 2013-01-07: I have absolutely no inkling what that last sentence is referring to. I'm leaving it in in case some ingenious reader works it out.)

Jesum ... ostende: verb at end again. “Show”, like “turn” in the previous lines, is an imperative.

exules, exilium: the idea is that our real home is in heaven with God, and here on earth we are exiles. This is, I think, another bit of Christian co-option of the long history of literal exile of the Jews and the Biblical material about exile that resulted from it.

The combination of exules and filii Evae is presumably meant to recall the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

misericordes, clemens, pia: too many words with similar meanings! All are in the general vicinity of “generous”, “merciful”, “nice”, “loving”. Misericordia is the quality of feeling another's wretchedness (miser) in your heart (cor); clementia is the quality of forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, and forbearance; pietas is originally that of doing one's duty, especially to God, family and friends, but here (and also in the requiem mass -- “pie Jesu”, “quia pius es”) is maybe nearer to “pity”, which (like “piety”) is derived from it.

Poulenc, “Litanies à la Vierge Noire”

The text is long enough that to save repetition I'll give it along with a literal translation.

Seigneur, ayez pitié de nous.Lord, have pity on us.
Jesus-Christ, ayez pitié de nous.Jesus Christ, have pity on us.
Jesus-Christ, écoutez-nous.Jesus Christ, hear us.
Jesus-Christ, exaucez-nous.Jesus Christ, grant our prayers.
Dieu le père, créateur, ayez pitié de nous.God the Father, creator, have pity on us.
Dieu le fils, rédempteur, ayez pitié de nous.God the Son, redeemer, have pity on us.
Dieu le Saint-Esprit, sanctificateur, ayez pitié de nous.God the Holy Spirit, sanctifier, have pity on us.
TrinitéSainte, qui êtes un seul Dieu, ayez pitié de nous.Holy Trinity, who are one single God, have pity on us.
Sainte Vierge Marie, priez pour nous.Holy Virgin Mary, pray for us.
Vierge, reine et patronne, priez pour nous.Virgin, queen and patron, pray for us.
Vierge que Zachée le publicain nous a fait connaître et aimer,Virgin, whom Zacchaeus the tax-collector made us know and love,
Vierge à qui Zachée ou Saint Amadour éleva ce sanctuaire,Virgin, to whom Zacchaeus or Saint Amadour raised this sanctuary,
Priez pour nous, priez pour nous.Pray for us, pray for us.
Reine du sanctuaire, que consacra Saint Martial,Queen of the sanctuary, which Saint Martial consecrated,
Et où il célébra ses saints mystères,And where he celebrated his holy mysteries,
Reine, près de laquelle s'agenouilla Saint LouisQueen, before whom knelt Saint Louis
Vous demandant le bonheur de la France,Asking of you good fortune for France,
Priez pour nous, priez pour nous.Pray for us, pray for us.
Reine, à qui Roland consacra son épée, priez pour nous.Queen, to whom Roland consecrated his sword, pray for us.
Reine, dont la bannière gagna les batailles, priez pour nous.Queen, whose banner won the battles, pray for us.
Reine, dont la main délivrait les captifs, priez pour nous.Queen, whose hand delivered the captives, pray for us.
Notre-Dame, dont le pélerinage est enrichi de faveurs specials,Our Lady, whose pilgrimage is enriched by special favours,
Notre-Dame, que l'impiété et la haine ont voulu souvient détruire,Our Lady, whom impiety and hate have often wished to destroy,
Notre-Dame, que les peuples visitent comme autrefois,Our Lady, whom the peoples visit as of old,
Priez pour nous, priez pour nous.Pray for us, pray for us.
Agneau de Dieu, qui effacez les péchés du monde, pardonnez-nous.Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, pardon us.
Agneau de Dieu, qui effacez les péchés du monde, exaucez-nous.Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, grant our prayers.
Agneau de Dieu, qui effacez les péchés du monde, ayez pitié de nous.Lamb of God, who wipes out the sins of the world, have pity on us.
Notre-Dame, priez pour nous,Our Lady, pray for us,
Afin que nous soyons dignes de Jésus-Christ.To the end that we may be worthy of Jesus Christ.

I haven't been able to determine the origin of the text. Probably “traditional”, but for all I know Poulenc may have written it himself. It's a prayer to (mostly) the Virgin Mary, addressed more specifically to the black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary at the 10th-century shrine of Rocamadour.

Zachée, Saint Amadour: the alleged founder of the shrine (hence the name: Roc-Amadour). Zacchaeus was the tax collector who climbed a tree to be able to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10); the two are traditionally identified, but the story of St Amadour appears to be mediaeval legend rather than fact, and the shrine certainly doesn't date back to the 1st century AD.

Saint Martial: traditionally supposed to have accompanied St Amadour on his journey through France.

Saint Louis: presumably King Louis IX (1215-1270), leader of two disastrous crusades, builder of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, generally reckoned exceptionally just, and canonized in 1297. He visited Rocamadour in 1245. I don't know exactly what he prayed for or whether he got it.

Roland: the central character in the 12th-century “Chanson de Roland”, the most eminent of Charlemagne's paladins, killed in a crusade against the Saracens. His sword supposedly contained in its hilt: a tooth of St Peter, blood from St Basil, hair from St Denis, and a piece of the clothing of the Virgin Mary. A fragment of the sword is supposedly preserved at Rocamadour. I assume the whole of this stanza refers to the Crusades, but I don't know any details.

comme autrefois: for years Rocamadour fell out of favour as a site for pilgrimage (not least because pilgrimage itself went out of fashion in the Enlightenment); it recovered its fortunes in the 19th century. I guess that's what this refers to.

This was the first of the stream of religious works Poulenc composed after his return to Roman Catholicism in 1936, which was apparently occasioned by the unexpected death of another composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud. Poulenc wrote that the work was intended to reflect the “country devotion” he found at Rocamadour, and that it must therefore be “sung simply, without pretension”.