Ave verum corpus
SSAATTBB a cappella
Difficulty Level: Advanced
Text: Anonymous 14th Century
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This motet was premiered by the University of Illinois Chorale (directed at the time by Dr. Fred Stoltzfus) in a concert in May 2010 at the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Champaign, Illinois. Fred would hold classes on medieval chant in this chapel due to its reverberant acoustic and beautiful stone surroundings. Knowing his ensemble would have a concert at the end of the semester in this very chapel, I sought to complete this piece, which I had begun but never completed the year before.
Observant listeners might note a number of symbolic moments of word painting throughout the piece:
- The meter (3/4) is a common meter in sacred music to denote the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
- The C# on the word cruce in reference to Christ on the cross is dissonant, an homage to many composers -- Bach in particular -- who would use dissonant to emphasize such words. Likewise, the sharp accidental is also an homage to Bach, who would use the sharp sign, written as a cross in his time, on similar words in his sacred music.
- The dissonance against C# (as a pedal tone in the bass) remains during the middle section, which speaks of Christs's pierced side while hanging on the cross. This is intended to project a suspended feeling, paired with the continued dissonance.
- The more hymn-like section at m. 29, while employing a more relaxed, major sound, is still imbued with inner dissonance as it refers to Christ's death being a foretaste of our own death.
- The final section begins as though a repetition of the opening section, but by m. 50, with the chromatic, upward tenor line, it is charged with a rising energy, acknowledging the tone of praise in the text, and the telling of a glorified, resurrected Christ.
Conductors should gauge tempo based on the venue. A more resonant space might call for a slower tempo, but in general the tempo shouldn't be allowed to drag, particularly in the middle section.
Text (Anonymous 14th century)
Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine
Vere passum immolatum in cruce pro homine.
Cujus latus perforatum unda fluxit aqua et sanguine.
Esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine.
O Jesu dulcis! O Jesu pie!
O Jesu Filius Patris. Miserere mei. Amen.
Hail the true body, born of the Virgin Mary
You who truly suffered and were sacrificed on the cross for the sake of man.
From whose pierced side flowed water and blood:
Be a foretaste for us in the trial of death.
O Jesus sweet, O Jesus merciful,
O Jesus, Son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen.