Notes on the texts for the NCS concerts in October and December 2009

After a long hiatus (sorry), here once again are some notes on the texts for our upcoming concerts. As usual, take everything here with a pinch of salt; corrections and suggestions will be gratefully accepted.

Some of what I’ve written will be obvious to you; some may be obviously wrong; I hope there’s some space between these extremes.

Translations are mine, and are every bit as reliable as everything else in here. I have generally chosen precision over clarity, and clarity over elegance; if you want translations fit for inclusion in programme notes or something, please do not use these: either look elsewhere, or ask me for better ones.

For the items we’re singing from M&P, the notes in the back are worth a look.

I haven’t included all the carols we’re doing, because there are lots and they’re mostly well known. I might add them later.

Bairstow: Jesu, the very thought of thee / Victoria: Jesu dulcis memoria

Jesu, the very thought of theeJesu, dulcis memoriaJesus’ sweet memory
With sweetness fills my breast;Dans vera cordis gaudia.[is] giving true joy in [the] heart.
But sweeter far thy face to seeSed super mel et omniaBut more than honey and all [other] things
And in thy presence rest.Eius dulcis praesentia.[is] his presence sweet.

This is a single stanza from a long, long Latin hymn of praise attributed (it’s not clear how rightly) to St Bernard of Clairvaux; it was written in the 11th or 12th century. The translation set by Bairstow is by Edward Caswall (author of “See amid the winter’s snow”) and dates from 1848. Above we see: Caswall’s translation; the Latin original; a more literal translation.

Apparently the setting “by Victoria” that we’re singing is very unlikely actually to be by him. The one by Bairstow really is by Bairstow, though.

Jesu: in the Latin, this is not a vocative, as you can tell from “eius” (his) later on. The comma after it in M&P, therefore, is surely a mistake. (I expect Rutter was thinking of Caswall’s translation!)

(Actually, there’s another possibility, which if correct would kinda justify the comma: “Jesu” could be an interjection, the sense being something like “Ah, Jesus! His sweet memory fills the heart with joy”. I don’t think this is very likely.)

dans: yes, this really is Latin, though because of the more familiar French word spelt the same way it doesn’t look much like it! Present participle of the verb “to give”: do, dare, dedi, datum.

vera cordis gaudia: the word order is a bit weird here – vera qualifies gaudia, not cordis – so there’s no natural break in the words and (if our conductor doesn’t say otherwise) there should probably be no breaths anywhere in here apart from expressive ones on repeated words.

my breast: Caswall actually wrote “the breast”, which is a better translation; the original author is describing what he thinks is the general experience of Christians, rather than enjoying his own feelings. Presumably Bairstow is using a bit of artistic licence here.

presence/praesentia: I think the author has in mind mystical experience rather than heaven, but I’m not sure.

Batten and Byrd: O sing joyfully

O sing joyfully unto God our strength:Sing joyfully unto God our strength.
make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob.Sing loud unto the God of Jacob.
Take the song, bring hither the tabret:Take the song and bring forth the timbrel,
the merry harp with the lute.the pleasant harp and the viol.
Blow up the trumpet in the new moon:Blow the trumpet in the new moon,
even in the time appointed,even in the time appointed,
and upon our solemn feast day.and at our feast day.
For this was made a statute for Israel:For this is a statute for Israel,
and a law of the God of Jacob.and a law of the God of Jacob.

The text is the first four verses of Psalm 81. Batten and Byrd have slightly different verses; above, Batten is on the left. I think Byrd is using the Geneva Bible (1587); I haven’t found anything that quite matches Batten’s text, but it somewhat resembles Coverdale’s translation of 1535 and the Bishops’ Bible of 1568. These both have “merrily” rather than “joyfully”, which is interesting in view of the footnote at the start of our edition of Batten’s piece.

make a cheerful noise / sing loud: the underlying meaning is probably something like “shout loudly”. Enthusiasm rather than elegance. (This should not necessarily apply to our performance of these words.)

tabret/timbrel: an instrument similar to the tambourine, commonly used at celebrations of victory, banquets and other such joyful-solemn occasions.

new moon ... time appointed ... feast day: It’s not entirely clear whether this is describing one, two or three occasions, nor exactly when they are. It doesn’t matter much.

a statute for Israel: perhaps it’s worth pointing out that to the original author and audience this meant “us” rather than “them”, as it were.

Britten: A ceremony of carols

Most of these texts are anonymous and date to the 14th–16th century.

Procession and Recession: Hodie Christus natus est

See under This day Christ was born for a few comments on this text.

Wolcum Yule!

Wolcum be thou hevene king,
Wolcum Yule!
Wolcum, born in one morning,
Wolcum for whom wesall sing!
Wolcum be ye, Stevene and Jon,
Wolcum, Innocentes every one,
Wolcum, Thomas marter one,
Wolcum be ye, good Newe Yere,
Wolcum, Twelfthe Day both in fere,
Wolcum, seintes lefe and dere,
Wolcum Yule!
Candelmesse, Quene of bliss,
Wolcum bothe to more and lesse.
Wolcum be ye that are here,
Wolcum alle and make good cheer.
Wolcum all another yere,
Wolcum Yule!

hevene: “of heaven”; pronounced “heaven” + “eh”, I think. Same as “hevene queen” in “Adam lay ybounden”.

