10 January 2010

What's with the antiphons?

These little verses sung before (and often, after) a given Psalm or Canticle are sadly rare in the experience of the 21st century Lutheran. But one cannot spend any time with the old Lutheran Cantionals without marveling at the inordinately huge space that is devoted to them and giving them their proper chant tones. In contrast to the relatively simple Gregorian Psalm tones employed for the Psalms and Canticles, the music for the antiphons is more complex and varied. As you can see from the ones I provided for the Baptism of Our Lord, they contain in themselves a liturgical key to unlocking the meaning of the Feast - doing a similar task in the Daily Office that the Introit, Gradual and Verse do in the Divine Service. But unlike these, there was never a compunction that the Antiphons should be simply the words of Scripture (though we note the occasional use of the Apocrypha in the propers for the Divine Service - the tell-tale giveaway in LSB is when they use the term: "liturgical text" - which comes across as a rather chicken way of saying: you don't want to know where this is from...). Rather, you see something approximating the way that the eastern liturgy expounds on the images for the given day and emotionally unpacks them, often giving details that are not in Scripture but that teach a Scriptural truth. Hence, John's trembling as he thinks to touch the head of God Enfleshed and begs Him for salvation. I marvel at how much richness would be restored to our Western liturgy if these little treasures from our spiritual forebears were learned and sung and so set before our people again - I wonder if anyone is up for the publication of an English language Antiphony Book that offers these in standard musical notation?


Sean said...

Are those from Magdeburg 1613 on the octave of Epiphany?

Antiphons could be a project I suppose... but their use is even less common these days than introits & graduals, so I wouldn't consider it the same priority... then again, I've been told this is all a waste of time, so why not. :)

I think antiphons might be a great way for a musical pastor to use authentic and melismatic gregorian chant in an inoffensive way. He could simply sing the antiphon, while everyone (congregation) could sing the psalm verses using whichever style of chant you're familiar with. A choir could do the same thing. It's short, which somehow seems less offensive to me... but who knows. I'm not offended by any of it.

Tapani Simojoki said...

I would love to see one, certainly. If I had the time, I would love to put it together as well.

I would also love to see them in Gregorian notation (perhaps print Gregorian/standard side by side, as in the New English Hymnal). It's so much more flexible to use. And not very hard to learn.

For some time now, I have wanted to put together a pocket-size Lutheran prayer book, with a full annual lectionary, the Daily Office, the Psalter and prayers. This would be a great component in such a book—except that it would probably no longer be pocket size...

If you throw a wad of cash at me, I'll take a leave of absence, and we'll sing all the way to the printers!

One can always dream.

BTW, are you able to post a sample of the musical setting for one/some of these?

Sean said...

Enjoy them!


William Weedon said...

Thanks, Sean! What a treasure!

Mimi said...

Our Church School is teaching on the Liturgy this year, and we had a lesson on the Antiphons a few weeks ago!

Thank you for this great post.

William Weedon said...

You're welcome, Mimi. You are blessed to be in a tradition that values and teaches them! Pax!