Cornelis Boscoop’s “O God wilt myn salveren”

The extraordinarily obscure Dutch composer Cornelis Boscoop wrote some lovely music that I haven’t heard sung or recorded. In a search for some nice old Dutch language choral music, I ran into this figure on IMSLP, which has surprisingly made available both a set of part books and a nineteenth-century score transcription of his fifty psalms (1562). I couldn’t find a recording of this anywhere, so I entered the first song into Finale to hear it. It is a setting of Psalm 68 (modernly Psalm 69 it seems), called in an older Dutch, “O God wilt myn salveren.” Here is the Finale playback file from that. Feel free to follow along in this score.

The music is actually quite lovely to have been so strongly forgotten. Boscoop was a predecessor to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck at his church, the Oudekerk in Amsterdam.

The words are thus:

O God wilt myn salveren,
het water compt my aen,
het liden wil my deren,
heel laten te gronde gaen.

Seer diep bin ick gesoncken,
verdruckt van een tempeest,
ick riep, myn worden cloncken,
als ick was seer bevreest.

Pronouncing “Jesu”

The word “Jesu” frequently appears in sacred English texts as a poetic form of the name of Christ. It comes from the vocative declension of the name Iēsus in Latin, which was taken early into the Middle English language around 1150. While it is true that originally, the name began with a [j] or y sound, around the time it entered our language, it was already being pronounced with a [ʤ] sound, or at least a [ʒ]. In English, the name has two main pronunciations: [ˈʤiːzju] (GEE-zyoo) and [ˈʤiːzu] (GEE-zoo).

Sometime in the twentieth century,  singers and choir directors in the United States started to insist on a different pronunciation, [ˈjeɪzu] (as in “Yay! Zoo!”) and [ˈjɛsu] (as in “Yes, Sue!”), either opting for a z or s sound on the middle consonant and opting for a y sound at the start of the word. This came likely from a desire to conform to the 1903 motu proprio from the Roman Catholic Church to pronounce Latin as if it is Italian, assuming that “Jesu” was a distinctly Latin word, and pronouncing it accordingly.

What we are left with then is that most singers and choirs in the United States pronounce the word with a y sound, while most singers and choirs in the United Kingdom pronounce it with a gee sound. The UK retains many of her memories of what is sometimes called “Old-Style Latin,” where Latin words used in English sentences are pronounced like English words. Continue reading Pronouncing “Jesu”

Ginastera’s “O vos omnes”

Ginastera's Lamentations cover pageHow does one pronounce the text in Alberto Ginastera’s “O vos omnes,” from his Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta of 1947? Ginastera, the Argentine composer best known for his piano and orchestral works, wrote three choral settings from selected passages from Lamentations, the first one being “O vos omnes.”

I was handed this piece not long ago in a choir in which I sing for recreation. Choirs in this country naturally are trained to sing all Latin pieces in Anglo-Roman Latin, complete with its dark vowels and its accentuation. This becomes problematic for this piece not only for historical accuracy, but for musical logic. This first movement goes against natural Italian accentuation and appears to favor the stress-less Spanish language prosody. Spanish, like old Latin, Japanese, and French, does not have syllable stress quite like English, German, and Italian do, but create a sense of word stress by lengthening the vowel only. When set to music, syllable-stress languages like Spanish rely entirely on the notes themselves for any sense of word stress. In this piece, Ginastera occasionally subverts the Anglo-Roman stress (such as Idcirco in measure 68 or aquas: quia longe in mm. 75–76, which puts the text stress on quas and -ge).

Which Latin would work best for this piece? I would say Roman Latin (since the Roman Catholic Church was advocating for it strongly in that decade), but without the Italian word stresses and with brighter vowels and a few more Spanish-language phonetic tendencies.

  1. C should be unaspirated, unlike in English or German (or Anglo-Roman Latin).
  2. E should be brighter, almost to [e] as a general rule.
  3. O should be more back than Roman Latin [ɔ], closer to [o].
  4. T should be dental with no aspiration at all.
  5. V between vowels is quite acceptably [β], such as in “O vos.”
  6. No volume-based word stress should be used. Just pronounce each syllable equally.