Yule: Originally a pagan winter festival. The origin of the name is not clear, but apparently modern English “jolly” is derived from it. The author of these words doesn’t appear to have anything pagan in mind.

born in one morning: “on one particular morning”, that is; the author is not expressing surprise that Jesus’s birth didn’t take longer.

wesall: I’m fairly sure this means “we shall” rather than “we all” or “wassail”.

Innocentes: no, of course this isn’t Latin and should not be sung as such. Refers to the victims of the “Massacre of the Innocents”.

marter: martyr. (I think “one” doesn’t have any meaning other than perhaps “person”; it’s there to make up the syllable count and fix the rhyme.)

both in fere: “as equals”, I think. (A “fere” is a companion, a peer, or a mate. Without “both” I’d take it as meaning just “together”.)

seintes: saints.

Candelmesse: Candlemas, celebrating the occasion recorded in Luke’s gospel when Mary brought Jesus to the temple at Jerusalem forty days after his birth, and he was recognized by Simeon and Anna as the one who would redeem Israel. The words attributed to Simeon on this occasion form the Nunc dimittis.

Quene of bliss: I think the author is identifying the feast of Candlemas with Mary, as he earlier identified that of Yule (= Christmas) with Jesus.

more and lesse: that is, people of higher and lower status.

There is no rose

There is no rose of such vertu
As is the rose that bare Jesu.
For in this rose conteined was
Heaven and earth in little space,
  Res miranda.
By that rose we may well see
There be one God in persons three,
  Pares forma.
The aungels sungen the shepherds to:
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Leave we all this werldly mirth,
and follow we this joyful birth.

vertu: doesn’t mean “virtue” but “excellence”.

the rose that bare Jesu: Mary, of course.

Res miranda: a wondrous thing.

By that rose ... persons three: I confess that the author’s logic eludes me.

Pares forma: “equal in nature”, I think, though forma is a word of many and varied meanings. In any case, this is continuing the description of the “persons three” of the Trinity.

The aungels sungen the shepherds to: that is, the angels sang to the shepherds.

Gaudeamus: Let us rejoice.

werldly: I think modern “worldly” isn’t quite equivalent to this; “temporal” would probably be closer.

Transeamus: Let us go across. I think there’s a double meaning here: (1) to Bethlehem (compare, e.g., “O come, all ye faithful”) and (2) across the divide from earth to heaven.

That yonge child

That yonge child when it gan weep
With song she led him asleep:
That was so sweet a melody
It passed alle minstrelsy.
The nightingale sang also:
Her song is hoarse and nought thereto:
Whoso attendeth to her song
And leaveth the first, then doth he wrong.

gan: began to.

she: Mary, of course.

passed: surpassed.

nightingale: final “e” is a separate syllable.

nought: “worthless” rather than “nothing”, I think, though the distinction isn’t terribly important.


O my deare hert, young Jesu sweit,
Prepare thy creddil in my spreit,
And I sall rock thee to my hert,
And never mair from thee depart.
But I sall praise thee evermoir
With sangis sweit unto thy gloir;
The knees of my hert sall I bow,
And sing that richt Balulalow!

Words: heart, sweet; cradle, spirit; shall, heart; more; shall, evermore; songs, sweet, glory; heart, shall; right.

(But richt would need to be something like “fitting” or “worthy” in idiomatic English.)

“Balulalow” itself is of course more or less equivalent to “lullaby”.

As dew in Aprille

I sing of a maiden
That is makeles:
King of all kings
To her son she ches.
He came al so stille
There his moder was,
As dew in Aprille
That falleth on the grass.
He came al so stille
To his moder’s bour,
As dew in Aprille
That falleth on the flour.
He came al so stille
There his moder lay,
As dew in Aprille
That falleth on the spray.
Moder and mayden
Was never none but she:
Well may such a lady
Goddes moder be.

makeles: matchless. (I am not sure whether there are overtones of “mate-less”, but I think not.)

To her son she ches: to be her son she chose.

al so stille ... as: just as quietly ... as. (I think.)

moder: mother.

There: equivalent to “where“, I think.

I have never been quite sure I understand this poem, but I think the three “He came al so stille” stanzas are all describing the same thing, namely the conception of Jesus. (In particular, I don’t think the stanza containing “There his moder lay” is referring in any way to Mary’s death, although for a long time I assumed it was because it just sounds that way to the modern ear, or at least to mine.) Here’s a link to some helpful comments from the Medieval Reading Group at Cambridge.

This little babe

This little babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes.
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes;
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward;
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

This text is the second half of Robert Southwell’s poem “New Heaven, New War”.

rifle: plunder; nothing to do with guns despite the imagery later on.

fold: sheepfold.

wise: manner.

shot: yes, that’s a plural. (Having written which, it occurs to me that it might be the plural of “Shah” if that were a Hebrew word. For the avoidance of doubt, of course there’s absolutely no chance that that’s the actual meaning.)

wound ... sound: presumably these rhyme, and therefore one of them has a pronunciation differing from the modern one. Probably “wound” is pronounced as today. I’ve no idea whether Graham will want us to make them rhyme or not.

The angels’ trumps alarum sound: the sentence structure is a bit twisted here. “The trumpets of the angels sound the call to arms.”

pight: pitched.

with joy: I wonder whether there’s a double meaning here: first of all “joyfully”, of course, but maybe also “by means of joy”. Probably not.

