Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Words (and Music) on Wednesday: Salvete Flores Martyrum

This is an ancient hymn sung as part of the Feast of the Holy Innocents which is celebrated today. Michael Haydn (1737-1806) composed a Mass and Vespers for the feast which includes a setting of this text, posted here in English translation and the original Latin.

Michael was the younger brother of the more famous Joseph Haydn. His works are firmly oriented within the stylistic conventions of the Classical period, which is a sub-period of classical music. (Confusing enough?)

Music during this time conformed to strict rules in its treatment of dissonance. Dissonance was always resolved, and always in prescribed ways. I find it striking that Haydn manages to create an unresolved dissonance between the horror of infants slaughtered and this happy, playful music. It's downright macabre.

All hail! ye infant martyr flowers,
cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
as rosebuds snapt in tempest strife
when Herod sought your Saviour’s life.

Ye, tender flock of Christ, we sing,
first victims slain for Christ your King:
beneath the Altar’s heavenly ray
with martyr-palms and crowns ye play.

All honour, laud and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee;
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Ghost for ever more. Amen.

Salvete, flores martyrum,
quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insector sustulit
seu turbo nascentes rosas.

Vos prima Christi victima,
grex immolatorum tener,
aram sub ipsum simplices
palma et coronis luditis.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui natus es de Virgine,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen. 

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