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18 December 2009

Threads of past and present in two choral works: Misera, Ancor do Loco and Vive in Deo

Clare Maclean Image: Clare Maclean  

Misera, Ancor do Loco and Vive in Deo are two of my choral works with texts that deal with separation and connection between people. In response to this, the music of each piece deals with separation and connection with the past, by engaging with music from the past in different ways. Misera, Ancor do Loco is a reworking of a monody by Monteverdi, in a way that is based on the structure of the whole but blurs its image with contemporary musical techniques. Vive in Deo takes fragments from a Brahms Intermezzo and already fragmentary pigeon calls, and weaves them into an original structure, the melodies of which are influenced by plainsong.

Misera, Ancor do Loco

Separation in the text of Misera, Ancor do Loco comes through the abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus, in a retelling of the Greek myth by Ottavio Rinuccini. This retelling is the libretto for Monteverdi's opera Arianna, written in 1608 for the wedding festivities of Prince Gonzago of Mantua. The only part of the opera to survive is the Lamento d'Arianna, a monody in eight sections, setting her words from scene vi. Misera is a setting of the fifth part of this monody with the addition of three statements, taken from the words the chorus of fishermen sing between the monody sections in scene vi (written in contrasting type).

Misera, ancor do loco
alla tradita speme, e non si spegne
fra tanto schern ancor d'Amor il foco.
Spegni tu morte omai le fiamme indegne.
In van lingua mortale
In van porge conforto
Dove infinito e il male.
O madre O padre,
O de l'antico Regno superbi alberghi,
ov'ebbi d'or la cuna.
O servi O fidi amici (ahi fata indegno)
Ahi, che'l cor mi spezza
Mirate ove m'ha scort'empia fortuna.
Mirate di che duol m'ha fatto herede,
l'amor mia, la mia fede, e l'altrui in ganno.
Cosi va chi tropp'ama e troppo crede.
Verace amor, degno chi'l mondo ammiri,
Ne le miserie estreme
Non sai chieder vendetta, e non t'adiri.
Cosi va chi tropp'ama e troppo crede.

Wretched, I still harbour my betrayed hope, and
the flames of hope are still not quenched by this
Come, Death, and quench these unworthy flames!
Where sorrow is infinite
The comfort of human tongue
Is in vain.
O mother, O father,
O lofty palaces of the ancient kingdom,
where my cradle was of gold!
O servants, O faithful friends (oh wretched destiny!)
Oh, how my heart breaks
Look where cruel fate has brought me.
Look at the pain to which my love, my trust and
the treachery of others has made me heir.
So it is with one who loves too
much and believes too much.
Truthful love, worthy of universal admiration,
Even in times of extreme misery
You know not how to cry vengeance, nor fly
into a rage.
So it is with one who loves too much and
believes too much

(Routley 1999, p. 38-9).

In 1614 Monteverdi made the first four parts of his monody into madrigals for five voices, as part of his sixth book of madrigals. Misera, Ancor do Loco is a reworking of the fifth part of Monteverdi's monody into a five-part madrigal, modelled on Monteverdi's reworkings of parts one to four. It is not an attempt to complete Monteverdi's work, but is written in dialogue with his monody and madrigals, using them to inform my own language. The music follows Monteverdi's madrigal settings by keeping the monody's melody and harmony throughout, and by extending the monody through contrapuntal imitation, and the repetition of sections in different keys (see Table 1).

Table 1 (click to enlarge): Harmonic Summary of Monteverdi's Monody, Part V, and Maclean's Misera Ancor do Loco

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At the same time, Misera expands on Monteverdi's approach in a number of ways. The simplest of these is the retaining of his harmony, while enriching it with the addition of notes not in keeping with his style. The opening illustrates this, in its addition of a fourth in the A-minor chord in bar three, and of a fourth, second and sixth in the C-major chord at bar eight (see Examples 1 and 2).