In freezing winter night

Behold, a silly tender babe,
In freezing winter night,
In homely manger trembling lies –
Alas, a piteous sight!
The inns are full; no man will yield
This little pilgrim bed.
But forced is he with silly beasts
In crib to shroud his head.
This stable is a Prince’s court,
This crib his chair of State;
The beasts are parcel of his pomp,
The wooden dish his plate.
The persons in that poor attire
His royal liveries wear;
The Prince himself is come from heaven;
This pomp is prized there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight,
Do homage to thy King,
And highly praise his humble pomp,
which he from heaven doth bring.

This text is Robert Southwell’s poem “New Prince, New Pomp”.

silly: helpless, or perhaps wretched. Certainly not “foolish”.

silly beasts In crib to shroud his head: you could punctuate this with a comma after “beasts” or after “crib”. It depends on whether you think “in crib” is describing Jesus or the beasts. I have no idea which the author intended. Perhaps both. It doesn’t matter much.

Prince: means, as more or less always at this time, “king” rather than ”king’s son”.

plate: I think this means “silver tableware” rather than “round thing for eating off”, though it comes to the same thing here.

wight: person.

Spring carol

Pleasure it is
To hear iwis
The birdes sing,
The deer in the dale,
The sheep in the vale,
The corn springing.
God’s purveyance
For sustenance
It is for man.
Then we always
To God give praise,
And thank him than.

The punctuation in our copies is pretty strange. Specifically: (1) I hope Britten has a very good reason for the emphatic break after “iwis”, because it doesn’t make much sense textually. (2) The full stop before “it is for man” must surely be either a mistake or a wilful reinterpretation of the text.

iwis: certainly, indeed. Usually actually means “I need an extra couple of syllables here”. Here, it qualifies the whole statement: “Truly, what a pleasure it is ...”.

The corn springing: Surely the poet is not really claiming to hear this; and perhaps it’s only the corn that’s being described as “God’s purveyance for sustenance”. In which case, you might do well to imagine that the first sentence ends after “vale” rather than after “springing”.

purveyance: provision.

than: then.

I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or design, but the 6/8 time signature matches the structure of the poem: it divides into two sets of six lines, each of which falls (less definitely) into two groups of three. (Unless I’m right about the restructuring I described above, in which case it goes 5-4-3 which doesn’t fit the time signature at all.)

Deo gracias (Adam lay i-bounden)

Adam lay ibounden, bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter thought he not too long.
And all was for an appil, an appil that he tok,
As clerkes finden written in their book.
Ne had the appil taken ben, the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady a-ben hevene quene.
Blessed be the time that appil taken was.
Therefore we moun singen, Deo gracias!

bounden in a bond: tied up in chains. (The author is not suggesting that Adam lived for 4000 years; rather, Adam is standing in for the whole human race, enslaved to sin by Adam’s action until the coming of Christ.)

clerkes: clergy. (Their bok is of course the Bible.)

Ne: If not.

hevene: of heaven.

Ne hadde never our lady a-ben hevene quene: There is an old Christian idea that the fall of Adam, although it brought sin and death into the world, was none the less a Good Thing overall because of the greater good it enabled, namely the Incarnation and the redemption of the world. The author of this carol, however, seems to think that sin and death were worthwhile because they enabled Mary to become queen of heaven, an audacious idea indeed.

moun singen: must sing.

Britten: A hymn to the Virgin

Of one that is so fair and bright 
  Velut maris stella,like a star of the sea,
Brighter than the day is light, 
  Parens et puella:a parent and [yet] a maiden.
I cry to thee, thou see to me, 
Lady, pray thy Son for me, 
  Tam pia,[you that are] so good,
That I may come to thee. 
All this world was forlorn 
  Eva peccatrice,on account of Eve the sinner,
Till our Lord was yborn,
  De te genetrice.of you the mother.
With ave it went away
Darkest night, and comes the day
  Salutis;of salvation;
The well springeth out of thee.
  Virtutis.of virtue.
Lady, flower of everything, 
  Rosa sine spina,rose without a thorn,
Thou bare Jesu, heaven’s king,
  Gratia divina:by divine grace.
Of all thou bearest the prize,
Lady, queen of paradise
  Electa:chosen [by God]:
Maid mild, mother
  es are made.

Anonymous text from about 1300; Britten has modernized the spelling somewhat.

maris stella: cf. the Latin hymn (8th century or earlier) Ave maris stella. Why Mary was ever compared to a star of the sea, though, I don’t know. I’ve seen the following two theories. (1) St Jerome wrote that Mary’s name (in its Hebrew form “Miriam”) means “a drop from the sea” (a barely possible etymology, I think) or, in Latin, maris stilla, and someone misread or miscopied his words; (2) it’s an oblique reference to 1 Kings 18:41-45, the small cloud rising from the sea being (for some reason) referred to as a star – the idea presumably being that Mary foreshadows Christ as the cloud foreshadowed the long-awaited rain. I suspect #2 is a rationalization that postdates the title.

puella: literally just “girl”, with no particular connotations of virginity. (Which is rather appropriate, really, when you consider the likely origins of the idea of the Virgin Birth via a mistranslation of a Hebrew word which also just meant “young woman” – but I digress.) Anyway, the meaning here is clearly “virgin” since it’s being contrasted with parens.

