“Jhesu, mercy, how may this be?” by Browne

The following text appears in the Fayrfax manuscript (c. 1490) with roughly this spelling (I converted long s’s to short s’s, added punctuation, and lengthened the abbreviations, but kept the yoghs for fun):

Jhesu, mercy, how may this be,
That god hymselfe for sole mankynd
Wolde take on hym humanite?
My witt nor reson may hit well fynd:
Jhesu, mercy, how may this be?

Crist that was of Infynyt myȝt,
Egall to the fathir In deite,
In mortall, In passible, the wordlis lyȝt,
and wolde so take mortalite!
Jhesu, mercy, how may this be?

He that wrought this worlde of nought,
that made both paynys & Joy also,
and suffer wolde payne as sorowfull thought
with wepyng, waylyng, ye sownyng for woo.
Jhesu, mercy, how may this be?

A, Jhesu! whi suffyrd thou such entretyng,
as betyng, bobbyng, ye, spettyng on thy face?
drawne like a theff, & for payne swetyng
both water and blode, crucified, an hevy case?
Jhesu, mercy, how may this be?

Lo, man, for the, that ware onkynd,
gladly suffyrd I all this.
And why, good lord? express thy mynd!
the to purchace both Joy & bliss.
Jhesu, mercy, how may this be?

The English early modern composer John Browne (fl. ca. 1490) used this moving text in a four-part polyphonic setting, which BREVE is learning at the moment. The following is how I would pronounce it, according to Tim McGee’s Singing Early Music. Listen to the recording below and follow along with the text above or the IPA transcription below.

[ˈʤezju ˈmɛɾsiː hʌu mæ ðɪs be
ðætʰ ɡɔd hɪmsɛlf fɔɾ soːl mænkʌind
wʊd tʰæk ɔn him hjuˈmænɪtʰe
mʌi wɪtʰ nɔɾ ˈrezɔn mæ hɪtʰ wɛɫ fʌind
ˈʤezju ˈmɛɾsiː hʌu mæ ðɪs be

kɾʌist ðætʰ waz ʊv ˈɪnfɪnɪtʰ mʌitʰ
eɡaɫ tʰu ðɛ faðəɾ ɪn deɪtʰe
ɪn mɔɾtaɫ ɪn pæsɪbəɫ ðɛ wɔɾəldɪs lʌitʰ
ænd wʊd so tʰæk mɔɾˈtʰælɪtʰe
ˈʤezju ˈmɛɾsiː hʌu mæ ðɪs be

he ðætʰ ɾɔtʰ ðɪs wɔɾəld ʊv nɔtʰ
ðætʰ mæd bɔθ pænz ænd ʤʌi alsoː
ænd ˈsʊfəɾ wʊd pæn æz ˈsɔɾofʊl θɔtʰ
wɪð ˈwepɪŋ ˈwælɪŋ je ˈsʌunɪŋ fɔɾ woː
ˈʤezju ˈmɛɾsiː hʌu mæ ðɪs be

a ˈʤezju hwʌi ˈsʊfəɾd ðʌu sʊʧ ɛnˈtɾetʰɪŋ
æz ˈbetʰɪŋ ˈbɔbɪŋ je ˈspɛtɪŋ ɔn ðʌi fæs
dɾɔːn lʌik a θɛf ænd fɔɾ pæn ˈswetʰɪŋ
boːθ ˈwatʰəɾ ænd blʊd ˈkɾjusɪˌfʌiɛd æn ˈevi kæs
ˈʤezjuː ˈmɛɾsiː hʌu mæ ðɪs be

lo mæn fɔɾ ðe ðætʰ wæɾ ɔnˈkʌind
ˈɡlædli sʊfəɾd ʌi ɑɫ ðɪs
ænd hwʌi ɡʊd lɔɾd ɛksˈpɾɛs ðʌi mʌind
ðe tʰu ˈpʊɾʧas boːθ ʤʌi ænd blɪs
ˈʤezju ˈmɛɾsiː hʌu mæ ðɪs be]

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.

Croce’s “O sacrum convivium”

Sample of the part

In BREVE, we are working up a short Croce setting of “O sacrum convivium.” For fun, I thought it would be nice to give retypesetting the bass part a try using the house style guide of the Lasso part books on IMSLP.

Have a look at it.

It was great fun to put together in Illustrator, similarly to the Palestrina part I made a while back. This style is a little cleaner to my eyes.

