As dawn was closing the night

As the Raven pointed out in his post on today’s lectio divina, the first reading at Mass was from Isaiah and told of the Jewish people receiving a great light. The Gospel reading then tells us of Christ’s calling of the Galilean fishermen brothers, Peter and Andrew, who seem to be willing to abandon instantly the whole sum of their earlier lives, as if suddenly affected by some compelling inner light, in order to follow Christ and eventually die as martyrs while telling of His Gospel in foreign lands.

The above relatively unsung motet by Palestrina, Dum aurora finem daret, beautifully captures this idea in words attributed to the Roman martyr St Cecilia (died circa AD 230), the heavenly patron of Sacred Music, but which actually borrow from Romans 13:12:

Dum aurora [nocti] finem daret, Caecilia exclamavit, dicens: Eja, milites Christi, abjicite opera tenebrarum et induimini arma lucis, alleluia.

As dawn was closing the night, Cecilia exclaimed, saying: Oh, soldiers of Christ, cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light! Alleluia.

The words are the Benedictus antiphon from the office at daybreak (lauds) of the feast of St Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr.

The choir, the Batavia Madrigal Singers, are from the capital of the Republic of Indonesia and, as can clearly be seen, they do a very fine job. They were pleased to wear traditional dress from the various regions of Indonesia in this competition in Arezzo in Italy, such that we have outfits suggestive of the Majapahit and Srivijayan empires alongside such things as the more rustic distinctive dress of the Dayaks of Borneo and the costumes of other peoples, such as the Minangkabau, elsewhere in the archipelago.

They make such a fine job of this Palestrina motet that we should wonder more than a little about modern Western dictums that tell us that it is presumptuous paternalism to foist Western culture on innocent Oriental native peoples as if it were “superior”. Obviously, these singers don’t mind too much and seem rather happy to get involved. I suggest they are as delighted to experience and present the beauty of Palestrina’s music as many Westerners are to encounter the undeniable beauty of Indonesian courtly music and dance when they’re not getting drunk in Bali. Palestrina’s music for these Jakartans is rather redolent of “light”.

The director and founder of the Batavia Madrigal Singers is Mr Avip Priatna, a graduate of the Catholic University of Parahyangan in Bandung  (Parahyangan being a hilly region of West Java where the city of Bandung is located).

Any musicians present may find the score of Palestrina’s wonderful motet here. I understand that musical scientists are still struggling  to understand well why Palestrina’s music, which never appears to be too ambitious or pretentious, is to this day felt to be such a great accomplishment. Personally, I think St Cecilia had a hand in it and Mr da Palestrina took Blessed Cecilia’s admonishment seriously.

About GC

Poor sinner.
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2 Responses to As dawn was closing the night

  1. kathleen says:

    This is a really lovely post GC: Palestrina – heavenly – and the Batavia Madrigal Singers look exotically fantastic, as well as singing like angels!

    You raise many interesting issues in this article, not least the paradox whereas we westerners often try to dumb down our great cultural achievements nowadays (perhaps for the very reasons you suggest) and yet true beauty and talent knows no frontiers – in either direction.

    I remember once hearing in a homily about Heaven that music is one of the worldly wonders we shall continue to enjoy there. Such a wonderful thought!

    Like

  2. GC says:

    I remember once hearing in a homily about Heaven that music is one of the worldly wonders we shall continue to enjoy there.

    Sounds right to me, kathleen! After all we hear about that every time at Mass:

    And so, with Angels and Archangels,
    with Thrones and Dominions,
    and with all the Hosts and Powers of heaven,
    we sing the hymn of Your glory,
    as without end we acclaim:
    Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of Hosts!

    Do you remember the pointless kerfuffle the media made about Pope Benedict, when in one of his books he discussed the idea that the angels sang to the shepherds at Bethlehem? From memory, he made the point that when angels “speak” it seems to us to be “singing”. Just as well, as having a multitude of the heavenly host just jabbering at you all at once would be rather unheavenly and off-putting.

    For music, I must think, was given
    To be of higher life a token,
    The language by the angels spoken,
    The native tongue of heaven!
    CHRISTOPHER PEARSE CRANCH (1813-1892),

    Like

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