see to me: presumably meaning “look at me” or “pay attention to me”, although in modern English the meaning would be somewhat different.

pray thy son for me that I may come to thee: a single phrase, I think: that is, “please ask your son to arrange that I will come to you”. I’d have thought it would be more usual, theologically speaking, to ask Mary to bring one to Jesus rather than the other way around, but these mediaeval lyrics have a bit of a tendency to get their priorities backwards like this; I’ve already mentioned the more famous example in Adam lay ybounden. But, once again, I digress.

pia: An almost untranslatable word. Its meanings include “good”, “dutiful” and “merciful”.

peccatrice ... genetrice: the rhyming words are clearly intended to suggest a parallel between Eve and Mary: one who brought sin into the world through her disobedience, and one who fixed it through her obedience. (Compare with “illud Ave ... mutans Evae nomen” in Ave maris stella, if you’re so inclined.). Translating “genetrix” as “mother” is a bit unsatisfactory; the meaning is a bit more like “childbearer” or “birthgiver”.

With Ave it went away / Darkest night, and comes the day: Tortured syntax, I’m afraid. “it” refers forward to “darkest night”. (So, Chorus I, no breath between “away” and “darkest”!)

the day / Salutis: single phrase: the day of salvation. “Salus” more literally means “health” (and various other similar things such as “safety”); but then, originally “salvation” meant something like “making healthy”.

The well: compare, e.g., John 7:38. I don’t think any pun on “well” meaning “healthy” is intended here, though I wouldn’t place any large bet against it.

virtutis: I have to admit that I don’t see exactly how this works syntactically. Perhaps “thee” at the end of the previous line should really be “thy”: “the well springs out of your virtue”. (I think the original source has “the”, but of course spellings were rather more flexible in 1300.) Or it might mean &8220;the well of virtue”. Either of these parsings makes nonsense of the full stop before Virtutis. Or (though this seems far-fetched) virtutis might qualify the whole preceding sentence: “the well springeth out of thee, by means of virtue”. Incidentally, “virtus” has many meanings other than “virtue” (see below) but here I think “virtue” really is the best translation.

flower of everything: that is, best and loveliest part of The Whole Shebang.

queen of paradise / electa: “chosen (by God) to be queen of paradise”.

Maid mild, mother es / effecta: I think there’s a contrast being drawn along the following lines: Mary was by nature a maiden, but then was made a mother by God. “Effecta” seems a terribly weak ending for the poem, and I suspect the need to make the rhymes work may have been in the driving seat here. If I were setting this poem, I think I’d repeat the first verse at the end.

Apparently Britten wrote this one afternoon at school when he was away from his classes because he was feeling ill. He would have been 16 years old. What with this and Walton’s Litany written at the age of 15, it’s a humbling set of pieces we have this term.

Britten: A New Year carol

Here we bring new water from the well so clear,
For to worship God with, this happy new year;
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine,
With seven bright gold wires, and bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of fair maid, with gold upon her toe;
Open you the west door and turn the old year go;
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine,
With seven bright gold wires, and bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of fair maid, with gold upon her chin.
Open you the east door and let the new year in!
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine,
With seven bright gold wires, and bugles that do shine.

I haven’t much to say about this, not least because it says very little and what it does say is rather mysterious. Perhaps the fair maid is Mary, perhaps not. I did find some notes on the carol, though various things about that web page make me reluctant to trust it too completely.

Byrd: This day Christ was born

This day Christ was born,Hodie Christus natus est,
This day our saviour did appear.Hodie salvator apparuit.
This day the angels sing on earth,Hodie in terra canunt angeli,
The archangels are glad.Laetantur archangeli.
This day the just rejoice, saying:Hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Glory be to God on high.Gloria in excelsis Deo.

This is a translation of the Christmas antiphon “Hodie Christus natus est”, which I’ve included above. I assume the Latin text is extremely old, but haven’t been able to find out just how old.

Glory be to God on high: Luke 2:14. Some settings of the Hodie include the bit about peace on earth, but most don’t. (To take two we’ve sung quite often: Sweelinck’s and Poulenc’s don’t.)

Whoever wrote these words was clearly familiar with the Psalms and other Hebrew poetry; the way in which the first and second lines, and the third and fourth, are “parallel” is very Hebraic.

Byrd: Laetentur coeli

Laetentur coeli, et exsultet terra.Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice.
Jubilate montes laudem,Mountains, rejoice in praise,
quia Dominus noster veniet,for our Lord shall come,
et pauperum suorum miserebitur.and have mercy on his poor [people].
Orietur in diebus tuis justitia,There shall rise up in your days justice
et abundantia pacis.and an abundance of peace.

