A hymn of praise that was historically sung every Sunday at the end of matins since the 6th century during all times and seasons when the Gloria is used in the Mass and in extraliturgical ceremonies—e.g, after a consecration, ordination, or military victory, as well as at the conclusion of some medieval mystery plays.
Origin. The Te Deum is attributed in a dozen ancient Irish MSS to a "Bishop Nicet" whom G. Morin and A. E. Burn have identified with nicetas of remesiana. Some scholars ascribe also the melody, as it has come down to us, to Nicetas, while others indicate that the first part bespeaks a pre-Gregorian source. Forty-eight other ancient MSS attribute the hymn to St. ambrose and St. augustine, a source commonly accepted during the Middle Ages but now largely discredited. Only two MSS attribute it to St. hilary of poiters; seven, to Bishop Sisebut; and two, to St. abundius of Como. Another 49 MSS cite the hymn without mentioning the author's name or giving an anonymous source, as, e.g., "Hymn in Honor of the Holy Trinity" or simply "Hymn for Sunday." And Eric Werner in The Sacred Bridge has posited a close relation between the melody and that of a Yemenite Shema and a formula for chanting the Torah.
At present the following points are admitted by all critics: (1) The Te Deum was composed at the beginning of the 5th century. (2) It is of Latin composition and not a translation of a hymn written in Greek (as several German scholars have maintained since the 17th century); the Greek text of the Te Deum is actually a translation from the original made in the West in the 9th century. (3) Liturgical use of the Te Deum, first noticed in southeastern Gaul, at Milan, and in central Italy, leads one to seek the author in these regions. Among traditional assumptions regarding authorship Nicetas of Remesiana apparently best answers the demands of the critics.
The Melody. First of all, it should be noted that the solemn and simple tones that are found in the official Roman chant books are merely variants of the same melody. The Ambrosian melodic version is probably derived from the "Gregorian" version, but the melody transmitted in the notated Ambrosian MSS does not correspond to the primitive Ambrosian text that has been handed down to us in the oldest non-notated Milanese MSS. In fine, it is the version given in the Antiphonale Monasticum (1935), with its ancient stress on si, that most closely corresponds to the original melodic version. It seems difficult, however, to find the original melodic version of the Te Deum, since seven centuries separate the period of composition from that of the first notated evidence of its existence.
Musical Divisions of Chant Versions. From a musical as well as textual viewpoint the Te Deum consists of three parts: the first, from the beginning to the Paraclitum Spiritum (in praise of the Holy Trinity), is composed of a psalmody with two recitatives; the second part (in praise of Christ) uses the same recitative chords as the first, but here the cadence rests on the mi, avoiding, however, the passage of a semitone, whence there is a slight modal uncertainty, similar to that in the Gloria XV of the Vatican edition; the third part (Salvum fac …) is in fact an old series of verses with their responses, which one sometimes found attached to the Great Doxology, or the Gloria in excelsis. The first and last of these verses (Ps 27.9 and 30.2) are accorded the musical treatment of an antiphon, and the intervening verses are psalmodic in nature. The melodic substance is borrowed from the Tu rex gloriae theme. By the introduction of the semitone this part clarifies the modality; it finally ends in deuterus (Phrygian mode). According to a marginal rubric in an Ambrosian MS (Milan, Trivulz. A.14, 14th century) the Te Deum was sung alta voce from the verse Per singulos dies. In comparison with the rubrics for the Gloria in excelsis (in sublimi voce as opposed to alta voce ) and with Berold's remarks (ed. Magistretti, 49), it must be concluded that the first part of the Ambrosian Te Deum was sung by children and the second part by men. This was customary elsewhere in the hymns and verses of the Office. The practice of alternating the verses between each side of the choir belongs to a more recent period.
Relation to Psalmody. The Te Deum is sung as a psalmody in the 2d mode (Salvum fac … In te Domine speravi. …) or as a psalmody in the 3d mode but withtwo reciting tones: a recitation on do in the first member (originally on si ) and a recitation on la in the second member. This formula of two psalmodic tones is found in the famous tonus peregrinus from Sunday Vespers (Psalm 113, In exitu ); it is unknown in the primitive Gregorian psalmody and probably comes from a Gallican (i.e., non-Roman) musical repertory.
Musical Analysis. The composition of the Te Deum, therefore, may be said to have been achieved in the simplest possible manner. Despite the length of the hymn, this simplicity does not become monotonous because of the variety of psalmodic tones in the various sections. Finally, the choice of the third tone gives the composition a brilliant and stirring character especially suited to a thanksgiving hymn. It should be noted that the triple Sanctus of the Te Deum is identical with the Trisagion in the Ambrosian Mass. The Te Deum has been most frequently rendered in polyphony. There are also numerous vernacular translations of this hymn.
Bibliography: a. e. burn, ed., Niceta of Remesiana (Cambridge, Eng. 1905); The Hymn Te Deum and its Author (London 1926). p. cagin, Te Deum ou Illatio?, v.1 of L'Euchologie latine (Oxford 1906). m. frost, Journal of Theological Studeis 34 (1933) 250–257; ibid. 39 (1938) 288–391; 43 (1942) 192–194. m. huglo et al., Fonti e paleografia del canto ambrosiano (Archivo Ambrosiano 8; Milan 1956) 64–65. j. a. jungmann, Zeitgeist für katholische Theologie 61 (1937) 105–107. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. lecler cq, and h. i. marrou (Paris 1907–53) 15.2:2028–48. k. h. schl ager and w. kirsch, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–86). w. lipphardt, Zeitschrift für Kirchenmusik 72 (1952) 219–222. g. morin, Revue Bénédictine 11 (1894) 49–77, 337–345. g. reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York 1940) 105. e. kÄhler, Studien zum T. D. und zur Geschichte des 24. Psalms in der alten Kirche (Göttingen 1958).
Te De·um / tā ˈdāəm; tē ˈdēəm/ • n. a hymn beginning Te Deum laudamus, “We praise Thee, O God,” sung at matins or on special occasions such as a thanksgiving. ∎ a musical setting of this. ∎ an expression of thanksgiving or exultation.