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Music for Passiontide XI — Holy Saturday responsories

The first of the three nocturns in the Holy Saturday Matins begins with a reading from Lamentations 3:22-30.

It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.

It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.

It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.

He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.

He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.

This reading is followed by the responsory Sicut ovis.

Sicut ovis ad occisionem ductus est,
    
He was led as a sheep to the slaughter,
et dum male tractaretur non aperuit os suum;
     mistreated, but he opened not his mouth;
traditus est ad mortem ut vivificaret populum suum.
     He was delivered over to death so as to give life to his people.
Tradidit in mortem animam suam, et inter iniquos reputatus est.
     He delivered his soul unto death, and was counted among the malefactors.
Ut vivificaret populum suum.

     To quicken his people

Here is the traditional plainchant of this responsory, sung by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes.

In 1611 the Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo (c.1561-1613) set all of the Holy Week responsories to music. Singer and conductor Gabriel Crouch has written that Gesualdo’s settings “capture Christ’s Passion with almost unbearable directness.” Conductor Peter Phillips has warned that “Unless the listener understands each word of the text, he will find that he is missing the key to unlock what might otherwise seem like compositional anarchy”. So listeners are advised to follow the text above as they listenr Gesualdo’s setting of Sicut ovis ad occisionem. The singers are the ensemble Tenebrae, conducted by Nigel Short.

The second reading in the first nocturn is from the 4th chapter of Lamentations, verses 1-6.

How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.

The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!

Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.

They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.

For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.

The second responsory is Jerusalem, surge, et exue. Note the differences between this text and the Advent Offertory which begins with the same two words in Latin. That Advent text is joyful: “Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and behold the joy that comes to thee from thy God!” The Holy Saturday command to Jerusalem has a different horizon.

Jerusalem, surge, et exue te vestibus jucunditatis;
     Arise, O Jerusalem, and put off your garments of rejoicing;
induere te cinere et cilicio:
     cover yourself with sack-cloth and ashes:
quia in te occisus est Salvator Israel.
     for the Saviour of Israel has been slain in your midst.
Deduc quasi torrentem lacrimas per diem et noctem,
     Let your tears run down like a river, day and night,
et non taceat pupilla oculi tui.
     and let not the apple of your eye cease.
Quia in te occisus est Salvator Israel.
     For the Saviour of Israel has been slain in your midst.

Here is the plainchant of Jerusalem, surge, et exue. It is chanted by the ensemble Doulce Mémoire, directed by Denis Raisin Dadre

Here is Carlo Gesualdo’s setting of Jerusalem surge, et exue. This recording is from a concert given by Vox Luminis, directed by Lionel Meunier.

The third reading is from Lamentations 5:1-11.

Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.

Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.

We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.

We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.

Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.

We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.

Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.

Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.

We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.

Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.

They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.

The third responsory is Plange quasi virgo.

Plange quasi virgo, plebs mea,
     Weep like a virgin, my people,
ululate, pastores, in cinere et cilicio
     howl, keepers of the flock, covered with ashes and wearing hair-shirts,
quia veniet dies Domini magna et amara valde.
     for the great and very bitter day of the Lord will come.
Accingite vos, sacerdotes, et plangite, ministri altaris,
     Prepare yourselves, priests, and lament,acolytes before the altar,
aspergite vos cinere.
     cover yourselves with ashes.
Quia veniet dies Domini magna et amara valde.
     For the great and very bitter day of the Lord will come.

Here is the plainchant of Plange quasi virgo. It is sung here by the Utrecht Students Chamber Choir, directed by Jan Boogaarts.

Here is Gesualdo’s setting of Plange quasi virgo, sung by Vox Luminis, directed by Lionel Meunier.

The contemporary Italian composer Mariano Garau has set this responsory in a simple choral arrangement. The identity of the singers on this recording is unknown.

The second nocturn in Holy Saturday’s Matins included readings from St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 64:-7. “They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep. But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.” (I have not been able to locate the exact text for these readings; perhaps by next year.)

The responsory following the first reading from St. Augustine’ s commentary is Recessit pastor noster.

Recessit pastor noster fons aquae vivae
     Our Shepherd is departed, the fount of living water,
ad cuius transitum sol obscuratus est:
     At whose passing the sun was darkened,
Nam et ille captus est, qui captivum tenebat primum hominem:
     For even he was made captive who was holding captive the first man.
hodie portas mortis et seras pariter Salvator noster disrupit.
     Today the gates of death and their bars as well our Savior has destroyed.
Destruxit quidem claustra inferni
     Indeed He has destroyed the strongholds of the underworld
et subvertit potentias diaboli.
     And he has overthrown the powers of the devil.