The words are from an old Advent liturgy, closely based on Isaiah 49:13.

jubilate montes laudem: I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here syntactically, but the overall meaning is clear enough.

veniet: the idea that God is not merely going to comfort and help his people but come to them is not found in the original text in Isaiah, but was added to make it into an Advent liturgy.

pauperum: the translation in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems (printed at the end of the piece) translates this as “humble” rather than “poor”. That’s fair enough, but “humble” is ambiguous. There is no suggestion here of the virtue of humility.

orietur: this isn’t just a fancy way of saying “come into being”; it plays on a whole bunch of associations in Christian thought: rising in general, and sunrise in particular (compare the English word “orient” and, remember, if you happen to know them, those lines from George Herbert: "The sun arising in the east, Though he give light and the East perfume, If they should offer to contest With thy arising, they presume"), would bring to mind both the Resurrection and the Second Coming. And “rising” might suggest also that those “poor/humble people” already mentioned are going to be elevated to the sort of life they deserve; a sense of downtroddenness, and the hope of future vindication, has always been a major feature of both Jewish and Christian thought.

in diebus tuis: the OBTA translation turns this into “in those days”, which simply isn’t what it says. (But if you take the days in question to be those of the Second Coming, which is presumably what the author had in mind – yes, this is another divergence between Isaiah and the Advent liturgy – “your days” and “those days” both convey basically the right meaning.

Byrd and Victoria: O quam gloriosum

O quam gloriosum est regnum,O how glorious is the kingdom,
in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes sancti,in which all the saints rejoice with Christ,
amicti stolis albiswrapped in white robes
sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit.they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
laudantes Deum et dicentes:praising God and saying:
Benedictio et claritas et sapientia et gratiarum actio,Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, virtus et fortitudohonour, power and strength
Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum. Amen.[be] to our God for ever. Amen.

Byrd and Victoria have the same text – an antiphon for All Saint’s Day – but Byrd apparently had more to say, and set some extra words from the book of Revelation (whence also the second half of the antiphon itself) and a bit of linking material. I have no idea whether the extended version is original to Byrd; for what little it’s worth, I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

stolis albis: white robes, a symbol of purity and perhaps also of high status. This bit is from the book of Revelation; the people concerned have “come out of great tribulation”, presumably by dying of it.

Agnum: Christ, the “Lamb of God”.

sequuntur agnum quocumque ierit: I am unable to read this without thinking of “Mary had a little lamb”, although of course that is the other way around. It’s natural to speculate that the ultimate origins of Mary’s little lamb might lie in some such sacred text (Mary, after all...) but no: apparently there really was a person, really called Mary, who really brought a lamb to school one day, etc., and a visitor to the school saw the resulting commotion and wrote some verses on the subject. Or, then again, perhaps not. But, yet again, I digress.

quocumque/quocunque: the former (as in the Victoria) appears to be the more correct spelling.

dicentes: actually, the author of Revelation 7 is quite clear (for once) about who says the following words, and it isn’t the people dressed in white robes. Never mind.

claritas: looks like it should mean “clarity”, and indeed that is the original meaning. The evolution goes something like this: clarity, clearness, brightness, splendour, glory, fame.

gratiarum actio: “gratia” has lots of other meanings besides thanks; “actio” is a general word for any kind of doing; but in combination the meaning is pretty clear. You might wonder whether the clumsy-seeming construction here reflects some peculiarity in the underlying Greek (at least, you might if you’re as ignorant as I am of how else it might have been said in Latin); it turns out that the corresponding Greek word is “eucharistia”, which one might have thought would mean something much more specific...

virtus: no, this doesn’t really mean “virtue”. I’m sorry to say that the original meaning was “manliness”, whence in the usual sexist way it came to denote just about every kind of merit. The underlying Greek word in Revelation 7:12, however, definitely means “power”.

in saecula saeculorum: a “saeculum” is a generation, a lifetime, an age, etc.; presumably a saeculum saeculorum is something made up of ages as an age is made up of years; hence a very long time indeed. So, at least, I’ve always assumed. Incidentally, the conventional but mystifying English translation “world without end” is mystifying because “world” is there used with a meaning that’s long since dropped out of use.

in saecula saeculorum is a pretty direct translation of the underlying Greek, which uses just the same sort of construction; that, in turn, is taken straight from Daniel 7:18. (There is a lot of Daniel in Revelation.) Thanks to Colin Bell for pointing out this connection to me.

Gibbons and Walton: 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 faults and fears;
Nor let his eye
See sin, but through my tears.

Poem by Phineas Fletcher, published in 1633.

Gibbons actually wrote only the melody and bass of the setting ascribed to him, and there is no reason to think he had Fletcher’s poem in mind (or had even read it) when he wrote it. Further, I think the editor of Hymns and songs of the church (the early hymnal in which Gibbons’s hymn tunes with names like “Song 46” are found) messed with this one between Gibbons’s composition and its publication. So the association with Gibbons is really pretty tenuous. No matter; it’s a nice enough tune. Anyway, I was supposed to be writing about the words, not the music.

The news and Prince of peace: that is: 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.

flood[s]: Fletcher wrote “floods”, and that’s what we have in the kinda-sorta-Gibbons setting; Walton has “flood”, perhaps to reduce the number of consonants required at the end of a quaver when breath might be at a premium. Thanks, William!

Howells and Schütz: Blessed are the dead

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, 
From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord:Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an.
Even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours,Ja, der Geist spricht: Sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit,
[and their works follow after them.]und ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.

The text is from Revelation 14. Brahms, obviously copying Howells, also used it at the end of a liturgically unconventional requiem.

Even so saith the Spirit: there should really be a comma after “Even so” – those words are part of what the Spirit allegedly saith, not a description of the Spirit’s saying – but perhaps Howells was deliberately changing the meaning a bit.

