On the Eve of Magna Carta

(i) For the King – Quasimodo / Christus Vincit / Alleluia

Magna Carta was presented to King John on the Monday or possibly Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, 1215. Archbishop Langton (who had been with the King at Windsor for the Trinity morning Mass) left to be with the Barons who had assembled in Staines. According to a fairly contemporary French chronicle, at the services held on the eve of the signing-with-a-seal, each party sang different Antiphons whose texts drew attention to the rights of their own group.

The King’s choir was fairly slick and reasonably disciplined: they probably chose verses from Psalm 88 to be sung by a cantor between a three-voice motet and a two-voice duet using words from Psalm 20. Both pieces sung on the eve of Magna Carta would have been in the form of a motet followed by two plainsong Psalm verses sung by a cantor, a duet based on a different Psalm, more plainsong Psalm verses and a repetition of the motet.

The motet which opens and closes the work performed for the King was probably based on Christus regnat (sung in the lowest voices) while the other singers alternated Quasimodo with Alleluia.

The cantor’s Psalm text then follows:

Inveni David servum meum: oleo sancto meo unxi eum.

Manus enim mea auxiliabitur ei: et brachium meum confortabit eum.

I have found my servant David andhave anointed him with holy oil.

For my hand will assist him, and my arm will fortify him.

This is followed by the inserted duet:

Domine in virtute tua laetabitur rex … voluntate labiorum eius non fraudasti eum.

In thy strength, O Lord, the king shall joy … Thou hast not withholden from him the will of his lips.

The Cantor continues with his Psalm:

Nihil proficiet inimicus in eo, et filius iniquitatis non apponet nocere ei.

Et concidam a facie ipsius inimicos eius: et odientes eum in fugam convertam.

The enemy will have no advantage over him, nor will the son of iniquity be positioned to harm him. And I will cut down his enemies before his face. And those who hate him, I will turn to flight.

Then the opening motet is repeated.

On the Eve of Magna Carta  (ii) For the Barons – Haec Dies / Victimae

Meanwhile, in the Barons’ camp, a less able but larger chorus, from the assembled singers of each baron, would have chosen part of Psalm 118/119 (verses 161-170), with an inserted duet using words from Psalm 145. As there were far more verses to be sung to plainsong than in the King’s piece, the whole order was repeated.

The opening motet hears Victimae paschalis laudes sung in the lowest part to the standard plainsong notes, but now given a new rhythm. Against this part, other voices sing Haec dies quam fecit Dominus set to newly-composed music.

The Cantor’s plainsong sections:

Principes persecuti sunt me gratis: et a verbis tuis formidavit cor meum.

Lætabor ego super eloquia tua: sicut qui invenit spolia multa.

The leaders have persecuted me without cause. And my heart has been awed by your words. I will rejoice over your eloquence, like one who has found many spoils.

Iniquitatem odio habui, et abominatus sum: legem autem tuam dilexi.

Septies in die laudem dixi tibi, super iudicia iustitiæ tuæ.

I have held hatred for iniquity, and I have abhorred it. Yet I have loved your law. Seven times a day, I uttered praise to you about the judgments of your justice.

Pax multa diligentibus legem tuam: et non est illis scandalum.

Expectabam salutare tuum Domine: et mandata tua dilexi.

Custodivit anima mea testimonia tua: et dilexit ea vehementer.

Servavi mandata tua, et testimonia tua: quia omnes viæ meæ in conspectu tuo.

Those who love your law have great peace, and there is no scandal for them. I have waited for your salvation, O Lord. And I have loved your commandments. My soul has kept to your testimonies and has loved them exceedingly. I have served your commandments and your testimonies. For all my ways are before your sight.

Appropinquet deprecatio mea in conspectu tuo Domine: iuxta eloquium tuum da mihi intellectum.

Intret postulatio mea in conspectu tuo: secundum eloquium tuum eripe me.
O Lord, let my supplication draw near in your sight. Grant understanding to me according to your eloquence. Let my petition enter before you. Rescue me according to your word.

The text for the twice-inserted duet was:

Nolite confidere in principibus, in filiis hominum, in quibus non est salus.

I will sing praises unto my God. O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.

*  *  *

Pope Annuls Magna Carta

The Southern-French troubadour poet-musician Gaucelm Faidit (1170-1202) composed a Planh on the death of the English Richard the Lionheart in 1199. By the time of Magna Carta (1215), the Planh had been heard at both the English and French courts. In his arrangement, Malcolm Hill took Faidit’s rhythm, melody and unusual metrical scheme and fitted them around a text based on Pope Innocent III’s letters to England of 1213 and 1215. Thirteenth century compositional methods were applied throughout the resulting motet, although some quasi-modal techniques of the early 20th century are also referenced.

