The Ninth Hour:
Four Latin Motets
First performed March 28th 2008 at St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol by the Bristol Bach Choir conducted by Peter Leech (pictured below).
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.
1. Timor et tremor venerunt super me, et caligo cecidit super me: miserere mei Domine quoniam, in te confidit anima mea. Exaudi Deus deprecationem meam quia refugium meum es tu et adjutor fortis Domine invocavi te non confundar.
[Fear and trembling have come upon me, and darkness overwhelms me: have mercy on me, Lord, for my spirit has trusted in you. Hear my prayer, O God, for you are my refuge and strong support. Lord, I call upon you: let me not be confounded.]
2.Vinea mea electa, ego te plantavi: quomodo conversa es in amaritudinem, ut me crucifigeres et Barrabam dimitteres. Sepivi te et lapides elegi ex te, et aedificavi turrim.
[My own chosen vineyard, I planted you: why have you changed into bitterness, that you crucify me and send Barrabas away? I fenced you around, picked out the stones from you, and built a tower to protect you.]
3. Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem: sustinete hic et vigilate mecum: nunc videbitis turbam quae circumdabit me. Vos fugam capietis, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis. Ecce appropinquat hora et Filius hominis tradetur in manus peccatorum.
[My soul is sorrowful even unto death; wait here and watch with me: now you see the crowd surrounding me. You make your escape, and I go forth to be sacrificed for you. Behold, the hour approaches and the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of wickedness.]
4. Tenebrae factae sunt, dum crucifixissent Jesum Judaei: et circa horam nonam exclamavit Jesus voce magna: Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti? Et inclinato capite emisit spiritum. Exclamans Jesus voce magna ait: Pater in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum. Et inclinato capite emisit spiritum.
[Darkness fell on the earth, when Jesus was crucified by the Jews; and around the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice: My God, why have you forsaken me? And bending his head, he gave up the spirit. Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. And bending his head, he gave up the spirit.]