Howells truncates this passage in mid-sentence, not setting the portion in square brackets above. The truncation may perhaps make the words more appropriate, given that Howells wrote his Requiem for his son Michael who died of polio at the age of 9.

Lauridsen: O magnum mysterium

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum,O great mystery and wondrous sacrament,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,that animals should see the Lord [new-]born
jacentem in praesepio!lying in a manger!
Beata virgo, cuius viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.Blessed [is the] virgin, whose womb was worthy to carry Christ the Lord.

A very old bit of Christmas liturgy; anonymous and of unknown date as far as I’m aware.

admirabile: no, this doesn’t exactly mean “admirable”, although “admirable” did once mean “fit to be wondered at”. (The “-mira-” element is the same as in “miracle”.)

viscera: a very general term; a more literal translation would be “internal organs”, but somehow that seems neither poetic nor reverent.

Leighton: An evening hymn

The night is come, like to the day;
Depart not Thou, great God, away.
Let not my sins, black as the night,
Eclipse the lustre of thy light.
Keep still in my horizon; for to me
The sun makes not the day, but thee.
Thou whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples sentry keep!
Guard me ’gainst those watchful foes,
Whose eyes are open while mine close,
Let no dreams my head infest,
But such as Jacob’s temples blest.
While I do rest, my soul advance,
Make my sleep a holy trance:
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake, into some holy thought;
And with an active vigour run
My course as doth the nimble sun.
Sleep is a death; oh! make me try,
By sleeping, what it is to die:
And as gently lay me head
On my grave, as now my bed.
Howe’er I rest, great God, let me
Awake again at last with thee,
And thus assured, behold I lie
Securely, or to wake or die.
Oh! come that hour, when I shall never
Sleep again, but wake for ever!

The poem is by Sir Thomas Browne; it’s found in his “Religio Medici” (“A doctor’s religion”) of 1642. The version printed in the front of our copies has a couple of punctuation errors at the ends of lines, which I’ve repaired. I must confess that I greatly dislike this poem.

like to the day: I think this means “bother, I can’t think of a better rhyme for away”.

Let not my sins ... eclipse ...: of course Browne isn’t suggesting that his sins could extinguish God’s light, merely that they could stop him seeing it.

Keep still in my horizon: I think “still” means “continuingly” rather than “motionless” here.

to me The sun makes not the day, but thee: If indeed Browne distinguished night from day by looking to see whether or not God was there, this might explain why “the night” is “like unto the day”. But I suspect that actually what this means is “I want to say something that sounds pious now”.

my temples: no meaning of this word, literal or metaphorical, seems to make very good sense of the text. The least bad ones seem to me to be (1) the body as “temple of the Holy Spirit” (but then why the plural?) and (2) part of the head (but why a part rather than the whole? perhaps just because “temple” happens to be a holy-sounding word). Maybe I’m missing something obvious.

watchful foes: it’s not clear to me whether he means human or demonic ones; I think the latter.

Jacob’s temples: see Genesis 28. Asking to have only that sort of dream seems a bit ambitious to me.

a holy trance: I don’t think “trance” here means anything as specific or exotic as it would mean in modern English; the emphasis is on “holy”, not on “trance”. (Despite what Leighton has written for the basses at the end of his setting of these words.)

my rest being wrought: “wrought” = “worked” = “brought about”. Here, “completed” is probably near to the meaning.

with an active vigour run My course: it’s a shame that Leighton saw fit to insert a quaver rest after “run”, which rather makes nonsense of the words. (Especially for A,T,B, who have no break after “course”.)

let me try: “try” here means “test”. Browne wants to take advantage of the resemblance between sleep and death, and use his experience of sleeping to approach death with tranquility.

or to wake or die: in modern English this would be “whether to wake or die”.

that hour: that of resurrection. Incidentally, Leighton’s setting omits the penultimate couplet: “These are my drowsie days, in vaine / I doe now wake to sleepe againe.” The omission simplifies, so to speak, the flow of the poem, but deprives the final couplet of some of its point.

Leighton and Shaw: Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay.
Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight
All children young to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever morn and may,
For thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By, by, lully, lullay.

The text is a 15th- or 16th-century carol which formed part of a Coventry mystery play. There is no extant manuscript copy, and the copies we have are incomplete and of poor quality; hence the way it begins in the middle (“O sisters too”), and the divergences between Leighton’s version and the familiar one from Carols for Choirs. Here’s a list of those divergences (the version above is Leighton’s):

The context, in case anyone doesn’t already know, is the “Massacre of the Innocents”: supposedly Herod, king of Israel at the time of Jesus’s birth, heard that someone had been born who was going to be king of the Jews, took that as a threat, and sent his thugs to Bethlehem (where his advisors told him the prophesied king was to be born) to kill every male child below a certain age; fortunately, Jesus and his family had run away to Egypt before the thugs got there. (There are many reasons to be skeptical about this story, but Herod was certainly brutal enough for it to be true.)

Some of the sentence structure is pretty contorted, so here is a paraphrase which may help. I’ve omitted some by by lulla stuff. “O sisters, what can we do to keep this poor child (for whom we sing by by, etc.) alive today? // Today, King Herod ordered his soldiers to kill all young children in his sight. // I am full of woe on your behalf, poor child, and since your departure I can no longer at any time bear to sing lullabies.” (I’ve assumed that the child in question is Jesus, in which case “parting” does just mean departure rather than death; but for all I know it might be instead some one – or all – of the children whose parents weren’t warned by angels to run away, and who therefore got massacred.)

