Monday, February 16, 2015

Ash Wednesday: Miserere mei Deus secundum (Josquin Desprez)

This recording of Josquin's setting of Psalm 51 is sung by the Dufay Ensemble:

(Notes at YouTube read:  "2a parte - Auditui meo dabis gaudium" by Kiem, Eckehard (Google PlayeMusiciTunesAmazonMP3))

The words come from Psalm 51, which figures prominently in the Ash Wednesday liturgy; it is recited immediately following the imposition of ashes.  Here's the Latin of the Psalm (via CPDL) , followed by the English translation from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:
Miserére mei, Deus: secúndum magnam misericórdiam tuam.
Et secúndum multitúdinem miseratiónum tuárum: dele iniquitátem meam.
Ámplius lava me ab iniquitáte mea: et a peccáto meo munda me.
Quóniam iniquitátem meam ego cognósco: et peccátum meum contra me est semper.
Tibi soli peccávi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificéris in sermónibus tuis, et vincas cum judicáris.
Ecce enim in iniquitátibus concéptus sum: et in peccátis concépit me mater mea.
Ecce enim veritátem dilexísti: incérta et occúlta sapiéntiæ tuæ manifestásti mihi.
Aspérges me hyssópo, et mundábor: lavábis me, et super nivem dealbábor.
Audítui meo dabis gáudium et lætítiam: et exsultábunt ossa humiliáta.
Avérte fáciem tuam a peccátis meis: et omnes iniquitátes meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spíritum rectum ínnova in viscéribus meis.
Ne projícias me a fácie tua: et spíritum sanctum tuum ne áuferas a me.
Redde mihi lætítiam salutáris tui: et spíritu principáli confírma me.
Docébo iníquos vias tuas: et ímpii ad te converténtur.
Líbera me de sangúinibus, Deus, Deus salútis meæ: et exsultábit lingua mea justítiam tuam.
Dómine, lábia mea apéries: et os meum annuntiábit laudem tuam.
Quóniam si voluísses sacrifícium, dedíssem utique: holocáustis non delectáberis.
Sacrifícium Deo spíritus contribulátus: cor contrítum et humiliátum, Deus, non despícies.
Benígne fac, Dómine, in bona voluntáte tua Sion: ut ædificéntur muri Jerúsalem.
Tunc acceptábis sacrifícium justítiæ, oblatiónes et holocáusta: tunc impónent super altáre tuum vítulos.

Psalm 51    Miserere mei, Deus

  1     Have mercy on me, O God, according to your
                                      loving-kindness; *
           in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

  2     Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
           and cleanse me from my sin.

  3     For I know my transgressions, *
           and my sin is ever before me.

  4     Against you only have I sinned *
           and done what is evil in your sight.

  5     And so you are justified when you speak *
           and upright in your judgment

  6     Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
           a sinner from my mother's womb.

  7     For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
           and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

  8     Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
           wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

  9     Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
           that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10     Hide your face from my sins *
           and blot out all my iniquities.

11     Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
           and renew a right spirit within me.

12     Cast me not away from your presence *
           and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13     Give me the joy of your saving help again *
           and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14     I shall teach your ways to the wicked, *
           and sinners shall return to you.

15     Deliver me from death, O God, *
           and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,
           O God of my salvation.

16     Open my lips, O Lord, *
           and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17     Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice; *
           but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.

18     The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *
           a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

This is the very interesting Wikipedia entry for this piece, in its entirety:
The Miserere, by Josquin des Prez, is a motet setting of Psalm 51 (Psalm 50 in the Septuagint numbering) for five voices. He composed it while in the employ of Duke Ercole I d'Este in Ferrara, most likely in 1503 or 1504.[1] It was one of the most famous settings of that psalm of the entire Renaissance, was hugely influential in subsequent settings of the Penitential Psalms, and was itself probably inspired by the recent suffering and execution of the reformer Girolamo Savonarola.[2]

During the 1490s, the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole I d'Este, kept in close contact with Savonarola, who was also from Ferrara, and supported him in his efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church. About a dozen letters between the two survive: the Duke sought advice both on spiritual and political matters (for example, his alliance with France).[3] Even after Savonarola's arrest, Duke Ercole attempted to have him freed, but his last letter to the church authorities in Florence, in April 1498, went unanswered. After Savonarola's execution, Ercole, then in his eighties, probably commissioned his newly hired composer, Josquin, to write him a musical testament, very likely for performance during Holy Week of 1504.[4] Savonarola's impassioned meditation on sin and repentance, Infelix ego, composed in prison after his torture, and published in Ferrara in mid-1498 shortly after his death, was the probable model for Josquin's setting. It is an extended prayer to the God against whom he believes he has sinned, based closely on Psalm 51, and unified by a boldface-type repetition of the phrase "Miserere mei, Deus" throughout the text.

