Program Notes on Darkness into Light
“He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the
darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.” (Daniel 2:22)
As the last of a three-work commission for the Chilingirian String Quartet,
Sir John Tavener composed The Bridegroom in 1999 for the quartet
and Anonymous 4. The text he chose, from the liturgy of Holy Week in the
Orthodox Church, is based on the New Testament parable of the wise and
foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) in which ten virgins await a wedding
feast. Five are prepared with enough oil for their lamps to greet the bridegroom’s
sudden arrival at midnight. The other five are not prepared and, without
light, are barred from the wedding feast and cast out into the darkness.
This parable draws on one of the oldest and most fundamental of spiritual
dichotomies: that of darkness and light. The cycles of the day and of the
year - the rhythms of the sun - were richly imbued with the symbolism of
fall and redemption by the infant Christian church. Its annual cycle of
feasts and its daily rituals (the eight “hours” of the Divine Office, along
with the mid-morning Eucharist, or Mass) are intimately connected with
the journey from darkness into light. From Office and Mass we have chosen
medieval plainchant and polyphony that mark steps on that journey.
Although hymns are now associated with the celebration of the Christian
Eucharist, or Mass, they were originally part of the Divine Office. The
hymn is a strophic composition which, by the later Middle Ages, used regularly
scanned verse patterns and which often (but not always) used rhyme as well.
The first three hymns on this program, all in settings from twelfth-century
sources, are from nighttime liturgies of the Divine Office. O lux beata
trinitas is a hymn for Vespers, which is celebrated at sunset, and
Christe qui lux es is for Compline, which is sung just before bedtime.
Both hymn texts cite the perils of darkness and seek the salvation of the
light. Medie noctis tempus est is a lengthy hymn for Matins, sung
near midnight. Its text recounts several scriptural events and stories
that took place at midnight. We sing the verses concerning the wise and
foolish virgins, and have set the text, which survives without music, to
another twelfth-century hymn melody for Matins (“Primo dierum omnium”).
The three medieval lections are festive two-voice settings of biblical
readings for the Divine Office and Mass. They are elaborated versions,
both polyphonically and melodically, of recitation formulas that would
have been used on less solemn occasions. Jube domine…In principio is
a setting for Matins of the opening of the Gospel of St. John (“In the
beginning was the Word…”). This highly abstract synopsis of the Christian
plan of salvation uses the symbols of darkness and light to illustrate
the struggle between good and evil. The manuscript source indicates that
the closing portion of this setting, from the words “quod factum est” to
the end, is to be said by the celebrant. We have set this portion to music
using the melodic formulas of the earlier verses. Lectio ysaye prophete…Surge
illuminare, a reading for Christmas Mass, is filled with references
to light. This passage from the prophet Isaiah is often used in Christmas
liturgies as a prophetic reference to Jesus as savior. The third reading,
libri apocalipsis…Vidi civitatem, is a setting of a passage from the
Apocalypse of St. John, and is part of the Mass for the Dedication of a
Church. This comforting vision of the last days refers to the world after
time - the New Jerusalem - as a bride adorned for her bridegroom.
Alleluia: Quinque prudentes virgines is an eleventh-century French
chant for Mass on the Octave of the feast of St. Agnes. Its verse is based
on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. In a delightful instance
of word painting, an unusually wide-ranging roulade spins itself out on
“clamor” (the “noise” made to announce the bridegroom’s arrival).
The text of Inventor rutili was composed around the year 400
by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens of Spain, one of the most prolific of the
early Christian poets. The original poem - a hymn for the lighting of the
evening lamp - consists of 41 verses, and includes a retelling of the Exodus
story. Our twelfth-century French setting is a much shorter version, and
is designated as a processional hymn for the kindling of the “new light”
during the Easter Vigil.
- Susan Hellauer