Macmillan: Nemo te condemnavit

Nemo te condemnavit, mulier?Has no one condemned you, woman?
Nemo, domine.No one, sir.
Nec ego te condemnabo.Neither shall I condemn you.
Iam amplius noli peccare.Now do not sin any more.

The text is from John’s gospel, although most likely it wasn’t present in the original version of the gospel. I expect everyone is familiar with the story, but here's a summary anyway: a woman is caught “in the very act” of adultery, and dragged in front of Jesus (presumably there was another person involved, but curiously he is not on the scene). The law of Moses commanded, and I believe the law of the Romans forbade, that she should be executed. The point of this exercise was not justice but point-scoring in an attempt to discredit Jesus by either damaging his reputation for godliness or getting him in trouble with the Romans. Jesus gave an ingenious answer: go ahead and kill her, but the first stone must be thrown by someone innocent of sin. One by one, the accusers slink off, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. “What, have they all gone? Has no one condemned you?” he asks (with a wry smile, I always imagine). No? Well, then, off you go, but don't do it again.

mulier: Addressing someone as “woman” seems awfully rude. Since Jesus is on record as addressing his own mother in the same way and not getting any objections, presumably it was less so at the time.

Nemo, domine: These are the woman's words (the rest are Jesus's). Presumably the point of the crescendo as these words are repeated is that it's gradually dawning on the woman that she's escaped; we want a transition from subdued, to pleasantly surprised, to exhilarated. (Though I suspect that, if the incident really happened, she was never in much real danger.)

domine: I've translated this as “sir”, although “Lord” is an obvious alternative. The Greek word kurie could be used either way, and there's no particular reason to think that the woman was a follower (still less a worshipper) of Jesus.

amplius: I think this could mean either “again” or “worse” (more literally it just means “more”). I may be wrong about this, but in any case MacMillan's setting of the words clearly indicates that he intends “more” rather than “again”.

MacMillan and plainchant: Christus vincit

Christus vincit,Christ conquers,
Christus regnat,Christ reigns,
Christus imperat.Christ commands.
Exaudi, Christe.Hear, O Christ.
ecclesiae sanctae Dei,To the holy church of God,
supra regnorum fines nectenti animas,beyond kingdoms’ boundaries binding together souls,
salus perpetua![be] everlasting safety!
Salvator mundi, tu illum adiuva.Saviour of the world, help him.
Sancte Petre, tu illum adiuva.Saint Peter, help him.
Sancte Paule, tu illum adiuva.Saint Paul, help him.
Exaudi, Christe. Hear, O Christ.
Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands.
Rex regum, rex noster.King of kings, our king.
Spes nostra, gloria noster.Our hope, our glory.
Exaudi, Christe. Hear, O Christ.
Magistratibus et omnibus concivibus nobiscum orantibus,To our governors and all our fellow citizens praying [with us],
cordis vera quies, votorum effectus.[be] true peace in their hearts, and fulfilment of their vows.
Auxilium christianorum, tu illos adiuva.O help of Christians, help them.
Sancte Michael, tu illos adiuva.Saint Michael, help them.
Sancte Benedicte, tu illos adiuva.Saint Benedict, help them.
Ipsi soli imperium, laus et iubilatio,To him alone [be] authority, praise and rejoicing,
per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen.through endless ages of ages. Amen.
Tempora bona habeant redempti sanguine Christi!May those redeemed by the blood of Christ have good times!
Feliciter! Feliciter! Feliciter!Happily! Happily! Happily!
Pax Christi veniat!May the peace of Christ come!
Regnum Christi veniat!May the reign of Christ come!
Deo gratias. Amen.Thanks be to God. Amen.

The longer text here is a so-called laudes regiae, traditionally used on Easter Sunday and at coronation services from roughly the time of Charlemagne onwards. It is highly structured, though the deletions we’ve made largely wreck the structure, and repays a bit of study.

Information on the laudes regiae: some random person’s blog (but extremely informative); Catholic Encyclopedia (about liturgical acclamations more generally, but does have useful information about the laudes regiae; bits of a book on the subject (warning: link leads to large PDF files of doubtful legality and legibility).

vincit ... regnat ... imperat: to Christ are attributed, successively, the status of a successful military commander; a king; and an emperor.

supra ... animas: the word order of my translation above is somewhat strained to bring it close to the Latin. More idiomatically: “binding together souls across national boundaries”.

salus: another very broad, almost untranslatable word. Health, welfare, safety, prosperity, deliverance, salvation.

illum ... illum ... illum (lines 9–11): unfortunately, the deletions that have been made in our version of these laudes have made a bit of a mess of the text. illum here refers back to the Pope (interestingly named Benedict; I think it is coincidence that this is the name of the present Pope), upon whom blessings were invoked in the cantor’s previous (now deleted) petition. We could fix this by replacing “illum” with “illam” (like the bits we deleted immediately after the prayer for the ecclesia sancta Dei.