Those with Spotify have the advantage of hearing an Argentine ensemble (Coro Alberto Ginastera del Conservatorio de Música de Morón) singing this piece, generally following those rules here listed. I must say it works quite well without the twang of Anglo-Roman Latin.

“Stars” by Teasdale

There seems to have been a movement around the mid-twentieth century in choral writing to focus the attention of the choir onto what everyone sounds like at that moment, neglecting what each line sounds like by itself over the course of time. As a result, some bass parts do not carry one line of intelligible text. For example, in his setting of Teasdale’s “Stars,” Ēriks Ešenvalds (“one of the most sought-after choral composers working today,” according to his web site’s biography) gives the basses only a few phrases of text and a few other vocables. I give you below the entirety of the text as sung by the basses, with a recording of myself reading the text for extra edification.

In the night on a dark hill,
Mm spicy and still, and still,
Mm Ah Mm Ah Oh
white and topaz and misty red;
Oh Mm Mm Ah Mm Ah
Mm Ah Oh Ah

The dome of heaven great hill
and myriads with hearts of fire,
heaven full of stars, heaven full of stars,
Ah Ah Oh Mm Oh Mm Oh Mm
Oh Mm Oh Mm Oh Mm Oh.

Pronouncing Early Modern English Latin

Somewhat related to the previous post, this one deals with as good of an attempt on pronouncing the Latin of Robert White’s “Lamentations” as possible. Since this piece was written in the late sixteenth century in England, its Latin should be colored a bit like Shakespeare’s pronunciation, but a little tamer (fewer distinctly English diphthongs than period English would use perhaps). Based on the Harold Copeman’s explanation of this era’s Latins in his 1990 book Singing in Latin, I made an IPA transcription of how the text of “Lamentations” would probably have originally been sung. It is reproduced below with a recording of myself speaking it (as best as I can).

HETH. Peccatum peccavit Hierusalem,
[hɛθ pʰɛˈkʰætʰʊm pʰɛˈkʰævɪtʰ ʤɛˈɾjuzalɛm]

propterea instabilis facta est: omnes qui
[prɔpˈtʰeɾɛa ɪnˈstæbɪlɪs fæktʰa ɛst ˈɔmnɛs kwi]

glorificabant eam spreverunt illam: quia
[ɡlɔɾɪfɪˈkʰæbant ˈeam spɾɛˈveɾʊntʰ ˈilam ˈkwia]

viderunt ignominiam eius: ipsa autem
[vɪˈdeɾʊnt ɪŋnɔˈminɪam ˈeʤʊs ˈɪpsa ˈɔtʰɛm]

gemens et conversa retrorsum.
[ˈʤemɛnz ɛtʰ kɔnˈvɛɾsa ɾɛˈtɾɔɾsʊm]

TETH. Sordes eius in pedibus eius:
[tʰɛθ ˈsɔɾdɛs ˈeʤʊs ɪn pʰedibʊs ˈeʤʊs]

nec recordata est finis sui. Deposita est
[nɛkʰ rɛkʰɔɾdætʰa ɛst finɪs sjuɪ dɛˈpʰozɪtʰa ɛst]

vehementer: non habens consolatorem.
[vehɛˈmɛntʰɛr nɔn ˈhæbɛnz kʰɔnsɔlaˈtʰoɾɛm]

Vide Domine afflictionem meam: quoniam
[ˈvidɛ ˈdɔmɪnɛ aflɪksiˈonɛm ˈmeam ˈkʰonɪam]

erectus est inimicus.
[ɛˈɾɛktʰʊs ɛst ɪnɪˈmikʰʊs]

