Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song
To Thee, O Lord
The first week of Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year and opens with one of the most famous and beautiful Gregorian chants: Ad te levavi (Unto Thee. O Lord, do I lift up my soul). This chant has even been designated by some chant scholars as the “summit of spirituality in Gregorian chant.”
“Ad te levavi” deserves special attention because of the extraordinary way in which it illuminates the text. The opening text phrase — Ad te levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam (Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: in thee I place my confidence; let me not be confounded) — opens with a quick, upward sweep to the word “animam” but then immediately rises one note higher on the word “meus.” Instantly, our ears tell us that someone is crying out to God, lifting their voice in emphasis on “my soul” but, even more so on “my God.” The chant does not descend until “non erubescam.” The person crying out bows his head at that moment, in hope of hearing a response. In this opening phrase, the chant has placed us in the position of need as we lift our prayer upward.
Dom Eugene Cardine, one of the great 20th century chant scholars, stated that the sound of the chant was literally “extracted” from the sound of the words. We have a moving example of this as we open the new church year.
Image Credit: Abbey of St. Peter of Solesmes, Paleographie Musicale