No, I haven’t charmed my family of five children by teaching them to sing. They already know how to sing, and J. (host dad) is really into all kinds of classical and traditional German folk music. I think it’s awesome, although I’m really very ignorant about traditional music. But over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to educate myself about it, and at the very least get used to listening to it. So it is kind of nice that I came to Germany, because I have something to tell you:
Germans love music. Of course, not every German is obsessed with Mozart or Renaissance polyphony or going to classical concerts, and if you go into a store or anywhere in public, there is a 90% chance that you will hear good old American pop music, but compared to many other places their musical tradition seems to be THRIVING. I will prove this by a series of anecdotes. But first I need to make a small detour, so bear with me.
Today was the Third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice,” and is the first word of the Introit (entrance chant/psalm) for this Sunday. The introit goes:
“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Iacob.”
Which means: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice! Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned aside the captivity of Jacob.”
Why am I pasting in whole Bible verses in Latin? This will make more sense in a minute…
In most regular (Novus Ordo, non-Latin) Masses today, you will not find anyone singing the actual Introit, because of the poverty of the liturgical life of most post-Vatican II parishes… what was I saying? You won’t hear it sung because for some reason most parishes stopped including the “propers” (which change depending on the day) like the Introit and Offertory during Mass. Instead they substitute hymns or praise songs that (if you’re lucky) approximate the overall meaning of the season or feast that you are celebrating. Which I’m not too picky about, despite how this paragraph sounds, but it does kind of make it a bummer when you know it is GAUDETE SUNDAY, the Sunday in the middle of Advent when you get a little break from the solemnity of the season and the priests are wearing pink vestments and you get to REJOICE! — but you don’t hear anyone actually saying “Gaudete” at ALL.
But THIS Gaudete Sunday, I did get to hear that Introit, and in Gregorian chant, too. But not in church. (Well, it was IN a church, but not at Mass.)
Last night I went to a concert at the Damenstiftkirche St Anna performed by the Palestrina Ensemble München. This, as advertised, is a group that sings Palestrina and other 16th-17th century sacred music, plus Gregorian chant and some other stuff. I loved it!
I haven’t shown you my pictures of the Damenstiftkirche yet, so I will show you now.
The ensemble was about 12-15 people, slightly more men than women. And they all looked YOUNG. After looking them up I found that they are mostly all members of the Catholic student fellowship at LMU.
The theme was Advent music (makes sense), and they sang a lot of liturgical music and some hymns. As a future reference for myself, I wanted to list the program, and link to everything that I could.
Gregorian chant: Rorate coeli (listen)
– This is one of the most well-known Advent chants. “Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the sky pour forth righteousness!” It is the plea of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets as they wait for the Messiah. It is used as an antiphon at Vespers (evening prayer) during Lent, and as the Introit for the 4th Advent Sunday, and on other occasions you can read about here.
Palestrina (1525-1594), Missa Gabriel Archangelus: Kyrie (listen)
– I can’t find this Kyrie on YouTube, so I linked to another one by Palestrina, which is more famous — but not meant for Advent.
Gregorian chant: Gaudete in Domino, Dominus propre est (listen)
– Seeee, that long Gaudete thing was on topic. Now you even know what they are singing.
Palestrina: Sanctus and Agnus Dei (listen and listen)
– The Sanctus and Agnus Dei are parts of the Mass that are sung at every Mass, aka the “ordinary.” They didn’t list which of his masses this came from, but I’m guessing it was the Gabriel Archangelus again, which I can’t find on Youtube. So again I linked to a different one.
DIE VERKÜNDIGUNG (THE ANNUNCIATION)
Jakob Arcadelt (1505-1562): Ave Maria (listen)
– I don’t think this one takes as much explanation…
Palestrina: Alma redemptoris mater (listen)
– This is one of the big Marian hymns and used to be sung at Compline only from Advent to Candlemas, the end of the season of Epiphany. Check the link for an English translation.
Palestrina: Sicut lilium, for five voices (listen)
– This is from Song of Songs, verses taken to refer symbolically to Mary, and it goes: “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. As the apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired: and his fruit was sweet to my palate. He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me.” And so on.
Max Reger (1873-1916): Und unser lieben Frauen Traum (listen)
– This is a German chorale which I will now attempt to translate. Ahem. “And our dear Lady, she dreamed a dream, that under her heart, there grew a tree. And that the tree threw a shadow over all lands, Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, so he is called. Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, our salvation and consolation. With his bitter martyrdom he has delivered us, delivered us all.”
DIE GEBURT (THE BIRTH)
Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517): Puer natus est nobis (listen)
– “Puer natus est nobis” is the Introit for Christmas day — “To us a Son is given.” As you can see from his dates, Heinrich Isaac was an early Renaissance composer from the Netherlands. He had a great influence on the subsequent development of music in Germany (the internet tells me).
