Notes on the texts for the NCS concert in February 2008

As usual, an idiosyncratic and self-indulgent ramble through the texts, with a view to clarifying meanings and allusions and so on.

Translations are deliberately quite stiltedly literal. If anyone reading this is tempted to borrow them for the programme notes, please don't; they're not fit for that purpose. I can provide more idiomatic ones if they're wanted, though I make no claim to be a good poet.

Everything in here is fully authoritative, being derived from such infallible sources as Something I Found On The Web and My Hazy Memories of Secondary-School Latin. In the event of discrepancies between these notes and reality, reality is at fault.

The notes on Singet dem Herrn and Ave maris stella are exactly the same as last time around.

Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied

The first section's text is taken from psalm 149; the last, from psalm 150; the central section is composed of an aria of unknown origin (sung by choir 1) and a chorale whose words are taken from the hymn “Nun lob, mein Seel', den Herren” by Johann Gramann (sung by choir 2).

Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,Sing to the Lord a new song,
Die Gemeine der Heiligen sollen ihn loben.let the company of the saints praise him.
Israel freuet sich des, der ihn gemacht hat.Let Israel rejoice in him who made them.
Die Kinder Zion sei'n fröhlich über ihrem Könige,Let the children of Zion rejoice in their King,
Sie sollen loben seinen Namen im Reihen;let them praise his name with dancing,
mit Pauken und Harfen sollen sie ihm spielen.let them play to him with drum and harp.
Aria (choir 1):
Gott, nimm dich ferner unser an,God, continue to take care of us,
Denn ohne dich ist nichts getanfor without you is nothing done
Mit allen unsern all our affairs.
Drum sei du unser Schirm und Licht,Be our shelter and light,
Und trügt uns unsre Hoffnung nicht,and if our hope does not deceive us,
So wirst du's ferner will continue to be so.
Wohl dem, der sich nur steif und festHappy is he who firmly and strongly
Auf dich und deine Huld verlä himself over to you and your grace.
Chorale (choir 2):
Wie sich ein Vater erbarmetAs a father takes pity
Über seine junge Kinderlein,on his little children,
So tut der Herr uns allen,So does the Lord to us all,
So wir ihn kindlich fürchten rein.who fear him, childlike and pure.
Er kennt das arm Gemächte,He knows how weak are our powers,
Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub,God knows that we are but dust,
Gleichwie das Gras vom Rechen,like grass that is swept away,
Ein Blum und fallend flowers and falling leaves.
Der Wind nur drüber wehet,The wind has only to pass over them,
So ist es nicht mehr da,and they are gone;
Also der Mensch vergehet,even so man is passing away,
Sein End, das ist ihm nah.and his end is near.
Lobet den Herrn in seinen Taten,Praise the Lord for his deeds,
lobet ihn in seiner großen Herrlichkeit!praise him for his great majesty!
Alles, was Odem hat, lobe den Herrn.Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Webb: Lux Aeterna

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,May eternal light shine on them, Lord,
cum sanctis tuis in aeterna,with your saints in eternity,
quia pius es.because you are merciful.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,Give them eternal rest, Lord,
cum sanctis tuis in aeterna,with your saints in eternity,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.and may perpetual light shine on them.

These words are from the Requiem Mass liturgy, where the Lux aeterna is traditionally sung at the Communion. It is therefore the last Requiem-specific part of the Mass, and forms the last movement of (to take three very different examples) Mozart's, Berlioz's, and Rutter's settings.

Obviously the “eternal light” signifies heaven; compare “ne cadant in obscurum” (let them not fall into darkness) from the “Domine Jesu Christe”. Perhaps “perpetua” suggests unending continuation in time and “aeterna” suggests something altogether outside time, but it seems just as likely that aeterna/perpetua is merely variety for variety's sake.

Webb has chopped up and rearranged the text (and indeed some of the individual words) in order to create an atmosphere that suits the meaning of the words.

