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August 06, 2005

Vesperae solemnes de confessore

Vespers, the sixth office of the seven conanonical "hours" of prayer is set out in detail in the Rule of Saint Benedict (c480 - c550). It has seven prescribed psalms, readings according to season, and a structured format of "prece prayer" and responses, with the canticle "Magnificat" (St Lukes Gospel 1:46 - 55) at its heart. Mozart's setting of the psalms and the Magnificat for this service was written in 1780 for the then Archbishop of Salzburg who enjoyed both temporal and spiritual authority in the Archdiocese he ruled.

Our service last night began with the rather whimsical, but extremely simple and melodious Organ Interlude, "Adagio for Glass Harmonica", another of Mozart's "little" masterpieces. Using the "Gedakt" Flute and a combination of "Mixture" and possibly the "Vox Humana" in the 2 foot and 4 foot register, it is light, deceptively simple, and exactly right as an introduction to the service. The Introit Preces is said, congregation and choir responding to the Officiating Priest. Then the choir begins the psalms.

"Dixit Dominus Domino meo" (Psalm 110), "Confitebor tibi Domine" (Psalm 111), "Beatus vir qui timet Dominum" (Psalm 112), "Laudate pueri Dominum" (Psalm 113), and finally "Laudate Dominum omnes gentes" (Psalm 117) soared to Mozarts indescribably beautiful settings, each with its own special flavour and its own special feel. Our choir did a magnificent job of singing the music accompanied by a small orchestra sat in their midst, sending the words and the music soaring through our lovely building with its wonderful accoustics. Surely the sound of heaven! Sitting in my stall, I was transported to those wonderful Rhineland Cathedrals - and suddenly the music in its context, became a vision of what it must be like to hear it in, say, Köln or Speyer with their incredible vaults and long narrow naves! It is in these buildings that you suddenly discover what the recordings do not give you - the clarity of the words carried in the rolling sound of the music. Every word is sharp and clear - even in the Latin.

My role in this service was to read the lesson - 2 Timothy 4: 1 - 8 - and lead the responses which follow that. Then I could resume my place in the stall during the singing of the Office Hymn by congregation and choir and then be transported again by the glorious singing of the Magnificat. Words are inadequate to describe the feeling or the sound of this as it is sung in a building such as this within the context of worship. The only way to describe it is to quote the Latin ....

"Magnificat anima mea Dominum. Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo!"

As a final treat, Carleton Etherington put in another outstanding performance with the Voluntary as choir and Ministers withdrew, playing Mozart's "Fantasia in F Minor and Major". Not until the last echoing note had died away to nothing did anyone move from their place. What more can one say!

Posted by The Gray Monk at August 6, 2005 08:42 AM