Paschale Mysterium: Gregorian Chant for Easter
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Gregorian Chant for Easter
 Vexilla regis (hymnus)
 Domine, exaudi (tractus)
 Crucem tuam (antiphona)
 Improperia II
 Oratio Jeremiae
 Exultet (praeconium paschale)
 Cantemus Domino (canticum)
 Surrexit Dominus vere (antiphona cum psalmo invitatorio 94)
 Alleluia. Haec dies (antiphonae)
 Haec dies. Confitemini (responsorium - graduale)
 Alleluia. Pascha nostrum
 Victimae paschali laudes (sequentia)
 Exsultemus et laetemur (cantus responsorialis)
 Aurora lucis (hymnus)
 Benedicamus Domino, alleluia (ad dimittendum populum)
The liturgical celebration of the mystery of Easter, the Paschale Mysterium,comes at the height of the Christian year, marking the task of human redemptionand the glorification of God. It is both a record and a redemptiverepresentation of the passion and death of Christ, on Good Friday, and of hisresurrection, on Easter Eve and Easter Day. These two celebrations, which haveformed the core of the Easter liturgy since the apostolic age, centre on theCross, the "King's emblem, glowing with mystery ...the wonderful, shiningtree, adorned with royal purple", in the words of the hymn Vexilla regis,written by Venantius Fortunatus, seventh century bishop of Poitiers, theopening of the present release. In the modern liturgy the Vexilla regis issung at Vespers in Holy Week. Its composition presents highly lyrical melodicmotifs and is constructed on an authentic protus mode which has a rangeof a modal fifth (D to A) with the ornamentation of B flat.
The liturgy of Good Friday juxtaposes the celebration of two ritual elements,the readings from the Bible followed by the universal prayer (aratio fidelium)and the Veneration of the Cross. The first has its origin in the papalliturgy, celebrated in the Roman Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, thesecond, more popular in character, is derived from the presbyterial liturgy.
In the first part the readings, songs and prayers alternate, following theclassical pattern of the stational-liturgical synaxes, the archaic mark of whichthey retain. The two readings before the Passion narrative and the directpsalmody of the tracts come from the Gallican liturgical tradition. The chant Domine,exaudi, originally sung on Ash Wednesday, from Psalm CI, contains theanguished cry of the servant of Yahweh that announces the redeeming Passion. Thelast verse of the text, "Rise up, O Lord, take pity on Zion, for the timehas come to have mercy on her" corresponds to the climax of the music, thattouches the dominant G, with Gallican patterns that have also supplied materialfor the creation of the Alleluia modal D tone (1st mode). The tract Dominusexaudi is in plagal protus. The main chord d (opening iubilusat Domine in the first verse) develops its dominant on the upperthird (iubilus of the second verse on ne avertas) and on itsfourth, on g, in the last verse.
From the second part of the Good Friday liturgy (the Veneration of the Cross)come the chants of the Improperia, the Reproaches, and the antiphon Crucemtuam adoremus (We adore thy cross). These two musico-liturgical elements,introduced into the Roman liturgy between the ninth and eleventh centuries,still today arouse emotional intensity within the striking frame of theAdoration of the Cross. The antiphon Crucem tuam rises like a cry oftriumph, extolling the glory of the Cross. In fact it is composed on the themeof the Te Deum.
The dramatic Improperia that follow accompany the rite of theVeneration of the Cross. The text reminds us of how the chosen people offendedthe Son of God and of the benefits that he had bestowed on the ungratefulnation. Here the second group of Reproaches, without the Trisagion, isoffered, consisting of two-member sentences that alternate with the verses. Thesemi-ornate phrase that serves as a refrain is polymodal: it opens in the e mode,with melodic- textual accents on g (Popule meus, quid feci tibi?) andcontinues in the Gallican d mode (Aut in quo contristavi te? Respondemihi). The verses present a syllabic psalmodic tonal pattern, stemming fromthe musico-liturgical tradition of Central Italy: e is the reciting note,with mediatio and terminatio cadencing on the lower c.
The prayer of the Prophet Jeremiah, offered here almost unabridged, is thelament that describes the struggle of Jerusalem and of its inhabitants. The Jewsrecite it on the day that commemorates the destruction of the Temple, the Churchin the office of Holy Saturday, to recall the tragedy of Calvary. The melody ofthis text is set to an early d tone coming from a non-Roman, perhapsGallican, musico-liturgical tradition and following the pattern of a doublepsalmodic tone in semi-ornate style, with cursive cadences: mediatio cadencesdescend to c, while terminatio cadences close on the reciting note of d.
In the second part the reciting note of the psalmodic tenor rises to g.
The Exultet is the chant announcing the joy of Easter, commonly knownas the praeconium paschale, at the opening of the Easter Vigil, theprincipal of all vigils, after the blessing of the fire and the paschal candlethat through its light dispels the darkness of night and of evil. The Exultetstarts with an invitation to joy and thanksgiving (exsultet ...gaudeat...laetetur), in a solemn reciting tone of wide ambitus: from thereciting note of c touching d to highlight the textual stress, the melodyhas two intermediate cadences on a (caelorum and mysteria) and anornamented cadence on low c (salutaris), prepared by means of a longstep-wise melodic descending line (et pro tanti Regis).
There follows, with the same melody, the humble prayer of the minister thathe may worthily sing the praise of the paschal candle, symbol of the risenChrist. The prayer ends with a brief dialogue with the congregation on the toneof the chant for the Preface of the Mass.
The words Vere dignum et iustum est introduce the essential and mostbeautiful part of the Exsultet, to the simple tone of the Preface of theMass. Two reciting notes c and b descend to b and a respectivelyat the cadences. The text is divided into four parts:
1. The praise and thanksgiving to God for his work of redemption.
2. Easternight brings to the composer's mind figures from the Old Testament, the PaschalLamb, the Red Sea and the passage through the desert.
3. Admiration for the splendour of redemption in the four exclamations of O.
4. The prayer to God that he accept the tribute and that the paschal candle(the risen Christ) may never fail but shine with unextinguished light.
After the blessing of the paschal candle follow biblical readings that, likea series of pictures, evoke important stages in the history of salvation. Amongthese is the reading of the passage through the Red Sea, followed by the wellknown Song of Moses Cantemus Domino. This composition is part of theRoman musical tradition, with the insertion of a Ga