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Alma Redemptoris Mater


One of the four Marian antiphons, this chant was traditionally sung at the end of Compline from the Vespers of Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent to the second Vespers of the Feast of the Lord's Presentation (Feb. 2). hermannus contractus, a monk of Reichenau (101354), is believed to have composed both the words and the music. Although now sung as an independent piece, this chant was originally performed in the manner characteristic of antiphons, i.e., it preceded and followed the chanting of a psalm or canticle on a simple formula. The 13th century MS Worcester Cathedral F. 160 (Paléoographie musicale 12:303), assigns it to Terce of the Feast of the Assumption and provides it with a differentia, an ending formula for the psalm tone to be used with it. The more elaborate of the two chant melodies for this antiphon is apparently the original one; it served as the basis for numerous medieval and Renaissance compositions. It is found as the tenor of 13th century motets in the Montpellier, Bamberg, and Las Huelgas MSS; in these works the upper voices have different texts. The chant is composed in the major scale rather than in one of the medieval modes, and has often been said to be of particular beauty.

Bibliography: g. reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York 1940); Music in the Renaissance (New York 1959). w. apel, Gregorian Chant (Bloomington, Ind. 1958). p. wagner, Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien (Leipzig 191121). b. stÄblein, "Antiphon," Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 1:523545.

[r. steiner]

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