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A special version of Alma Redemptoris Mater

December 4, 2010

Many readers will be familiar with the distinction between the simple and solemn versions of the several Marian antiphons which are employed throughout the year.  As I was preparing for the Second Sunday of Advent I remembered, just in time, that a few years ago musicologist Michael Procter made a new transcription of the Alma Redemptoris Mater that was published in Sacred Music.

The Marian antiphons were spread far and wide in the Middle Ages, and they were learned, like all chant was, orally.  The music was not written down at first.  Circumstances were such, then, that manuscripts from various places, while maintaining a wonderful unity, nevertheless differed in many details.   Even the modern chant books differ:  Procter explains that the versions in the Antiphonale Monasticum and the Liber Usualis disagree in certain details.  Procter has gone back to the source which most of these chant books used—the Haertker manuscript—and made a new transcription.  In the process, he also used the Alma in the Worcester Antiphonale for comparison.

The results of Procter’s work are positively stunning.  He has unearthed a voluptuous melody for us, one which, for all the beauty of the “standard” version of this antiphon, stands musically head and shoulders above other realizations.  What a fantastic illustration of tradition in action!  The chant is alive!  The chant is young!

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