Fauré’s “Libera Me”

On November 5, 2013, I sang the opening solo for our lab choir’s rendition of “Libera me,” from Gabriel Fauré’s 1890 Requiem setting. In this recording, Michael Serrano is conducting a few LSU student instrumentalists and singers, and overall having a good time. Forgive my anachronistic Roman Latin.

Anglo-Roman Latin

The reason that singers today sing Latin as if it were Italian is because of a somewhat long history of pronunciation reforms set out by the Roman Church. It wasn’t until November 1903, however, that the Italian vernacular pronunciation of Latin became recommended as a standard for the entire church. This conversion happened as a result of a Motu proprio from Pope Pius X that advocated for the rejection of big, theatrical music in the services of the church and for the reintroduction of plainchant and simpler tunes.  It was again more solidified in November 30, 1928, when Pope Pius XI wrote, “Not content like our predecessors of happy memory, Pius X and Benedict XV, simply to approve this pronunciation of Latin, we ourselves express the keenest desire that all bishops of every nation shall endeavor to adopt it when carrying out the liturgical ceremonies.” This stance toward Roman Latin lasted from 1903 until Vatican II in the 1960s, when the vernacular languages became standard, and thus no discussion really continued to be made within the Church on how one should pronounce Latin.

According to Harold Copeman in 1990, some lands were slow to adopt the new Roman Latin, such as Germany, where there still thrives a wonderful German variety of pronouncing Latin, partially based on German history and partially based on influence from Classical Latin. In France, even as late as Fauré and Poulenc, Roman Latin had not yet been applied to French speakers. In Fauré’s Requiem or Poulenc’s Gloria, French Latin should still be used. The outrageous accentuation of the text in the Gloria should be evidence enough that Poulenc was not thinking in terms of Roman Latin, which has word stresses on specific syllables, but was thinking in terms of French Latin, which, like classical Latin, is entirely based on vowel length, rather than on syllable stress. In French Latin, the text flows in a constant stream of syllables, none particularly more important than another, just some shorter or longer.

Once we get to Duruflé, though, who did seem to advocate for Roman Latin, we should approach the music differently. When French singers sang his music, they were still flavoring the Latin with their French tendencies. For instance, the vowels were much more variant than the five appointed vowels of Roman Latin. According to Copeman’s interactions with a Latin professor at the Catholic University at Angers, the letter u could either be [y] or [u], on might be [õ] or [ɔn], -ti- could be either [ts] or [s], e might be either [ɛ] or [e], etc. It still wasn’t exactly Roman Latin, per se.

Whereas every region had its own national pronunciation of Latin before the Roman Church in the twentieth century advocated for a universalized Roman pronunciation, after Roman Latin became commonplace, every region continues to have national pronunciations of the Roman Latin. The United States and England are no exception. I will call this pronunciation system Anglo-Roman Latin.

In ARL, the following variances from Roman Latin exist:

  • a can be pronounced either [a] or [ɑ]
  • au is sometimes pronounced [ɑ] or [ɔ].
  • c before a, o, or u is pronounced [kʰ], rather than [k]
  • e can be pronounced either [ɛ] or [e], or even [eɪ]
  • l can be pronounced either [l] or [ɫ]
  • is pronounced [pʰ], rather than [p]
  • s sometimes has no voice between vowels
  • t is pronounced [tʰ], rather than [t]
  • u can be pronounced either [u] or [ʉ]
  • z can be pronounced either [z] or [dz]
  • Vowel-initial elements can sometimes begin with a glottal stop, as in [ʔɛʔɑs] for eas

Thus, in the United States, you are likely to hear the word salvator as [sɑɫvɑtʰɔɾ], rather than [salvatɔɾ]. The word et is quite prominently pronounced [ɛtʰ], rather than [ɛt]. Sanctus is particularly different, sometimes pronounced [ˈsɑŋktʰʉs].

Actually, in 1983, the Jesuit history professor and choral scholar Richard H. Trame advocated for a kind of Anglo-Roman Latin in the American Choral Director’s Association’s magazine, Choral Journal [vol. 23, no. 5 (January 1983), 29]. (As an aside, it is in his memory that Morten Lauridsen wrote his Ubi caritas adaptation). He wrote,

Rather than an insistence on making the vowel sounds approximate the Latin of a Roman aristocratic ecclesiastic, the projection of Latin’s broad and short vowels should be rendered with moderation relative to the vowel characteristics of the American Language.

That is, while there seems to to have been plenty of interest in the twentieth century in creating a standard pronunciation for sung Latin, the problem of national phonetic inventories has always gotten in the way of that to the point that advocating for a new kind of national Latin comes about. Latin has always been pronounced variably, and I think it always will be.