In keeping with Savonarola's dislike of polyphony and musical display, the Miserere is written in a spare, austere style, much different from the contrapuntal complexity, virtuosity, and ornamentation of works such as the five-part motet Virgo salutiferi, which was probably written around the same time.[5] The tenor part, which contains the repeating phrase "Miserere mei, Deus", was likely written to be sung by the Duke himself, who was a trained musician and often sang with the musicians in his chapel.[6]

The Miserere is one of Josquin's two "motto" motets, motets in which repetitions of a phrase are the predominant structural feature (the other is the five-voice Salve Regina of several years before). In the Miserere, the opening words of the first verse "Miserere mei, Deus", sung to a simple repeated-note motif containing only two pitches (E and F), serves as the motto. This recurs after each of the 19 verses of the psalm. The motto theme begins each time on a different pitch, with the recurrences moving stepwise down the scale from E below middle C to the E an octave below, then back up again to the opening E, and then down stepwise to A fifth below, where the piece ends. In addition, the length of the motto theme is halved once it begins its ascent out of the bass, and has its length returned to normal for the final descent from E to A.[7] These three journeys of the motto theme's opening note, down, up, and then down again, define the three divisions of the composition: a brief break is usually observed in performance between them.

While overall the composition is in the Phrygian mode, the harmonized repetitions enforce tonal variety.[8] Texturally, the piece is so constructed that the words are always clearly intelligible. Intelligibility of sung text was not always a high priority for composers of the period, and this lack of intelligibility was a specific criticism Savonarola made of polyphonic music. Josquin arranges for the words to be heard by using chordal textures, duets, and by avoiding dense polyphony; and of course after each verse the tenor voice intones alone "Miserere mei, Deus", as in the Savonarola meditation. As tenor sings these words, the other voices join in one at a time to reinforce the first, "an effect analogous to boldface type in a printed text."[9]

Josquin's setting of the Miserere was influential not only as a psalm setting, but as an example of how to approach the text of Infelix ego. Later in the 16th century, composers who specifically set the words of Savonarola, such as Adrian Willaert, Cipriano de Rore, and Nicola Vicentino, all of whom wrote motets on Infelix ego, used Josquin's work as a model.[10]

Psalm 57:1-4, another Psalm that contains the words "Miserere mei Deus," provides the text for the Gradual on Ash Wednesday; here's a video of that chant:

And here's the chant score:

Here's the complete text of Psalm 57:     
1     Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful,
for I have taken refuge in you; *
    in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge
    until this time of trouble has gone by.
2     I will call upon the Most High God, *
    the God who maintains my cause.
3     He will send from heaven and save me;
he will confound those who trample upon me; *
    God will send forth his love and his faithfulness.
4     I lie in the midst of lions that devour the people; *
    their teeth are spears and arrows,
    their tongue a sharp sword.
5     They have laid a net for my feet,
and I am bowed low; *
    they have dug a pit before me,
    but have fallen into it themselves.     
6     Exalt yourself above the heavens, O God, *
    and your glory over all the earth.
7     My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; *
    I will sing and make melody.
8     Wake up, my spirit;
awake, lute and harp; *
    I myself will waken the dawn.
9     I will confess you among the peoples, O LORD; *
    I will sing praise to you among the nations.
10     For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, *
    and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
11     Exalt yourself above the heavens, O God, *
    and your glory over all the earth.

Here are all the propers for Ash Wednesday, from the Sao Paulo Benedictines:
Tempus quadragesimæ
Feria quarta cinerum
Ad ritus initiales et liturgiam verbi
Introitus: Sap. 11, 24-25.27; Ps. 56 Misereris omnium (3m44.9s - 3516 kb) score
Graduale: Ps. 56, 2. V. 4 Miserere mei, Deus (3m15.9s - 3064 kb) score
Tractus: Ps. 102, 10 et 78, 8 et 9 Domine, non secundum peccata nostra (3m27.7s - 3248 kb) score

Ad benedictionem et impositionem cinerum
Antiphona: Cf. Ioel 2, 13 Immutemur habitu (1m21.5s - 1276 kb) score
Responsorium: Cf. Bar. 3,2. V. Ps. 78,9 Emendemus in melius (2m24.7s - 2264 kb) score

Ad liturgiam eucharisticam
Offertorium: Ps. 29, 2.3 Exaltabo te (1m37.7s - 1528 kb) score
Communio: Ps. 1, 2b.3b Qui meditabitur (45.3s - 710 kb) score

Here are posts on this site about the propers on the day:
The Ash Wednesday Introit: Misereris omnium
Ash Wednesday: Miserere Mei Deus (The Gradual)
Ash Wednesday:  Domine, non secundum (The Tract)
Ash Wednesday: Immutemur habitu and Emendemus in melius (antiphons sung during the imposition of ashes)
Exaltabo Te, Domine (The Offertory)
The Ash Wednesday Communion Song: Qui meditabitur

A holy Lent to all.


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