Faidit’s melody opens the work. This sets the scene: King John (in 1213) had made over his kingdom to be a vassal state of the Apostolic See. Throughout the motet, soloists (singing only in English) act either as narrators or translators of the Latin (sung by the chorus) of the Pope’s letter.

After King John had accepted Magna Carta, he sent a letter to the Pope which resulted in a Papal open letter of 24th August 2015 declaring Magna Carta “null and void of all validity for ever.” This letter is announced quietly by a soprano duet, then the chorus starts to proclaim its contents. The main body of the motet, however, involves a dramatic soprano soloist singing against the 6-part chorus, all the text coming from this open letter.

* *

Quasimodo / Christus Vincit / Alleluia

The first Magna Carta had been presented to King John on the Monday or possibly Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, 1215. Archbishop Langton (who had been with the King at Windsor for the Trinity morning Mass) left to be with the Barons who had assembled in Staines. According to a fairly contemporary French chronicle, at the services held on the eve of the signing-with-a-seal, each party sang different Antiphons whose texts drew attention to the rights of their own group.

It is very probable that the same text was sung when Louis was proclaimed King in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and when Henry was proclaimed king in the west country.

The choir opens with a motet where three texts are sung simultaneously:

Quasimodo (opening top part); Alleluia (2nd top part);

and Christus regnat (lower part).

The cantor then follows, with text from Psalm 88:

Inveni David servum meum: oleo sancto meo unxi eum. Manus enim mea auxiliabitur ei: et brachium meum confortabit eum.

I have found my servant David andhave anointed him with holy oil.

For my hand will assist him, and my arm will fortify him.

This is followed by the inserted duet, with words from Psalm 20:

Domine in virtute tua laetabitur rex … voluntate labiorum eius non fraudasti eum.

In thy strength, O Lord, the king shall joy … Thou hast not withholden from him the will of his lips.

The Cantor continues with his Psalm:

Nihil proficiet inimicus in eo, et filius iniquitatis non apponet nocere ei. Et concidam a facie ipsius inimicos eius: et odientes eum in fugam convertam.

The enemy will have no advantage over him, nor will the son of iniquity be positioned to harm him. And I will cut down his enemies before his face. And those who hate him, I will turn to flight.

Then the opening motet is repeated.

Haec Dies / Victimae

In the Barons’ camp before meeting King John, a chorus from the assembled singers of each baron would have chosen and sung part of Psalm 118/119 (verses 161-170), with an inserted duet using words from Psalm 145.

The opening motet hears Victimae paschalis laudes sung in the lowest part to the standard plainsong notes, but now given a new rhythm. Against this part, other voices sing Haec dies quam fecit Dominus set to newly-composed music.

The Cantor’s plainsong sections:

Principes persecuti sunt me gratis:

et a verbis tuis formidavit cor meum.

Lætabor ego super eloquia tua:

sicut qui invenit spolia multa.

The leaders have persecuted me without cause. And my heart has been awed by your words. I will rejoice over your eloquence, like one who has found many spoils.

Pax multa diligentibus legem tuam: et non est illis scandalum.

Expectabam salutare tuum Domine: et mandata tua dilexi.

Those who love your law have great peace, and there is no scandal for them. I have waited for your salvation, O Lord. And I have loved your commandments.

The text for the inserted duet was:

Nolite confidere in principibus, in filiis hominum,

in quibus non est salus.

O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.

*  *

Runnymede – Four Choral Songs

Malcolm Hill asked Bath poet Caroline Heaton to create a text for a setting to be included in this concert. Her Runnymede tells the story of the meeting between King and barons as if it is being recounted soon after the signing. MH set the poem to late 12th century Trouvère chanson melodies which we know had arrived in England by 1215, and to which contemporary texts were traditionally added. [Over 2,000 lyrics, together with nearly 1,000 of their single-voice melodies have survived from the rich production of 12th and 13th century trouvères of Northern France.] Malcolm then surrounded the melodies with both 13th and early 20th century counterpoints. The first and third movements use Blondel de Nesle’s melody Cuer desirrous apaie (the longing heart appeases/calms), the second movement uses Gautier de Dargies’ Desque ci ai touz jorz chanté and the final movement is based on Chatelain de Couci’s Li nouviauz tanz (aka Li nouuiau tens).

A bass soloist starts the first song in English, followed by a soprano soloist in Latin. The choral sopranos and altos describe the scene and what they thought about King John. At the end, the army makes a statement.

The second song, for male performers, continues the army’s description of what happened.

The third song opens with the soprano reprising her Latin refrain from the first song. There are no men in this movement, which elaborates the description of Runnymede. Gradually the chorus becomes a group of soloists, ending with “It was a place of Fair Words and watery intent”.

After a couple of brief solos, the last song is just for 4-part chorus. “Trial by our equals won a few months of peace … The king smiled through gritted teeth, sent for, affixed, the Great Seal. We won a brief peace, too brief, but the Charter endured … As for our villeins, they still work the land, sing their own song.”