Rheinberger: Morgenlied

Die Sterne sind erblichenThe stars have faded
mit ihrem güldnen Schein,with their golden glow,
bald ist die Nacht entwichen,soon will the night be past,
der Morgen dringt herein.[and] the morning will arrive.
Noch waltet tiefes SchweigenNow deep silence reigns
im Tal und über the valley and over all.
Auf frischbetauten ZweigenOn freshly-bedewed branches
singt nur die Nachtigall.sings only the nightingale.
Sie singet Lob und EhreShe sings praise and glory
dem hohen Herrn die Welt,to the exalted Lord of the world
der über'm Land und Meerewho over land and sea
die Hand des Segens hält.holds the hand of blessing.
Er hat die Nacht vertrieben,He has banished the night,
ihr Kindlein fürchtet nichts;fear nothing, you children;
stets kommt zu seinen Liebenalways comes to those whom he loves
der Vater alles Lichts.the Father of all lights.

The text is by August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben, better known for having written a little ditty beginning “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” and, in fact, for scarcely anything else these days. The Hoffmann of Offenbach's “Contes d'Hoffmann” is a different one, unrelated so far as I know.

bald ist ... dringt herein: the verbs are all in the present tense. I'm fairly sure this is just how German works, but even so it must surely produce a greater sense of immediacy -- the night will be past any moment now -- than “soon will the night be past” does in English.

dringt: “dringen” really means something like “penetrate”; I take it the meaning of “dringt herein” is “reaches here”.

waltet: take no notice of the alleged translation in our copies which renders this as “swirls”; it means “reigns” or “prevails”.

der Vater alles Lichts: see James 1:17, where again the context is of God as the giver of all good things. (Though James just has “the Father of Lights” rather than “... of all lights”.)

Rheinberger's Morgenlied and Abendlied are the first and last of a set of three “Geistliche Gesänge”. The middle one, which we aren't performing, is a hymn whose words, from Psalm 89, celebrate God's ownership of, and rule over, the cosmos.

Rheinberger: Abendlied

Bleib' bei uns, denn es will Abend werden,Remain with us, for it will be evening
und der Tag hat sich geneiget.and the day has drawn to a close.

The text is from Luke's gospel. The context is the famous encounter on the road to Emmaus (not to be confused with Paul's on the road to Damascus); two disciples of Jesus, after the crucifixion but before they've been convinced of the Resurrection, are going despondently about their business; they meet with (as they think) a stranger on the road, tell him of their disappointment in the one they had hoped to be the Messiah, get in response a lengthy scriptural disquisition purportedly showing that the Messiah would inevitably suffer the fate Jesus had suffered, and -- here is our text -- invite him to stay with them for dinner, since it's getting late. He does, and as he breaks bread with them (1) they suddenly realise it's Jesus they've been talking to and (2) he vanishes.

Of course (here as in the English hymn “Abide with me”, taken from the same text but elaborated further) taken out of its context its meaning inevitably mutates into something like “O God, stay with us, for darkness is falling and we are afraid”. Nothing to do with the original meaning, but no matter.

bleib bei: definitely two consonants in the middle: a “p” and then a “b”.

denn es will Abend werden: of course, “soon” is implied.

sich geneiget: the basic meaning of sich neigen is something like “slope downward”; “decline” catches something of the idea.

geneiget: should you be in need of a breath in the middle of this word, note that it's ge+neiget, not gen+eiget. Not that anyone in NCS would ever misplace a consonant anyway.

Tallis: Te lucis ante terminum

Te lucis ante terminum,To you, before the end of [day]light,
Rerum Creator, poscimus,Creator of [all] things, we implore
Ut solita clementiaThat [your] familiar mercy
Sis praesul ad custodiam.May be our chief protector.
Procul recedant somnia,Let dreams recede into the distance,
Et noctium fantasmata;and the phantoms of night;
Hostemque nostrum comprime,And restrain our enemy,
Ne polluantur corpora.Lest our bodies be polluted.
Praesta, Pater omnipotens,Be at hand, omnipotent Father,
Per Jesum Christum Dominum;Through Jesus Christ the Lord;
Qui tecum in perpetuumWho with you in eternity
Regnat cum Sancto Spiritu.Reigns with the Holy Spirit.

