The chants for the liturgia defunctorum (Liturgy of the Dead) originate from two celebrations: the Order of Burial and All Souls' Day on 2nd November.
Nothing is known about these chants before the eighth and ninth centuries, because the manuscripts of that period only recorded the verbal texts of the readings and prayers, without any musical notation. Yet, starting from the tenth century, music manuscripts reveal the existence of a repertoire that, in two centuries' time, will consist of more than a hundred chants. In fact, in that historical background and liturgical context, the institution of All Souls' Day was promoted in all European monasteries by Abbot Odilo of Cluny, and it would be welcomed into the Roman liturgy in the fourteenth century.
One part of these chants, in the typical "schola" ornate or semi-ornate style, was intended for Mass, while the other, in a mostly syllabic style, for the Office.
This recording features the classical tunes of the funeral Mass within the framework of some chants from the Office, which have been introduced into the existing obsequies (Paul VI's Graduale Romanum) as a statio (stop) at the home of the deceased, and for the procession to church and cemetery.
The invitation psalm (Invitatorium) opens, by way of overture, this proposal of evocative melodies that have aroused deep emotions inside the human heart for centuries. The verse Regem cui omnia vivunt uses a psalmodic tenor in the sixth tone, at a fourth interval (B flat) above the key-note (F). The recitation chord on B flat is an element of late modal evolution. For this reason, that tone has been abandoned by current chant books (Liber Hymnarius, 1983) and, therefore, this is a rare opportunity to hear it.
The two following pieces display all the faith of the Church in commending the soul of the dead to God. The Antiphon Apud Dominum (fourth mode colour), with the insertion of versicles from Psalm 129 (De profundis), invokes God, source of mercy and redemption. The Responsory Subvenite, from the eleventh century, entrusts the soul of the departed brother to the angels and saints, who will lead him to the throne of God. In perfect symbiosis with the text, the melody of this responsory turns around an E recitation tone, with a melodic accent on G at the word occurrite and two ornate cadenzas, brightened by the contrast between a high B natural at angeli and altissimi and a low B flat at eam.
The excerpts from the Mass speak of sleep and rest after the struggle against evil (Requiem), of resurrection and life, of light and peace springing from Christ's own death and Resurrection (Lux aeterna). There are also sorrowful supplications for those who, having left the earth, are purifying themselves before entering the Heavenly Kingdom (Absolve, Domine and Domine Jesu Christe).
The melodies do not have a common origin, but belong to later periods. The Introit Requiem (tenth century), in the sixth mode, has a smooth and peaceful melodic air that suitably supports the Christian sense of death, namely a passage to eternal rest in Heaven. The following Kyrie, in the same mode, ties in with it perfectly, developing a step-by-step melody up to a richly ornamented fifth in the setting of the last invocation.
The Gradual and Tract psa1modies lie in the context of the Readings (lectura cum cantico). The Epistle recitation tone and the Gradual psa1modic tenor have a common source, that is, the fundamental chord of D (=A). The Gradual Requiem melody belongs to the second mode tone colour of the Haec dies for Easter Day. This composing parallel is justified by the paschal meaning that death takes on in relation to Christ's Resurrection. The Tract Absolve melody (eleventh century), except for the ending cadenza, relates to the eighth-mode tone colour of the tracts and canticles for Easter Eve, with plain patterns and different tenors (G and C), except for the ending cadenza.
The Sequence Dies irae has always been the most expressive chant in the history of the Requiem Mass. After evoking the apocalyptic end of the world and God's dreadful judgement, the text turns into a fervent prayer to the Supreme Judge, in order to obtain mercy and forgiveness. Hence, the sequence opens on the great prospects of Christian hope. In fact, it was intended to be sung on the first Sunday in Advent, among the Readings about Christ's return. The author of the text is Fra Tommaso da Celano (ob. c. 1250); the melody was not taken from any musical theme. After the Second Vatican Council liturgical reform, the Dies irae was excluded from the chants of the Mass, but was inserted in the Liber Hymnarius as an "ad libitum" hymn for the ferial service on the last week of the ecclesiastical year.
The Offertory Domine Jesu Christe (tenth century) is a completely original melody. It opposes a linear structure around a D chord (second mode) to a literary framework in which images of the kingdom of Darkness (Hell, the bottomless pit, the lion's jaws, etc.) and the kingdom of Light (archangel, holy light, promise to Abraham, etc.) dramatically alternate.
Together with the Readings and the relating Psalmodies, the recording includes the Preface and the following chant of the Eucharistic prayer (prex eucharistica), as well as of the Communion prayers, on a D recitation tone. This is the natural context of the ferial Sanctus and Agnus Dei melodies, that up to now have been erroneously considered part of a specific tone for the Dead. The Sandus is related to the recitatives of the Preface and the Eucharistic prayer; the Agnus Dei is in the same tone as the Litanies of the Saints - the D tone of the Communion prayers - although its melody reveals some late modal evolution in the two elements of the tritone.
The Communion Lux aeterna (tenth century) in the syllabic style, keeps the musical form of an antiphon, alternating with its versicle.
The chants for the Concluding Rite, after the Liturgy of the Eucharist, are taken from the Office repertoire. Following the literary and musical reading of the 1908 Graduale Romanum edition, in the Responsory Libera me Domine (first mode) the soul of the departed sings in deep anguish (quando caeli movendi sunt) and anxiously (tremens factus sum ego et timeo) pleads to be delivered from everlasting death (libera me Domine). The Antiphons In paradisum (seventh mode) and Chorus angelorum (eighth mode) are joyful invocations from the congregation, so that the dead brother may be received into the eternal feast, in communion with the Lord. Finally, in the Antiphon Ego sum resurredia (a cento melody in the second mode), the son of God, the saviour, speaks out: the sleep of the Righteous awaits resurrection on the Last Day. This is w hat the antiphon announces and highlights with verbal and melodic accents at qui credit in me and qui vivit et credit in me.
Translation: Lorenza Fogagnolo)
The female Gregorian chant schola Aurora Surgit came into being in the Choral Singing class at the Conservatory of Rovigo thanks to the initiative of some young pupils. Its purpose is to bring Gregorian chant back to life in the places it was intended for and through up-to-date semiological and modal-aesthetic researches.
Either a Cantor, for the performance of solo parts and responsories, or a male group, for the performance of antiphons, joins the female permanent group. The name of the choir comes from the hymn Aurora surgit lucida, which is sung Ad laudes matutinas (for the morning Lauds) on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.
Alessio Randon graduated in Gregorian Chant and Sacred Music at the Ambrosian Pontifical Institute of Milan and in Singing at the Conservatory of Padua. He currently teaches choral singing at the Conservatory of Rovigo. He is a member of the Artistic Board of the Venetia Association for Choral Singing Development (ASAC). He has directed the female Gregorian chant schola Aurora Surgit of Padua since its foundation and is a soloist with the Nova Schola Gregoriana of Verona under the direction of Luigi Agustoni and Alberto Turco. He gives regu1ar courses and workshops on vocal technique, semiology and Gregorian chant.