Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Top of the pops, circa 1450

I thought this would make a good item for show and tell.
About 20 years ago -- I was living in Philadelphia and working as a horse-and-carriage driver at the time -- I bought this piece of music out of my love for music in general.
It's Italian, from the 15th century and is written on vellum, or sheepskin. It had been part of a church songbook that some genius long ago likely took apart so as to sell the leaves individually for maximum profit.

When I was much younger, I could read music. This ability has since atrophied into illiteracy. But I can follow the general course of the melody, even if the musical notation is different from that used today.
The Latin words are a mystery to me, though. I recognize an allelujia here, an os quia omnia there, but it's mostly Greek to me. (Any of you lovers of Latin out there wanna give a crack at a translation?)

The thing that most moves me is that even after 600 years, this melody still fills the air, even if sung by a choir whose delicate voices can be heard only in my imagination.


Beth said...

i can't read music at all, but this looks beautiful to me anyway. you have a really interesting collection of things, michael. thanks for sharing them.

Michael said...

And thanks for looking, Kim.

Kitty said...

I used to have a page like this from a church songbook. My sister brought it back to me when she visited France as a college student, and I had it framed and hung on my living room wall. It was destroyed in the hurricane ... which really makes you think about things. (Uh oh, I think I feel a blog post coming on. :))

phoenix said...

I got one line of it I think and just out of curiosity will try the rest later.

cum in medio ue
"together within (the) center (is)strength"

Michael said...

Hello Kitty,
Interesting coincidence. Yes, it would make an interesting Katrina post!

Hi Phoenix,
Thanks for that translation! I like it already: Together within the center is strength.

Phats said...

A horse and carriage drive that's so cool! Did you have to wear the top hat and the coat??

The music is cool too, I can play piano but only really by ear. If I listen to a song long enough I can play it.

Pierre Turlur said...

Hi Michael,

Only in your imagination?...Michael, that's precisely where music lives. Blowing the side flute for almost twenty years, that's where I always find it. Enjoy these distant-close voices!

Michael said...

Hi Phats,

No, we wore silly Colonial-style costumes, as it was 1987 and the bicentennial of the ratification of the Constitution was being celebrated and Philadelphia was awash in a sea of tourists.

Hello Pierre,
Yes indeed, the symphony continues to play inside my head.

Maaike said...

Dear Pierre,

The full Latin text reads something like:

Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes,
erant omnes apostoli pariter dicentes, alleluia, spiritus paraclitus docebit vos omnia

repleti sunt omnes spiritu sancto, alleluia, et ceperunt loqui, prout spiritus sanctus dabat eloqui illis, alleluia.

Jam non dicam vos servos,
sed amicos [meos],
quia omnia cognovistis que operatus sum in medio
vestri, alleluia.

Accipite spiritum sanctum in vobis paraclitum, alleluia
Ille est quem pater mittet vobis.

Vos amici mei estis, si feceritis que precipio vobis, alleluia.

I've marked the text that actually appears on your page as bold.

The English translation:
When the day of Pentecost was completed, all the apostles were gathered together, saying: alleluia.

The spirit of the Paraclete will teach you all things. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, alleluia, and they began to speak,
as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance, alleluia.

Henceforth I do not call you servants, but my friends,
because you know all that I have labored for in your midst, alleluia.

Receive the Holy Spirit of the Paraclete in you, alleluia.
He is whom the Father sends to you.
You are my friends, if you do what I command you, alleluia.

It's literally quite an inspiring piece of music you found. It's still sung at Pentecost in Roman Catholic churches, but I can imagine you prefer the singers in your head :-)

All the best,


maaike said...

Dear Michael,

Sorry, I mistook your name! Could you please adjust it?



Michael said...

Hello Maaike,

Thanks so much for the translation! It was most kind of you. Now, after 20 years, I know what the lyrics mean. Yes, it is an inspiring piece of music, indeed.
Thanks again!