A 7th-century (or perhaps a little earlier) Latin hymn, traditionally sung at Compline.

lucis ante terminum: “lucis” is attached not to “Te” but to “terminum”: the prayer is being offered before the end of the day.

solita: nothing to do with only-ness -- e.g., not “your mercy alone”; it literally means something like “which I am used to” or “which I am acquainted with”. “Customary”, “usual”, “wonted” or “habitual” might be good alternatives to “familiar”, but they seem somehow too dismissive.

praesul ad custodiam: other versions of the text have “praesul et custodiam”, in which case the meaning would be something like “overseer and guard”. A praesul is someone responsible for others, either in the sense of “president” or that of “protector”. Originally, it meant more specifically the leader of the Sulii or Salii, a group of priests of Mars.

fantasmata: a Greek plural form in Latin, presumably because the word comes straight from Greek. Difficult to translate exactly other than by “phantasms”, but clearly means “dreams” again. “Shades of night” would be traditional (and occurs in at least one English hymn clearly inspired by this one), but I at least never realised that it didn't just mean “darkness” until I read this text! “Fantasies”, perhaps, but that's a bit of a stretch.

hostem nostrum: presumably the devil.

ne polluantur corpora: yes, this really does mean what you think it means.

“Ferial”, incidentally, means “proper to a weekday that is neither a feast day nor a fast day”.

Tallis: O nata lux de lumine

O nata lux de lumine,O [you who were] born as Light [begotten] of Light,
Jesu redemptor saeculi,Jesus, redeemer of the world,
Dignare clemens supplicumDeign, [being] merciful, [your] supplicants' ...
Laudes precesque sumere.praises and prayers to receive.
Qui carne quondam contegi[You] who once to be clothed in flesh
Dignatus es pro perditis,deigned for the sake of the lost,
Nos membra confer effici,Bring us together, members
Tui beati corporis.of your blessed body.

The text is a mediaeval hymn for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

lux de lumine: compare the Creed (“God of God, Light of Light”, etc.).

saeculi: this is a difficult word to translate well; sometimes it means “ages” (“et in saecula saeculorum”), but “world” will do here. Curiously, “world” itself once had the same ambiguity, as perhaps in Marvell's “Had we but world enough and time ...”.

dignare, dignatus est: it always feels rather backwards to me that this has the meaning it does, so in case your intuition is broken in the same way as mine I'll explain: dignare is to deem something worthy, hence not to think it unworthy of you, hence to deign to do it.

membra ... tui beati corporis: in Christian theology, all Christians collectively are thought to make up the “Body of Christ” and to be individually members (i.e., limbs or organs) of it. This is, so to speak, the flip side of the Incarnation (mentioned in the previous lines) where Christ takes on a body in a more literal sense. The idea is that God takes on flesh (in the Incarnation) so that flesh (i.e., ordinary human beings) can take on some of the attributes of God.

Monteverdi: Ave maris stella

The text is a Latin hymn to the Virgin Mary, of unknown origin but no later than the 9th century.

Ave maris stella,Hail, star of the sea,
Dei Mater alma,Bountiful Mother of God,
Atque semper virgo,And [yet] for ever a virgin,
Felix coeli porta.Blessed gate of heaven.
Sumens illud AveReceiving that “Hail!”
Gabrielis ore,From the mouth of Gabriel,
Funda nos in pace,Establish us in peace,
Mutans Evae nomen.Changing the name of Eve.
Solve vincla reis,Loose the bonds of the guilty,
Profer lumen caecis,Bring forth light to the blind,
Mala nostra pelle,Dispel our evils,
Bona cuncta posce.Ask [for us] all good things.
Monstra te esse matrem,Show yourself to be [his] mother:
Sumat per te preces,May he receive [our] prayers through you
Qui pro nobis natus,Who, born for us,
Tulit esse tuus.Took it upon himself to be your [son].
Virgo singularis,Matchless virgin,
Inter omnes mitis,Meek above all others,
Nos culpis solutos,Having freed us from our faults,
Mites fac et castos.Make us meek and chaste.
Vitam praesta puram,Keep our live pure,
Iter para tutum:And make our way safe,
Ut videntes Jesum,That seeing Jesus
Semper collaetemur.We may for ever rejoice together.
Sit laus Deo Patri,Praise be to God the Father,
Summo Christo decus,Honour to Christ the Most High,
Spiritui Sancto,[And] to the Holy Spirit,
Trinus honor unus.One threefold honour.