The plainchant of this responsory is sung here by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes.

Gesualdo’s setting of this text is sung here by the Ensemble Vocal Européen, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.

Tomás Luis de Victoria composed settings for the last six of the nine responsories for each of the Matins for the three days preceding Easter. Here is his setting of Recessit pastor noster, sung by the Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

The responsory following the second reading from St. Augustine is O vos omnes.

O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte:
     O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see:
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.
     If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
Attendite, universi populi, et videte dolorem meum.
     Attend, all ye people, and see my sorrow:
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus.
     If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.

The plainchant of this responsory is sung here by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes.

Gesualdo’s O vos omnes is sung here by Tenebrae, directed by Nigel Short.

Victoria’s O vos omnes is sung here by The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers.

The contemporary Polish composer Paweł Łukaszewski has set 5 of the Holy Week reponsories to music, including O vos omnes, which is sung here by Tenebrae, conducted by Nigel Short.

The last responsory in the second nocturn on Holy Saturday is Ecce quomodo moritur justus. The text to this responsory is taken from Isaiah 57.

Ecce quomodo moritur justus
     Behold how the righteous man dies
et nemo percipit corde.
     And no one understands.
Viri justi tolluntur
     Righteous men are taken away
et nemo considerat.
     And no one considers:
A facie iniquitatis sublatus est justus
     The righteous man has been taken away from present iniquity
et erit in pace memoria eius:
     And his memory shall be in peace.
Tamquam agnus coram tondente se obmutuit,
     As a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
et non aperuit os suum:
     so he opened not his mouth:
de angustia, et de judicio sublatus est.
     he was taken from prison and from judgement.
Et erit in pace memoria ejus.
     And his memory shall be in peace.

The plainchant setting of this text is sung here by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes.

Gesualdo’s Ecce quomodo moritur justus is sung here by the Collegium Vocal Gent, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.

Victoria’s setting of this responsory is presented here by The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers.

The third nocture of Holy Saturday Matins featured readings from the epistle to the Hebrews, beginning with verses 11-14.

But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

This reading was followed by the responsory Astiterunt reges terrae, the text of which is taken from Psalm 2.

Astiterunt reges terrae,
     The kings of the earth rise up,
et principes convenerunt in unum,
     and the rulers take counsel together,
adversus Dominum et adversus Christum eius.
     against the Lord, and against his anointed.
Quare fremuerunt gentes, et populi meditati sunt inania?
     Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
Adversus Dominum et adversus Christum eius.
     Against the Lord, and against his anointed.

Here is the plainchant setting sung by the monks

Gesualdo’s setting is sung by Tenebrae with Nigel Short conducting.

Victoria’s setting of Astiterunt reges terrae is sung by The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christopers.

The second reading in the last nocturn was Hebrews 9:15-18.

And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.

This reading was followed by the responsory Aestimatus sum.

Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus in lacum,
     I am counted with them that go down into the pit:
factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.
     I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.
Posuerunt me in lacu inferiori, in tenebrosis et in umbra mortis.
     Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
Factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.
     I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.

The Benedictine Monks of Solesmes again provide the plainchant for this responsory.

Gesualdo’s setting of this text contains some remarkable word painting. Notice the darkness in the sound for the words “inter mortuos,” amon the dead, which then turns bright on the word “liber.” a free man.” But then, the darkness descends again when the choir sings “Posuearunt me in lacu inferiori,” “they cast me into the lowest pit.” The sense of desolation is palpable.

Here is Victoria’s account of this descent into Hell, sing by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.

We come to the final reading in the Holy Saturday Matins, from Hebrews 9:19-22.

For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

The final Holy Week Responsory is Sepulto Domino.

Sepulto Domino, signatum est monumentum,
     The Lord being buried, the tomb was sealed
Volventes lapidem ad ostium monumenti,

     By rolling a stone across the door,
Ponentes milites qui custodirent illum.

     And soldiers were placed to guard it.
Accedentes principes sacerdotum ad Pilatum, petierunt illum.

     The chief priests went to Pilate and petitioned him.
Ponentes milites qui custodirent illum.

     And soldiers were placed to guard it.

Plainchant from the Benectine Monks of Solesmes.

Gesualdo’s setting begins with a dramatic descent by the basses. It is sung here by the Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.

Victoria’s gentler (and, possibly, sadder) setting is sung here by Tenebrae, conducted by Nigel Short.