IOD. Manum suam misit hostis ad omnia
[ʤoð ˈmænʊm ˈsjuam ˈmɪzɪtʰ ˈhostɪs að ˈɔmnɪa]

desiderabilia ejus, quia vidit gentes
[dɛzɪdɛɾaˈbilɪa ˈeʤʊsˌ kwia ˈvidɪtʰ ˈʤɛntɛz]

ingressas sanctuarium suum, de quibus
[ɪŋˈɡrɛsas saŋktjuˈæɾɪʊm ˈsjuʊm dɛ ˈkwibʊs]

præceperas ne intrarent in ecclesiam tuam.
[prɛˈsepɛɾas nɛ ɪnˈtræɾɛnt ɪn ɛˈkleziam ˈtjuam]

CAPH. Omnis populus ejus gemens, et
[kæf ˈɔmnɪs ˈpʰopʰʊlʊs ˈeʤʊs ʤemɛnz ɛtʰ]

quærens panem; dederunt pretiosa quæque
[ˈkweɾɛnz ˈpʰænɛm dɛˈdeɾʊntʰ prɛsiˈoza kwekwɛ]

pro cibo ad refocillandam animam. Vide,
[prɔ ˈsibɔ að rɛfosɪˈlændam ˈænɪmam ˈvidɛ]

Domine, et considera quoniam facta sum vilis!
[ˈdɔmɪnɛ ɛtʰ kʰɔnˈsidɛɾa ˈkʰonɪam ˈfækta sʊm ˈvilɪs]

LAMED. O vos omnes qui transitis per
[ˈlæmɛð o vɔz ˈɔmnɛs kwi tranˈsitɪs pɛɾ]

viam, attendite, et videte si est dolor sicut
[ˈviam aˈtʰɛndɪtʰɛ ɛtʰ vɪˈdetʰɛ si ɛst ˈdolɔɾ ˈsɪkʰʊtʰ]

dolor meus! quoniam vindemiavit me, ut
[ˈdolɔɾ ˈmeʊs ˈkʰoniam vɪndɛmɪˈævɪtʰ me ʊtʰ

locutus est Dominus, in die iræ furoris sui.
[lɔˈkjutʰʊs ɛst ˈdɔmɪnʊs ɪn ˈdiɛ ˈiɾɛ fʊˈɾɔɾɪs ˈsjuɪ]

MEM. De excelso misit ignem in ossibus
[mɛm de ɛkˈselso ˈmɪzɪtʰ ˈɪŋnɛm ɪn ˈɔsɪbʊs]

meis et erudivit me: expandit rete pedibus
[ˈmeɪs ɛtʰ ɛɾʊˈdivɪtʰ me ɛksˈpændɪtʰ retʰɛ ˈpʰedɪbʊs]

meis: convertit me retrorsum: posuit me
[meɪs kʰɔnˈvɛɾtʰɪtʰ me ɾɛˈtɾɔɾsʊm ˈpʰozjuɪtʰ me]

desolatam tota die maerore confectam.
[dɛzɔˈlætʰam ˈtʰotʰa ˈdiɛ mɛˈɾɔɾɛ kʰɔnˈfɛktam]

Hierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
[ʤɛˈrjuzalɛm kʰɔnˈvɛɾtʰɛɾɛ að ˈdɔmɪnʊm ˈdeʊm ˈtjuʊm]

The title of the piece, by the way, would have probably been pronounced [læmɛnˈtʰæsɪənz]. My transcription is not authoritative, but from what evidence I can find, it is as close to the original pronunciation as I can envision.

Robert White’s “Lamentations”

I have continued making old-style bass parts for myself to read early music. BREVE is now starting to work on the Lamentations (a 6) of Robert White (or Whyte), which is a quite long setting of much of the first chapter of the book of Lamentations. Not only is it a great opportunity to get used to reading old-style notation, but a great exercise in reading from baritone clef. I did not derive this part from a manuscript or early printing, but derived it from the score from which we are reading. Thankfully it had an initial suggestion of the clef and proportion by which to base this part.

Have a look!

At two pages, it is a lot less to carry around than the 24-page full choral score. The work takes eighteen minutes to perform typically. If you want to follow my bass part with a recording, this performance by the Nordic Voices is quite good:

We are aiming to perform this in period English Latin, which should give it quite a nice color.