Friday, December 3, 2010

Civitas sancti tui--The Holy Cities are in ruins

Although this music is associated with Lent and Passiontide, the season of Advent also has this 'ethos' of sorrow, mourning, longing for salvation-restoration-fulfillment. The "city" of the Church cries to the Lord for His redeeming Presence and Power. The days before our Lord's coming in the flesh had these desires; we, in our own day, long for Him; in our sacramental life, He comes to us; in our prayer and penance, He comes to us; in our daily lives, filled with sorrow, tension, unfulfillment and temptations to despair, He comes to us, in spite of evil and sin. He will one day come to take us in death and ultimately at the end of time.
Then, the lasting city of the New Jerusalem will be our home. And we shall be with Him and the Communion of Saints and Angles for ever.

This motet was widely sung in Elizabethan recusant circles, as the seven surviving manuscript sources show. It provided a model for Byrds famous Civitas sancti tui (Ne irascaris Domine Part II). One factor in its popularity was undoubtedly its text, a responsory from the Roman and Sarum Breviaries which was sung during the weeks before Advent. It laments the desolation of the Holy City in language derived from Jeremiah: Aspice Domine, quia facta est desolata civitas plena divitiis, sedet in tristitia domina gentium: non est qui consoletur eam, nisi tu Deus noster (2) Plorans ploravit in nocte, et lacrimae eius in maxillis eius. Non est qui consoletur eam, nisi tu Deus noster. (Behold, Lord, for the city once full of riches is made desolate, she who ruled the peoples sits in sadness: there is none to console her but thou, our God. (2) She wept sorely in the night, and her tears were on her cheeks: there is none to console her but thou, our God). Texts of this type (which also feature widely in Byrds penitential and political motets of the 1590s) were widely read by the Elizabethan recusant community in contemporary terms as expressions of Catholic nostalgia for the old religious order. The Non est qui consoletur canon was probably widely sung in recusant circles with the same connotations. Although this version has not survived in written form, the canon subject was simple enough to have been memorized and transmitted orally.

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