Updated: Nov 30, 2020
In what sense is this a Hymn? In his Introduction to Gregorian Chant’ (Yale and Newhaven, 2000 page 92)) Richard Crocker explains that:
“the word ‘hymn’ as a noun or verb, means the same as ‘laud’ or ‘praise’ ...A hymn then consists of praise-words, and there are not so many of these in common use in Greek or Latin -or in English-. A hymn was properly addressed to a deity, not to a human - not even a hero... Hymning implied a kind of reiterative intonation of a praise-word that is very close to ‘chanting’. Hymning was widespread and popular in traditional cults of all kinds, and Christian leaders were wary of using it for that reason. There was, however a precedent in the Gospels: in fact the only Gospel to make reference to anything that might be called liturgical singing is a passing mention that at the end of the last supper the disciples, ‘after hymning, went out’” (Matthew 26:30). On that occasion the disciples might have used the Hebrew expression ‘Hallelujah’”...as a praise word......Early Christians knew and used a special kind of hymn that can be called the ‘Hymn of All Creation’. Crocker gives the dialogue between priest and people at the beginning of the preface with which the Eucharistic prayers begin as the supreme example of this kind of ‘hymning’ and the ‘true locus of distinctively Christian worship with it’s music’. It seems to me that this passage from Daniel with its final doxology is a very good example of a ‘.Hymn of all Creation’
As with many of the chants in the Triplex the ancient neums for this hymn are taken from a codex in the monastery library of Einsiedeln. The Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of the Hermits at Einsiedeln in central Switzerland is founded on the place chosen for his hermitage by St Meinrad who died in 861. A photograph of the opening lines of our hymn in the manuscript referred to is shown above. The triplex dates this manuscript to the beginning of the XI century but the catalogue notes for the library state that recent research indicates that this codex was written in the monastery between 960 and 970 for the third Abbot of Einsiedeln ‘Gregor the Englishman’. The codex is very important for Gregorian chant. The catalogue describes it as comprising ‘the oldest complete surviving neumed mass antiphonary; it includes appendices (such as Alleluia verses, Antiphons and Psalm verses for the Communion Antiphons). Because the mass antiphonary is complete, the manuscript remains important to this day as a resource for Gregorian chant research. The second part of the codex contains the Libyer Ymnorum of Notker of St Gall (more about him in the article on the sequence for Pentecost Sunday).
This canticle was used from an early date in the Byzantine, Ambrosian, Mozarabic and Sarum rites. (Except for the latter I am not sure to what melodies). In the 1907 Graduale and other Graduales such as the Medician Graduale of 1614 and the Sarum rite, it is placed after the last reading before the gospel reading on the Saturday Ember day of Advent (there might be up to six or more readings)
Ember days have a long and varied history reaching back into Jewish penitential practice (Zachariah 8.19) and paralleling in some periods pagan Roman customs (for example under Pope Callistus I who died c. 223). Numbers and dates have varied but more recently there are three days designated in each season by the church; so in winter the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the third week of Advent and so on. In an Ember Week on these days Violet vestments are usually worn and fasting was observed.
Our hymn’s place on the Saturday Ember day of Advent before the given reading makes perfect sense because that reading is Daniel 3: 49-51. It ends ; ‘Tunc hi tres quasi ex uno ore laudabant, et glorificabant, et benicebant Deum in fornace, dicentes:’ (Then all three in unison began to sing, glorifying and blessing God, there in the furnace, in these words). Our Hymn continues on up to verse 56 of the song of the three young men in the fiery furnace which extends on in the bible to verse 90.
This part of the book of Daniel is excluded from some protestant bibles but is used throughout the year in Anglican Morning Prayer. It is sometimes included in some as in the ‘RSV Common Bible’ as ‘Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books’. In the CTS New Catholic Bible, which uses the Jerusalem Bible translation, the editor, Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB explains; ‘The Greek Bible expands the Book of Daniel by the Prayer of Azariah and the Canticle of the Three Young men, and by the addition at the end of the story of Susanna and two satires on idolatry, Bel and the Dragon. The passage which is included in Catholic, and also Greek and Slavonic bibles was preserved in Greek and Syriac versions but, probably depends on Hebrew originals.
As is readily seen, this is a hymn of praise. A doxology. It resembles psalm 135 (136 in some bibles) . The New Jerome Biblical Commentary on this passage (Hartman & Di Lella) states that as with psalm 135 the first half of each verse is intended to be sung by a soloist followed by the repeated refrain sung by the choir. You can see that if sung in this way this refrain would be, ‘et Laudabilis et gloriosus in saecula’,in the first verse. Then ‘Et laudabile et gloriosum in saecula’ in the next. Then the first response in the verses until verse eight when it is, ‘Et laudent te, et glorificent in saecula’, repeated in the next verse , then, ‘Et laudent te, et glorificent in saecula, then Et laudabili et glorioso in saecula, which is repeated in the next line and then, ‘Et laudabilis et gloriosus in saecula in the last verse. The early neums provided in the Triplex and taken from the Einsiedeln codex give a nuanced reading of the verses. Compare for instance verse 1 and 5 where the figure ‘r’ slows the melody down over the first part of ‘sceptrum’ and then quickens and enlivens it over the second part of ‘divinitatis’.
It is interesting to compare our version with a version in the chants of the Sarum Rite. This is the music of Salisbury Cathedral. Its service books were widely copied in the middle ages and its musical tradition is traced to the missionaries sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great in 569 with St Augustine of Canterbury. From 678 to 680, John the of the cathedral schola cantorum conducted a school in Wearmouth Abbey for cantors from all over England.
The Sarum rite version that I have seen has been prepared by Tabitha Philips (‘The Use of Salisbury’ Vol 2. Antico Editions, Newton Abbot, 1986). She has gathered together a Graduale from ancient sources as the music might have been encountered in the Sarum Rite at around 1500. It has the same basic melody as our version. But here after the verse ‘Gloria patri et filio et spritui sancto’ the response is ‘Et laus et honor potestas et imperium’ and again for the next verse. The Sarum graduale clearly indicates alternation between solist and choir as suggested by the scripture’s orgInal form and in conformity with Croker’s observations, in the last verse the choir take up their response earlier, with, ‘domine deus patrum nostrorum: et laudabilis et gloriosus in saecula’.