These four short Latin texts, originally set for unaccompanied choir by Francis Poulenc, capture the essence of the conflicts surrounding the crucifixion. In such brevity, we see the fear, the uncertainty, and of course, the anguish; but equally evident is the trust, reflection, and faith in ultimate resolution.

 

These conflicting elements play an important role in this setting and in particular I have acknowledged the swiftness with which the phrases move between the emotive elements - the colours and feelings readily interchange.

 

Thus, the first motet begins with quite tense, close harmony for the choir ('Timor et tremor venerunt super me - Fear and trembling have come upon me'), clashing between the octave plus or minus a semitone. But nothing lasts for long in these texts and the mood changes through 'miserere mei Domine quoniam - have mercy on me' to the more exultant 'Exaudi Deus deprecationem meam - Hear my prayer' and the more meditative 'Domine invocavi te - Lord, I call upon you'.

 

Perhaps the least emotive of the texts is the second one, and I have therefore lifted the tempo and given some of the direct speech to the tenors, which in these settings at times take on the role of Jesus. I have given an angelic quality to 'ego te plantavi - I planted you' but intensified it for 'ut me crucifigeres - you crucify me'.

 

I have reversed the order of the last two texts to preserve the logic of the account, the third motet now begining gently with 'Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem - My soul is sorrowful even unto death'. But this is a much more dramatic part, and the music therefore intensifies to the final line 'et Filius hominis tradetur in manus peccatorum - and the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of wickedness'.

 

Low, divided male voices set the opening imagery of the final motet 'Tenebrae factae sunt - Darkness fell on the earth'. Central within this last text is 'Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti? - My God, why have you forsaken me?', to which I have given a sorrowful, somewhat lonely character. Finally, despite the strength of 'Exclamans Jesus voce magna - Jesus crying out in a loud voice' I have closed the work with a calmer feel, 'Et inclinato capite emisit spiritum - and bending his head, he gave up the spirit'. The closing cadence both raises a question, and concedes that death resolves, whatever one's beliefs.

The Ninth Hour: Four Latin Motets

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    © 2018 Michael Stimpson