Michael Praetorius (1571-1621): In dulci Jubilo (listen)
– aka Good Christian Men Rejoice. I love this song! This is very different when sung by a male-only choir with boys, but I love boys choirs, so you get to listen to the King’s College Choir.
Praetorius: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (listen)
– A traditional German Christmas carol, and one of my favorites. In English it is “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”
KOMM, HERR JESUS (MARANATHA)
Sei uns willkommen, Herre Christ (listen)
– The song is the oldest surviving Christmas song in German, and from trying to read this, I think that at least one version of the test is found as far back as the 13th or even the 11th century. I’m not sure which version they sang (it has been updated over the centuries) but the version they cited is this one, found in a manuscript by 1384:
Sys willekomen heirre kerst,
want du onser alre heirre bis,
sys willekomen, lieve heirre,
her in ertrische also schone:
Which, if you recognize modern German, looks quite different than modern German! It means, basically, “Be with us welcome, Lord Christ, for you are the Lord of us all. Be with us welcome, dear Lord, here on Earth (?) so beautiful. Kyrie eleison.” I can’t read Middle High German or whatever this is, so I’m kind of patching it together with later German adaptations and what it looks like to me. I’m not sure about “ertrische.” But anyway. And the link is the only thing I could find – it’s a solo, so it’s really not as beautiful, but oh well!
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967): Adventi enek (listen)
– This is an arrangment of the ‘O Antiphons,’ which are used at Vespers from December 17th-23rd. The antiphons list the titles of the Messiah and reference a prophecy from the Old Testament. Our English song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” comes from this tradition. The O Antiphons date back at least to the 5th century.
Phew. And now that I’ve done that, I also want to record some of my other musical adventures so far:
– Weeks ago I went to Haydn’s Mass in Time of War or Paukenmesse at St Peter’s. The Mass was the Novus Ordo, but only the readings and prayer of the faithful were in German, and the rest in Latin. Choir and full orchestra. Wow. This was an AMAZING experience which lasted I think more than two hours, and I’d never really listened to music like this in its liturgical context. I could follow along with my Latin missal, and so I paid attention to the way the music was actually arranged to fit the words. My musically uneducated brain always sort of felt like classical music completely detached itself from the words, and since I haven’t studied music, my brain tends to really look for words. But for one example, watch this clip of the Credo, and notice what happens (beginning at 1:50) when the first movement ends and “et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est” starts. Okay, I’ll just tell you what happens. A man sings “and was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit,” and a woman sings “by the Virgin Mary” and then they take turns singing, “and was made man,” and then everybody sings “and was made man.”
I’m not sure whether this Mass was intended to be used actually during the liturgy, because some of the later ones weren’t, but either way the pacing was a bit difficult for me. Also, it was funny, the priest would usually chant the beginning phrase of, say, the Gloria, and then everybody would promptly sit down in the pews to wait the ten or fifteen minutes or whatever it takes for them to play the Gloria.
– I’ve been to two Latin High Masses, at Damenstiftkirche and St Michael’s. This means (musically speaking anyway) that the priest sings (chants, in Gregorian chant) the parts of the Mass that he is supposed to say, instead of just saying them in a low-to-normal voice, and often there is also a choir there to sing or chant other parts. I am only an interested bystander in trying to learn this stuff, so basically I just show up and try to pay attention.
– There was Gregorian chant at St Michael’s, during a regular Novus Ordo Mass in German (except for the parts sung by the choir – the Kyrie, the Gloria (but not in Advent), the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei).
– Last Sunday I went to Heilig-Geist-Kirche, which was jam-packed, and the music was performed by a group described in my schedule as “a music group from Südtirol.” That is it. But they had quite a large group of men, women, and children (who sang one song with hand motions…), singing what sounded like traditional Alps-ish music, and they had a horn section with men all dressed in traditional attire. I really have come to think that men should always dress like this.
– This morning I went to Mass at St John Nepomuk, aka the Asamkirche, which looks like this:
I know, right.
The music was by the Münchner Altstadt Sängerinnen, a group of women who sang in the traditional “Alpenländische” style, I guess. But it was a capella, so none of those cool horns or anything. I’ve been REALLY HOPING to get to hear some Bavarian or Alpine music that sounds like it is supposed to sound in my head, all exaggerated and oom-pah-pah with those long horns and some yodeling. So far no luck.
So: I rest my case. Germans like music. Also, all of this was provided at churches, there are many more services with music that I didn’t go to, and it is free. Because it is at Mass. (The one last night was free, with donations at the end, but I didn’t know and I ran out of cash last week and hadn’t withdrawn any more… so I felt bad, but couldn’t donate.) Anyway: MOSTLY free.