Music premieres at the Toronto Oratory

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In the month of June, the Toronto Oratory will feature two important musical premieres in its liturgies: one new composition being performed for the first time in Canada, and one newly rediscovered sixteenth-century composition sung for the first time in the modern era.

On Pentecost Sunday (June 9th), the Missa Chicagoensis by Stephanie Martin will be sung as part of the 11:00 am Solemn High Mass. Martin’s piece was commissioned by the Canons Regular of St John Cantius and was first performed at their parish church in Chicago on Pentecost Sunday 2017; the music of the Mass references the well-known chant melody Veni Creator Spiritus, particularly in the Sanctus, making the piece especially appropriate for Pentecost. An accomplished composer, conductor, organist, and harpsichordist, Stephanie Martin is based in Toronto, where she is an Associate Professor of Music at York University; she served for many years as music director of the Pax Christi Chorale, and currently directs Schola Magdalena, an ensemble of women’s voices specializing in chant and medieval polyphony. This Mass setting has so far been heard only in the United States, making this its Canadian premiere.

On Corpus Christi Sunday (June 23rd), the motet Salve Jhesu summe bone by Pierre de la Rue will be sung at the 5:00 liturgy of Solemn Vespers and Benediction. La Rue was the court composer to the Habsburg-Burgundian court in Mechelen (present-day Belgium) from 1492 to 1516, an institution that was one of the most important in Europe at the time. La Rue left many important liturgical works, many of which have been heard at the Oratory (including the Missa Ave Sanctissima Maria, Missa Sancta Dei genitrix, and Vexilla regis/Passio Domini), but many more works have been lost since La Rue’s death. Music historians believed for many years that Salve Jhesu was among these lost works; a 1597 inventory of manuscripts belonging to Philip II of Spain mentions “a large book of motets by different authors, the first of which is Salve Jesu for six voices by La Rue.” This “book of motets” no longer exists, but musicologist Eric Jas of the University of Utrecht recently rediscovered the lost Salve Jhesu motet, which had been preserved as an anonymous composition in a mid-century German manuscript. (Interested readers can learn more about the rediscovery in a recent article published in Early Music). We are grateful to Prof. Jas for providing a score for Salve Jhesu, which will be sung at the Oratory for the first time since its rediscovery – and, most likely, the first time ever since its “disappearance” sometime in the seventeenth century.

The text of Salve Jhesu summe bone is printed below; the poem honours the Precious Blood of Christ, setting seven stanzas of a devotional poem by the Cistercian abbot Arnulf of Leuven:

Salve Jhesu summe bone,
Ad parcendum nimis prone,
Membra tua macelenta,
Quam acerbe sunt distenta,
In ramo crucis horride.

O maiestas infinita,
O aegestas inaudita,
Quis pro tanta charitate,
Querit te in veritate,
Dans sanguinem pro sanguine.

Sanguis tuis abundanter,
Fusus est incessanter,
Totus lotus in cruore,
Pendens in maximo dolore,
Praecinctus vili tegmine.

Ecce fluit circumquaque,
Per corpus tuum membraque,
Sanguis tuis copiose,
Rubicundus instar rose,
Magne salutis premium.

O quam large te exponis,
Promptus malis atque bonis,
Trahis pigros pios vocas,
Et in tuis ulnis locas,
Paratus gratis omnibus.

Grates tante charitati,
Nos agamus vulnerati,
O amator peccatorum,
Reparator confractorum,
Dulcis pater pauperum.

Quidquid in nobis est confractum,
Dissipatum aut distractum,
Jhesu bone totum sana,
Tu restaura tu complana,
Tam pio medicamine. Amen.

Hail Jesus, highest goodness,
So inclined to indulgence;
Your tortured limbs are
horridly stained on the rough
branch of the cross.

O Infinite majesty,
O unheard necessity;
who for your great love
seeks you in very truth
and gives blood for blood?

Your blood is abundantly
and incessantly spilled;
entirely stained by the blood stream
you stand in utmost pain,
covered by a shabby garment.

Look, your blood flows
lavishly everywhere
over your body
and limbs, like red roses,
the price of great salvation.

O how generous do you show yourself
towards man, both bad and good,
drawing the unwilling and calling the loyal,
taking them in your arms,
ready to welcome all.

Thanks to this great love
we can stand the injured,
O you loyal friend of sinners,
healer of broken man, and
dearest father of the poor.

That which in me is broken,
scattered or torn,
good Jesus, bring it again together,
restore and rebuild it all
through a sacred medicine. Amen.

(trans. Willem Elders)

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