Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dominican Ave Regina cælorum

It seems almost forgotten by the Dominicans themselves that, down to the sixteenth century, the Salve Regina was not sung daily at Compline – instead, it alternated with another Marian anthem, a variant of the Ave regina cælorum with text and music proper to the Order.

When in past years I lived in Melbourne, I could freely go to the reference section of the excellent Dominican Studium library there, and consult a facsimile copy of the Poissy Antiphonal or Antiphoner, originally written for a convent of Dominican nuns in 13th century France.

Once, I even went to the rare books room of the Melbourne State Library, having gained access as part of my theological studies (embarrassingly, the only unit I ever failed was that concerned with sacred music!), and with gloved hands turned the pages of the actual volume, surely one of the greatest mediæval treasures held in Australia.

The Poissy Antiphonal's beautifully clear and legible chants and blackletter text bear witness to the astonishing stability of the Dominican repetoire: the music for antiphon after antiphon is note for note the same as that still sung in St Dominic's Church only a short walk away down the other end of the Priory.

It always thrilled me to hear the Dominican Ave Regina cælorum chanted there – the friars having taken advantage of the modern relaxation of their rubrics to compile and use ad libitum a booklet of a good selection of Marian anthems (plus ones to Holy Father Dominic), including this ancient chant, once so popular but then utterly trumped by the Salve.

Herewith, the music of this anthem from the Poissy Antiphonal (apologies for the poor resolution – the stave and square notes are legible enough, but to make out the text, compare with my transcription immediately below:

Ave regina celorum ave domina angelorum salve radix sancta ex qua mundo lux e[s]t orta gaude gloriosa super omnes speciosa vale valde decora et pro nobis semper christum exora.

Sing it through, the music is marvellous and moving!  The repeated runs of ascending then descending neums, as on celorum, est or(ta), speciosa, pro nobis, exora give a wonderful quality to this anthem.  (Compare it with the Premonstratensian chant for the solemn Ave Regina – the Norbertines use the Roman words, but it seems the melody is closer to the Dominican.)

I suspect the Dominican recension of this anthem is older as regards its text than the Roman (Dominican-only words are underlined, Roman only are struck through):

Ave, Regina cælorum,
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve, radix sancta, salve porta,
Ex qua mundo lux est orta:
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
Vale, O valde decora,
Et pro nobis semper Christum exora.

It may be seen that the Roman version has added several elements to smooth out the text and make it more metrical.  It is most unlikely that the Dominicans omitted the holy epithet Virgo – far more probably the Roman version had this word added to it.

(In like manner, the Carthusians alone retain the original text of the Salve - which began Salve Regina misericordiæ, and ended O dulcis Maria: the words Mater and Virgo were added later, research has proved.  The Poissy Antiphonal gives the Salve directly before the Ave Regina, and sure enough the words Mater and Virgo are also not yet found there.)

Interestingly, this version of the Ave Regina (but for ending Christum semper exora, having transposed two words) appears as the Nunc dimittis anthem for Compline of the Office of Our Lady on Saturday in the 1719 Breviary of Cologne.

Apparently the Ave Regina first appears in the 12th century as an antiphon for None on the feast of Our Lady's Assumption into heaven: hence word in the second last line, Vale – Goodbye!  

It is as it were the faithful people's last salutation of the Holy Virgin Mother ere she depart, caught up on high to abide with Christ for ever as a most faithful intercessor with Him her Only Son for all her spiritual children vouchsafed her by Him from the Cross.

A right devout and holy hymn to sing ever to the loving Mother of the Redeemer.

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