Once again, Stan Metheny has written a wonderful commentary on the Pentecost Communion Proper, ‘Factus est repénte.’
The chant composers often painted ‘musical pictures’ with their melodies to illustrate events and/or emotions in the text. The chants of today’s formulary, like those of the Ascension last week, are all rich with such melodic images. But the Pentecost Communion is such an exceptionally vivid one that I can’t resist making at least some brief comments. The immediate rise and fall of the intonation phrase immediately calls to mind the scene in the Upper Room: the apostles were gathered together in prayer with other disciples and our Blessed Mother, when the sound of a rushing wind coming down from above drew their eyes upward, whence the quick rise in melody of Factus est, and then the tongues of fire suddenly fell, whence the just as sudden fall of the melody in the ultima of repente. We can almost feel in our bodies the breathless, stupefied wonder that those in that room must have felt. But we don’t have any time to dwell on that because we’ll soon have work to do. The soaring lift of the melody on sonus confirms what the texts says, viz., that the sound—and its accompanying reality—came from heaven. Then the gentle lowering of the melody over ubi erant sedentes reflects the seated posture of the group. And then the melody lifts up again to depict the effect of their being filled with the Holy Spirit: they immediately got up and went to announce the mirabilia Dei, the wonderful works of salvation that God has done in this Jesus who was crucified and is now risen. Alleluia. (And as Fr. Harrison reminded us in his homily on 5th Sunday of Easter, we have the same work to do now.)
We were also fortunate enough to study this piece with the choirmistress Sister Bernadette at St.Cecilia’s, Ryde. As she turned the page of her Graduale to the Communion Proper her face lit up and she smiled and said, this is one of favourite phrases. “Loquentes magná lia Dei.’ ‘The great things God has done.’ She then continued to talk about the wonders of Mode 7, a mode so appropriate for Pentecost because it is full of drama. It has an energetic propensity for ascending and descending passages and as with the other Pentecost chants, the range is large, the notes soar to the top of the stave. And so this chant must be sung with great energy. No slowing at the first alleluia before the full bar line. On the second Torculus on the ‘rant’ of ‘erant’ there is a instruction in the St Laon neumes to slow down. We must also be very careful with the Latinised pronunciation of ‘alleluia.’ The pretonic syllables (a Hebrew expression for the syllables before the tonic syllable or the accented syllable) of ‘al’ and ‘le’ must be as equally emphasised as the ‘lu’.
Sing this glorious piece with as much energy as you can muster up. Let the high notes of ‘sonus‘ or ‘sound’ reverberate throughout the church. Be filled with the Holy Spirit! Alleluia indeed.