Trope of the Week: Clemens Rector

Clemens Rector, aeterne Pater, immense, eleison.
Nostras necne voces exaudi, benedicte Domine.
Aether stellifer noster, nostri benigne eleison.
Merciful ruler, eternal Father, immense one, have mercy.
And hearken to our voices, blessed Lord.
Our star-bearing heaven, in Thy compassion have mercy on us.
Plebem tuam, Sabaoth Hagie, semper rege, eleison.
Trine et une, sedulas nostras preces, Rex, suscipe.
Fidem auge his, qui credunt in te, tu succurre, eleison.
Rule Thy people alway, holy Lord of hosts, have mercy.
Treble and one, heed our diligent prayers, O King.
Increase the faith of those who believe in Thee, succour them, have mercy.
Respice nobis, o Inclyte, fer opem de excelsis et nostras, Redemptor orbis terrae, voces iugi Angelorum carmini adiunge, eleison.
Cunctipotens, sophiae tuae lumen nobis infunde.
Tripertite et une Kyrie, qui manes in aeternum cum Patre, te ore, te corde atque mente, psallimus nunc tibi, o beate Iesu bone, te precamur omnes assidue, eleison.
Behold us, O Glorious one, bring aid from on high and join our voices, O Redeemer of the world, with the ceaseless song of the angels, have mercy.
All-powerful one, pour into us the light of thy wisdom.
Tripartite and one, O Lord, who remaineth with the Father for aye, we now sing to Thee with our lips, heart, and mind, O blessed good Jesus, we all continually beseech Thee, have mercy.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 17.48.43Clemens rector, listed as Kyrie ad lib. 1 in the Vatican Edition, was one of the oldest and most popular Kyrie melodies in the Middle Ages. It first appears in West Frankish manuscripts from the 10th century, and by the 13th century it had spread throughout Europe. Although there are sundry farced versions of most Kyrie melodies, Clemens rector is remarkable in being the only trope that was ever attached to this one, and indeed, it proved as enduringly popular as the melody. The oldest manuscripts prescribe that the Clemens rector trope be sung on the feast of St Stephen, but it soon began to be reserved for the greatest feasts of the liturgical year, being sung variously on Christmas, Childermas, Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, All Saints, St Peter, St Benedict, and feasts of Our Lady. In the mid-12th century, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, ordained that the Clemens rector trope was to be sung on the five principal feasts in his monastery, adding that this was already an established tradition in other monasteries of the Cluniac congregation, such as Moissac:

Statutum est, ut illud Kyrie eleyson, cuius cantus habet prosaicos versus, quorum principium est Clemens rector aeterne, pater immense eleyson, qui in multis monasteriis ad Cluniacum pertinentibus usu antiquo cantabatur, etiam Cluniaci in quinque praecipuis festis cantetur.

Even after tropes fell into disfavour in the aftermath of the Tridentine reforms, the Clemens rector continued to be chaunted in certain places, and is found in liturgical books published as late as the 18th century.

The popularity of this trope owes much to fact that its textual shape is singularly well adapted to the Kyrie’s musical shape, as David Bjork demonstrates in The Aquitanian Kyrie Repertory of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. He additionally draws attention to the text’s use of polyptoton—repeating words with the same root—, matching the melody’s use of recurrent motifs:

Melodic phrases correspond most consistently at their ends, and so, too, do the petitions: all but three petitions (2, 5, and 8) close with eleison. Other words appear twice in the text: Nostras…voces (petition 2) recurs exactly (petition 7), and both times it occurs in a construction that separates these two words by placing others between them. Several word stems recur in different forms, thus establishing a kind of resonance without the bald effect of exact repetition: rector (petition 1) returns both as rege (petition 4) and as rex (petition 5); nostris (petition 2) returns as noster and nostri (petition 3), and nostras (petitions 5 and 7); trine et une (petition 5) returns as tripertite et une (petition 9); preces (petition 5) returns as precamur (petition 9); and aeterne (petition 1) returns as aeternum (petition 9).

Clemens rector also gives good expression to the exegesis of the Kyrie performed by Amalarius of Metz, one of the foremost liturgists of the Carolingian era. In his Eclogae de officio missae, Amalarius rather laconically puts forth the idea that the Kyrie represents the voices of those prophets who lived near the time of the incarnation, such as Zacharias and John the Baptist, and in the Liber officialis he explains in greater detail that mercy is the main theme of the Kyrie, urging cantors singing the Kyrie to keep in mind the words of St Matthew, Qui coronat te in miseratione et misericordia. He also indicates—and later writers made this point more explicitly—that the tripartite nature of the Kyrie alludes to the Trinity.

Indeed the petitionary nature of Clemens rector makes it sound like the voice of a prophet begging Christ to begin his work of redemption: nostras … voces exaudi (petition 2), sedulas nostras preces suscipe (petition 5), tu succurre (petition 6), sophiae tuae lumen infunde (petition 8), te precamur omnes assidue (petition 9), together with the recurrent use of eleison. Like a prophet forsaking earthly cares, the trope marks an opposition between sublunar and heavenly things in petition 7: et nostras, redemptor orbis terrae, voces iugi angelorum carmini adiunge. Although this trope does not explicitly address each member of the Trinity in its three respective parts like some other tropes do, it does insist on the trinitarian nature of God in petitions 5 and 9.

Clemens rector is therefore itself a commentary on the mystical significance of the Kyrie eleison. This exegetical nature is ultimately shared by all tropes, which merely transfer the Western genius for exegesis from written commentaries to song. The Clemens rector gloss on the Kyrie, however, is a particularly felicitous one, and this also helps to account for widespread popularity.

(If you missed the inaugural post on tropes, give it a look!)

 

*Marginalia Aelredi*

(scribbled hastily in the vulgar tongue, in the top right corner)
Les tropes? Encore une fois? Mais on y a trop des tropes déjà!!

 

drollery 2.jpg
Notkerus Balbulus
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