New Years’ with the Canons of Sens (2): Compline

We now continue our discussion of the Feast of the Circumcision as it was celebrated by the canons of the illustrious Cathedral of Sens in the High Middle Ages. The rich euchological and musical variety we have seen at First Vespers sets the tone for the rest of the office’s cursus. 

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Ivory panels covering Pierre Corbeil’s Office for the Circumcision, sometimes misunderstood to be a Feast of Fools



At Compline, the canons sang the psalms to the antiphon Magnum nomen Domini Emmanuel, which, with the variant incipit Ecce nomen Domini, is attested from the 8th century. The jaunty melody of this antiphon proved so popular among the layfolk it was sung outside its liturgical context as a Christmas carol well into the 19th century. 

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The carol Magnum nomen Domini in the Manuale cantorum published in Liège in 1810.

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The versicle Custodi nos is farced into a short hymn, and the Candlemas processional responsory Responsum accepit Symeon is cleverly adapted into an antiphon for the Nunc dimittis. Normally the conclusion of the office would follow, but here festivity overcomes sleepiness, and the canons sing on. Perhaps unexpectedly, however, these additions to the usual course of Compline are based on the penitential preces added to Compline during Septuagesima and Lent, although enlivened with festive melodies and tropes. 

Immediately after Simeon’s canticle, the canons intone the prolix antiphon Media vita, attributed to Bl. Notker the Stammerer. In Sens and other places, this was also sung at the end of Compline on the Saturday before Lent, and elsewhere it features in offices and processions during Lent (it was not received by the Tridentine Office). 

On Saturday before Lent, this was followed by the Kyrie eleison cum precibus and then the Pater noster. On the Circumcision, the Kyrie was sung to a melody borrowed from Mass (XII of the Vatican ed.) with the trope Pater cuncta, and then two subdeacons alternately sung a farced Pater noster, one of only about 20 such tropes to survive. 

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The melody of this version of the Lord’s prayer is a strikingly odd and not entirely felicitous patchwork of quotations, as it were, from other Gregorian pieces, and so it jarringly meanders through different modes. For instance, the first trope line, Fidem auge, is set to the tune of the first and three invocations to Christ of the Kyrie Clemens rector, which this MS. in fact assigns to the Mass to be celebrated the next morning. Later on, the lines Panem nostrum are set to the melody of the line Domine Deus from Gloria II (Vat. ed.), and when it comes to the words Et dimitte nobis, the melody reverts to that for the conclusion of the Pater noster at Mass. Finally, the concluding trope line is set to a popular eighth-mode melisma, also found, e.g., for the Benedicamus Domino at II Vespers of solemnities in Solesmes’ 1934 Antiphonale Monasticum.  

The canons then took up the responsory In pace, which was also sung at Compline of Saturday before Lent in Sens, and at the little hours during Lent in other dioceses.

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This is followed by a piece of singular interest: the sole attested musical setting of the Apostle’s Creed, and, moreover, it is troped (it is found in a few other sources, e.g., Laon BM 263). The Creed itself is set to a simple recitation tone, but the tropes are set, like the preceding Pater noster, to tunes from other, presumably well-known, pieces. As with the Pater noster, the Creed is sung alternately, with one cleric (in this case, a priest) singing the words of the Symbol and the other the tropes. 

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The sources for the tropes of the farced Apostles’ Creed (from Western Plainchant: A Handbook by David Hiley.)

After these preces, the office concludes with its usual collect and a Benedicamus Domino troped into a hymn.

See the other posts in this series:

1. A Feast of Fools?: First Vespers
3. Mattins, Lauds, and the Little Hours
4. Mass and Second Vespers
5. Why the Office of Peter of Corbeil was Suppressed
6. A New Years’ Apéritif with the Canons of Sens

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