“illud Ave ... mutans Evae nomen”: this is actually rather clever; the idea is (1) that the Virgin Mary, being sinless, has undone the sin of Eve, and (2) that “Ave”, Gabriel's greeting at the Annunciation, is an anagram (yea, the reverse) of “Eva”, the Latin form of “Eve”!

“Sumat” in verse 4 has somehow become “Summat” in our music; that's a mistake.

“Singularis”: I think this has both the sense of “unaccompanied” and that of “unparalleled”. The same ambiguity is (again, I think) found in the carol “I sing of a maid that is makeless”.

Wood: Nunc dimittis

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine,Now you send away your servant, Lord,
secundum verbum tuum in pace.according to your word, in peace.
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuumFor my eyes have seen your salvation
quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorumwhich you have prepared before the face of all peoples,
lumen ad revelationem gentiuma revealing light for the [pagan] nations
et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.and the glory of your people Israel.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto,Glory [be] to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,as it was in the beginning, and now, and always,
in saecula saeculorum. Amen.through endless ages.

The text is from Luke's gospel, and more immediately from the Anglican liturgy. The words are said to have been spoken by someone to whom God had promised that he wouldn't die before seeing the Messiah; he came to the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus's crucifixion, and said (in effect) “OK, now I can die in peace”.

secundum verbum tuum: that is, in accordance with the promise Simeon (the speaker) had been given.

gentium: literally “peoples” or “races” or “tribes”; clearly refers to the Gentiles -- that is, the non-Jewish nations.

lumen ad revelationem gentium: commonly translated “a light to lighten the gentiles”, but that's a bit loose. The most literal rendering would be something like “a light-for-revelation of the gentiles”. The idea, of course, is that Jesus would reveal God's purposes to the gentiles and thereby bring glory to Israel. The sad history of Jewish-Christian relations in the subsequent centuries suggests that the latter part was a bit overoptimistic.

in saecula saeculorum: this is of course a case where “saeculi” means “ages” rather than “world”. Literally, something like “ages of ages”.

Our edition of this piece has some typographical errors: “anti faciem” should be “ante faciem”, “tuoe” and “soeculorum” should be “tuae” and “saeculorum” (perhaps this is just bad typography).

Wood: Hail, gladdening light

Hail, gladdening light, of his pure glory poured,
Who is th'immortal Father, Heavenly, blest,
Holiest of holies, Jesu Christ our Lord.
Now we are come to the sun's hour of rest;
The lights of evening round us shine;
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divine.
Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God,
Giver of life, alone;
Therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own.

The text is John Keble's translation of a Greek hymn, traditionally sung at the lighting of lamps at evening. It is the oldest non-Biblical Christian hymn still in use, and probably dates to the third or fourth century AD. It has been translated into English many times; of the translations I've seen, Keble's seems to me definitely the best.

The sentence structure of the first few lines is a bit convoluted. Rearranging and untangling (and wrecking the poetry): “Hail to Jesus Christ our Lord, the gladdening light, poured out from the pure glory of God the Father who is immortal, heavenly, blessed, and the holiest of holies.”

gladdening: I think the word corresponding to this in the original poem is ambiguous between “glad” and “bringing gladness”.

light: Jesus, obviously. “I am the light of the world”; “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”, “a light to lighten the gentiles”, etc.

Jesu: Vocative. We're still addressing him, not merely describing him, at this point.

alone: there should definitely be a comma before “alone” even though it's not found in our edition. (At least, it's there in Keble's text. For all I know, Wood might have changed it.) It qualifies “Worthiest art thou”, etc., rather than “giver of life”.

they: the angels? all living things? every object in the world? The hymn doesn't say. (Blame the original author, not Keble.)