Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

The musical color of Epiphany

This coming Sunday is the Feast of the Epiphany. This is the day on which we celebrate the arrival of the three Wisemen at the manger, who come to adore Christ and offer their gifts. For many centuries, it has also been  a day on which there are  pageants acted out within the liturgy to show the arrival of these Wisemen.

The more ancient mystery plays employed some of these Epiphany chants. The Gradual — “All those from Sheba shall come” — creates a marvelous musical scenario, depicting the landscape through which this royal procession traveled.  The first word “Omnes” (All) is set to a chant which slowly rises and descends through mode. Then, the next two words “de Saba”  (from Sheba) similarly rises and falls, but rises higher and descends even  more slowly.  It is easy to imagine in these sounds, the hills of sand that these desert travelers encountered which made for some difficult travel. Within the next phrase, the chant quickly ascends even higher as it speaks of the incense given to Jesus. Finally, the chant explodes upward on the text “Arise and Shine” as though the Wisemen could no longer contain their praises after such an arduous, yet thrilling, pilgrimage.

This Gradual is one of the most famous chants in all of the Gregorian repertory. From a musical point of view, each successive phrase is an elegant outgrowth of the previous one, climaxing on the words “illuminate” and “Lord.” It is the astounding wedding of this musical structure to the text that makes the chant so colorful and so easily understood! It is the musical color of Epiphany.

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Credit for image: New Liturgical Movement: What is a Mystery?: Epiphany or the … www.newliturgicalmovement.org1600 × 1086Search by image Epiphany or the Manifestation of the Divine

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