In memoriam

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Following on from last week’s Halloween post, we will now look at the season of Allhallowtide from a religious angle. The triduum of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day is a time to remember saints, martyrs and our deceased loved ones. Many local practices and traditions relating to the commemoration of the dead in Christian worship have given rise to an extensive repertoire of music. In the music collections at Cambridge University Library we find many examples of religious ritual and funerary music, ranging from early chant to contemporary works.  Searching for subjects such as “requiems” and “funeral music” will give you some insight into this fascinating repertoire.

For the purpose of this blog, I would like to introduce you to one particular item:, a Roman Catholic choir-book which starts with a mass to celebrate the festival of All Souls’ day. As an example of a stencilled book of liturgical notated music, it may also tickle the interest of the book historians amongst you. 

This 18th century edition is an unusual example of stencilled music as typically produced in Belgium and France. The stencils were made with the help of patterns cut out of metal strip. Grid lines have been drawn in pencil and within those, chant is notated in black and red. Large, decorative head-pieces feature skulls and ornamental patterns. A suitable choice, since the first section of this volume of liturgical chant is completely devoted to funerary masses and absoutes, or absolutions for the dead.

Choir-books in manuscript form always contain repertoire closely linked to the origins and purpose of the manuscript, whilst later printed chant editions tend to be much more standardised. The music and texts in this volume have been carefully selected for a particular context and contain both settings for ordinary and proper sections of the Mass. The five Masses for the dead use the same musical settings for the ordinary, as well as for the sequence Dies irae. There is a rich variation however in both text and music for the proper. The different mass settings have their own purpose; the commemoration of the Faithful Departed on All Souls’ Day, a service for monks, one for anniversaries, one for bishops and priests and a more general daily commemorative service.

The mass for bishops and priests is followed by the various absolutions, starting with the standard Libera me Domine, followed by a Qui dormiunt and then continuing with different absolutions for different groups of religous orders: deacons and subdeacons, priests and bishops. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Absolution of the dead is part of the funeral rites. Before the Second Vatican Council one could expect five absoutes for bishops and abbots and one for priests and the faithful, whilst some monastic liturgies would use three. The ritual takes place after the Requiem Mass and consists of chants and prayers accompanied by the sprinkling of holy water and the use of incense. Libera me Domine was typically used from the 16th century onwards. As with most of the other musical settings in this choir-book, the version differs from the standard chant repertoire in modern printed editions.

The choir-book continues with masses for different times of the year and ends with detailed instructions for the ceremony of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, a Credo setting by Dumont and a manuscript addition of the sequence Crucificum adoremus. It was ordered from Menno Hertzberger, founding father of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. We still have a xeroxed page from his catalogue in which the choir-book is advertised. Delightfully there is also an additional note pencilled in by a music librarian of the time “…Ordered 16/10/69 by telegram. Received 3/11/69.”

If you’re reading MusiCB3 on the day the new post comes out, you will notice that today is the 48th anniversary of the arrival at the UL of this fascinating choir-book. A very happy anniversary to a most curious volume.










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