Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rex noster promptus est

Responsory for the Holy Innocents [Dec. 28] (D 166v-167r, R 472rb) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
R. Rex noster promptus est
suscipere sanguinem innocentum.
Unde angeli concinunt et in laudibus sonant.

R. Sed nubes
super eundem sanguinem

V. Tirannus autem
in gravi somno mortis
propter maliciam suam suffocatus est.

R. Sed nubes
super eundem sanguinem

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui sancto.

R. Sed nubes
super eundem sanguinem
R. Our King is swift and ready to
receive the blood of innocents.
So sing the angels and with praise resound.

R. But yet—the clouds
this blood

V. That tyrant still
was choked by death’s oppressive sleep
in punishment of his grave wickedness.

R. But yet—the clouds
this blood

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.

R. But yet—the clouds
this blood
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

“But yet—the clouds this blood bewail.” This responsory’s lyrical pathos comes in its repetendum, whose lengthy melisma on plangunt contains an echo of the phrasing for sanguinem in the opening responsorium. As Newman notes, the clouds here take up Rachel’s cry of lament for the blood of the innocent children shed by King Herod in Matt. 2:16-18 (Symphonia, p. 307). Characteristically, however, it is neither mother nor matriarch weeping for these children, but creation itself responding to the sacrilege—an idea rooted in the Bible’s first bloodshed, when God tells Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Thus, in explication of a verse from the opposite end of Scripture, about the martyrs (Rev. 6:11), Hildegard writes:
Those are called their fellow servants who are slain for the faith and for justice, while their brethren are those who will be consumed at the end of time by the Antichrist, like the infants consumed by Herod, who denied the Son of God, as too the Antichrist will deny him. For the voice of a person’s outpoured blood rises up through his soul to cry out and lament that it has been driven from the seal of the body in which God had placed it. Thereafter that soul receives the merit of its works, either in glory or in punishment. Blood’s first voice, indeed, raised up its cry to God in Abel, for Cain had foolishly and forcefully destroyed the structure of God’s work.
     —Liber divinorum operum III.5.13[1]
Herod was a standard type for the Antichrist, but in her Gospel Homilies 10-13 (Expositiones Evangeliorum) on Matthew’s infancy narrative, Hildegard expands the allegorical scope to make him a figure of the Devil.[2] This, too, is the scope of the responsory’s contrast between God “our King” (rex noster) and Herod the “tyrant” (tirannus), for the fundamental error for both the Devil and Herod is the pride that denies the reality of God’s kingship and tyrannically tries to usurp God’s place. As Hildegard explains in explication of Matt. 2:18:
A voice in Ramah,’ namely of miseries, ‘was heard’ above, ‘wailing and much lamentation,’ that is, distress and sadness when Pride oppressed Innocence by striking it. ‘Rachel weeping for her children,’ evidently holiness, because the eyes of its knowledge brought forth weeping. She had lost ‘her children’ even as the children, who were supposed to possess an inheritance, were disinherited; but the innocent lamb demanded them back with his own blood.
     —Gospel Homily 11 (p. 66)
To see with “the eyes of [holiness’] knowledge” is to recognize God’s true Light, to see reality for what it really is, and therefore truly to live. But to deny that light is to be plunged into darkness, confusion, and death—and this is how Hildegard characterizes Herod’s punishment, “choked by death’s oppressive sleep” (in gravi somno mortis […] suffocatus est). Elsewhere, Hildegard uses a similar phrase to describe the blindness of the Jews to Christ’s divinity, a blindness that would lead them to kill him just as Herod killed the innocents: “For the eyes of the Jews were heavy in the shadow of death [in umbra mortis grauati sunt]: when they heard the words of prophecy, they cast them aside with the true Flower whom the entire earth itself recognized when he breathed his last upon the cross” (Liber divinorum operum III.5.18). As the clouds mourn the spilt blood of the innocents, so too all the elements when touched by the Crucified’s, as in Hildegard’s antiphon, O cruor sanguinis.

Despite the dark violence that sheds it, innocent blood shimmers and sings in Hildegard’s view (cf. Cum vox sanguinis). Through the clouded grief shines the angelic light and its joyous song, for the Christmas peace shatters the tyrant’s power:
In that day when the angels sang of the peace given to humankind, my Son was born of a Virgin, magnified by the angels and glorified by the shepherds who were searching with pious devotion. And the fruit of the earth abounded—the earth to which peace had been restored and the air bestowed its sweetness; and theirs was the joy who among the sons of Jacob had been freed from evil’s past tribulation, for they had once been crushed with just judgment by many tribulations. Furthermore, when the light of true faith illumines the hearts of the faithful, my Son will be magnified in them, for they will believe that he came forth from me; and they will glorify him when they confess that he has returned to me in glory. So too for them will the fruit of good works be lifted high. Their joy will also be increased when they have been snatched from the devil’s power and freed from the punishments of hell, to be counted among the children of God.
     —Liber divinorum operum III.5.18

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: C below the final to E an octave above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic with some melismas

This short responsory is fairly straightforward in phrasing, in which the final E is the primary grammatical marker. Note that the salutation is extended to include promptus est, which ends on E. A tick barline has been placed at the end of that segment for clarification purposes.

There are a number of differences between the sources – some important, some less so. Two significant ones include the opening pitches, which are given as D in Riesenkodex. As the piece is clearly in the E mode, this should probably be considered as a scribal error.

The second has to do with the response, Sed nubes super eundem sanguinem plangunt. It begins on the pitch B, the commonly used secondary tone in this mode. Note that the two final iterations of the response, page 2, lines 3 and 6, of the transcription, show what appears to be an error in the Dendermonde manuscript. Sed begins on A, which is unlikely, as the response is always sung the same way. Riesenkodex gives it correctly.

As far as the other divergences, which are primarily related to different ornamental neumes and some pitch variances, whenever possible I have tried to avoid the ossia staves and notated the differences above the staff. However, some simple changes were still difficult to explain succinctly, hence the partial ossias.

Further Resources for Rex noster promptus est


[1] Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming 2018). 
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Homilies on the Gospels, trans. Beverly Mayne Kienle (Cistercian Publications / Liturgical Press, 2011), pp. 62-74.