Petrum, etc.: each set of petitionees (I’m sure there should be a better word than that) is chosen appropriately for the petition in question. Peter and Paul are invoked when praying for the Pope (except that we are omitting that petition), patron saints of the diocese when praying for the bishop and clergy (we are omitting that whole section), and local patron saints when praying for civil officials. (Perhaps we should invoke St Ivo in Hemingford Abbots, and St Radegund in Jesus chapel – though in the latter case we’d probably need to turn the text into a prayer for the college rather than the civil authorities...

Exaudi, Christe (line 12): another casualty of our editing. Each exaudi, Christe precedes a petition, but petition after this one has been deleted.

magistratibus: actually a much more general term than “magistrate” in modern English, denoting the whole range of civil offices, generally much more exalted positions than our magistracies.

illos: refers back to the magistratibus et concivibus, not to the christianorum.

tempora bona: It is a pity that “having a good time” has such inappropriate connotations in English. The meaning here is surely more like “blessed” or “prosperous” than “enjoyable”.

Feliciter: again, nearer to “prosperously” or “with good fortune” than “happily”, really.

Poston: Jesus Christ the apple tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be,
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all, but now I see
’Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest a while:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

The words are anonymous; they come from an American collection dating to 1784. I would be surprised if they were much earlier than that.

The original hymn has seven verses; Poston set 1,2,3,4,7. (I think she chose the best ones.)

By faith I know ...: no break after “tell”, of course. (Apart from between the two repetitions.)

I missed of all: that is, “all my attempts to gain happiness and pleasure failed”.

Under the shadow I will be Of Jesus Christ the apple tree: our copy has a comma after “be”, as indeed has the original, but I think it’s a mistake.

Rutter: Hymn to the creator of light

Creator of the visible light,
the sun’s radiance, the flame of fire:
Glory be to thee, O Lord,
creator of the light invisible and intellectual,
that which is known of God,
[for] writings of the law,
[for] oracles of prophets,
[for] melody of psalms,
[for] wisdom of proverbs,
experience of histories,
a light which never sets.
God is the Lord, who hath shewed us light.
Light, who dost my soul enlighten,
Sun, who all my life dost brighten,
Joy, the sweetest man e’er knoweth,
Fount, whence all my being floweth,
From thy banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give us,
As thy guest in heaven receive us.

The words set in the first part of the piece are by Lancelot Andrewes; if you have read T S Eliot’s “The journey of the Magi” then you have read something by Andrewes, for the opening (“A cold coming we had of it ...”) is taken almost verbatim from one of his sermons. If you have read any of the King James (“Authorized”) translation of the Bible, you may well have read more of Andrewes, who was a leading figure among its translators.

The words we have here are taken from a translation of his “Private Devotions” (written in Latin and Greek; this passage was in Greek) by one Alexander Whyte. (This edition begins with a biography of Andrewes, notable for its hostility towards its subject: Andrewes, we are told, was an inept writer, a mediocre preacher, and a political and theological sellout.) This passage forms a part of Andrewes’s devotions for the first day of the week, and looks back to the first day of creation in Genesis 1.

Rutter has taken a few liberties in his arrangement of both texts. The versions I’ve given above follow Rutter.

Rutter pivots on the word “light” into a hymn by Johann Franck (translated, rather loosely, by Catherine Winkworth). As it happens, this was neither the last word of the Andrewes/Whyte text, nor the first of the Franck/Winkworth; Rutter has rearranged both to suit his purpose. From the latter, he has chosen portions of the fifth and sixth verses. I regret that the translation I’ve linked to only has three verses; you can find fuller versions on the web, but mostly on sites that want to bombard you with music and/or advertisements.

the sweetest man e’er knoweth: of course this means “the sweetest joy that man has ever known”, not anything to do with sweet men.

give us ... guest .. receive us: As you might surmise from the failure of grammar here, the Franck/Winkworth original has “me” rather than “us” in these lines. I suggest that we sing “guests”, but of course the decision is not for me to make.

Rutter: I wonder as I wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Saviour, did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
When Mary birthed Jesus, ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all,
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heaven to sing,
He surely could have had it, ’cause he was the King!

Although it is usual to describe this as a traditional Appalachian carol, it would be truer to say that it was written by the singer and folklorist John Jacob Niles, on the basis of "three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material – and a magnificent idea" he had heard sung at an Appalachian revivalist meeting in 1933.

ornery: disagreeable, contrary, cantankerous.

Rutter: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day:
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance:
  Sing O my love, my love, my love;
  This have I done for my true love.
Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance;
Thus was I knit to man’s nature,
To call my true love to my dance.
  Sing O my love, my love, my love;
  This have I done for my true love.
In a manger laid and wrapped I was,
So very poor, this was my chance,
Between an ox and a silly poor ass,
To call my true love to my dance.
  Sing O my love, my love, my love;
  This have I done for my true love.

This carol, probably of mediaeval origin and perhaps from a mystery play, actually has no fewer than 11 verses recounting the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I believe its imagery of dancing was the inspiration for Sidney Carter’s famous “Lord of the Dance”.

Tomorrow shall be: One should presumably imagine this verse as being sung (unlike the rest) immediately before the Incarnation.

my true love: the human race, or perhaps more specifically the Church.

silly: Probably doesn’t mean quite what “silly” does now. Depending on just when these words were written, it’s probably somewhere in the vicinity of “innocent”, “harmless”, “feeble”, “pathetic”.

my chance: “fortune”, not “opportunity”.

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”. (But we’re doing the festal version.)