Saturday, 25 December 2010

Praeter rerum seriem

Wishing everyone a joyful Christmas!
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Adoration of the Shepherds
Basilica dei SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
Praeter rerum seriem                                             Beyond the order of things
parit deum hominem                                              the virgin mother gives birth
virgo mater.                                                           to the man who is God.
Nec vir tangit virginem                                           Neither has man touched the virgin
nec prolis originem                                                nor is the father responsible
novit pater                                                             for the origin of the child.

Virtus sancti spiritus                                             The power of the Holy Spirit
opus illud cœlitus                                                  has carried out
operatur.                                                               this heavenly work.
Initus et exitus                                                       The beginning and the end
partus tui penitus                                                  of your pregnancy
quis scrutatur?                                                      - who can begin to fathom it?

Dei providentia                                                     God's providence
quæ disponit omnia                                              which disposes everything
tam suave                                                            so sweetly
tua puerperia                                                       elevates your childbirth
transfer in mysteria.                                             to a mystery.
Mater ave.                                                           Our Mother hail!

Josquin Desprez (c.1450-1521), Praeter rerum seriem performed in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome by The Gabrieli Consort conducted by Paul McCreesh (from the DVD Christmas in Rome):

"Beyond the order of things" begins the text of a thirteenth-century Sequence about the mystery of the Incarnation; richly deep in the sonic depths begins Josquin Desprez's setting of the same text, Praeter rerum seriem. First printed in 1519, but probably composed earlier, this six-voiced Christmas motet presents an extremely tight series of imitative motifs around the central chant melody; the chant itself passes back and forth between Superius and Tenor voices in often near-canonic relationship. For much of the motet, Josquin counterpoises textural groups: the three lowest voices heard at the opening are placed in an antiphonal relationship with the upper three voices (when the melody is in the Superius), and both are juxtaposed with the full six-voiced sonority. Though all the voices are in fact freely composed, pairs throughout imitate one another so intimately that an illusion of canon obtains.

Following the common form of the late mediaeval Sequence, successive strophes of text, in pairs, take the same melody. Josquin's setting observes this underlying structure, but also imposes its own trajectory. The first two strophes comprise the first part of the motet, with the cantus firmus of the second strophe (from nec vir tangit) at double the speed, a vestige of the traditions of Isorhythm. Over the course of the second part of the motet, the rhythmic pace accelerates (to duple time, and then to a fast triple time symbolically referencing the Trinity), and the textural boundaries between voices blur themselves. Just before the final strophe of text, at the phrase omnia tam suave, hemiola syncopations blunt the edge of the jaunty triple-time, and the entire piece seems to revert to its opening sense of awe for the prayerful close.
(from All Music Guide)

Paolo Veronese: Paintings in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary, SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
Christmas in Rome DVD d/l link

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