Example 1 (click to enlarge): Monteverdi, Lamento d'Arianna, Part V, Opening

music example 1

Example 2 (click to enlarge): Maclean, Misera, Ancor do Loco, Opening

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In the madrigals based on the monody, Monteverdi often pre-empts passages by interpolating a version that is transposed by a fourth or a fifth before the passage itself in the original key of the monody. This practice is carried over into Misera (see Table 1, bars 26, 47 and 63), and in one instance two versions of the same passage overlap. At bar 26 of Misera, there begins a progression that moves from G minor to C major (ending in bar 34). The same progression, now from D minor to G major (as it occurs in the monody from bar 95) (see Example 3) begins in bar 29 in the bass and bar 31 in the tenors, causing a polyphonic overlap of five bars (see Example 4).

Example 3 (click to enlarge): Monteverdi, Lamento d'Arianna, Part V, at O Madre

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Example 4 (click to enlarge): Maclean, Misera, at O Madre

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The introduction of the three 'chorus' sections into the setting of the monody also expands the idea of interpolating passages, but the music for these sections is new harmony in which the chords are made up of two triads, a fourth or fifth apart (see Example 5, listen to an mp3 sample). Like the harmonic overlap at bar 29, this is a simultaneous fourth/fifth relationship, relating to the consecutive fourth/fifth relationships that are found between interpolated passages in Monteverdi's madrigals and Misera.

Example 5 (click to enlarge): Maclean, Misera, First Chorus
Listen to an mp3 sample

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Eric Chafe remarks on how Monteverdi's settings of the monody transform it from a spontaneous and rhythmically fluid expression of emotion to a more formal reflection on the text, albeit one that is still very immediate in its use of dissonance. This is achieved through the use of a regular metre and demarcation with blocks of repetition, which include the clearer definition of the tonic key area by the statement of passages in the dominant and then the tonic (1992, pp. 172 to184). Misera formalises part five of the monody in similar ways, though without using the key of the dominant, and further breaks up the flow with the three choruses. The distance from the monody is also increased by the use at times of a thicker texture of more than five parts, and an obscuring of the clarity of the original harmony by the use of added notes and harmonic overlap. The way the harmonic 'paint' runs obscures the image of the original monody, and serves as a metaphor for how the boundaries of style and authorship have been blurred in this reworking.

Vive in Deo

The text of Vive in Deo, like that of Misera, Ancor do Loco, is about love and the memory of love, and separation, though through death rather than betrayal. The text is an arrangement of inscriptions from the Roman catacombs, taken from Canon Spencer's book of 1877, A Visit to the Roman Catacombs (pp. 119-120). Spencer dates these inscriptions from the St Calixtus catacombs from the first three centuries C.E. This text was chosen because Vive in Deo was commissioned by the St. Louis Chamber Chorus for a concert to be held in the chapel of the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis MO, where the complete bones of seven martyrs originally from the Roman catacombs are housed.

Mnēskesthe, mnēsthēs
Anatolius filio benemerenti fecit
(in Bono; Agape vivas)
qui vixit annis septem,
mensis septem, diebus viginti.
isspiritus tuus bene requiescat in Deo;
petas pro sorore tua.
Philoumenē, en einē sou to pneuma.

Dionysius, pios akakos,
enthade keite meta tōn hagiōn,
mnēskesthe de kai hēmōn
en tais hagiais hymōn preuchais,
kai tou glypsatos kai grapsantos.
Cyriaco caro, filio dulcissimo:
vivas in Spiritu Sancto.

Semper in Deo vivas;
Agape, vivas in aeternum;
sais en Kyriō;
en einē sou to pneuma;
Spes, pax;
dulcis anima.

Mnēsthēs, Iesous ho Kyrios,
teknon hēmōn.
Castorino, coniugi bono et dulcissimo,
qui vixit annos sexaginta unus,
menses quinque, dies decem;
Uxor eius hoc fecit.
Vive in Deo.
Mnēsthēs, Iesous ho Kyrios,
teknon hēmōn.
Semper in Deo vivas, dulcis anima.

Remember, may you remember
Anatolius made this for his well deserving son
(in Good [God]; Agape, may you live)
who lived seven years,
seven months, ten days.
may your spirit rest well in God;
pray for your sister.
Beloved, may your spirit be in peace.

Dionysius, innocent child,
lies here with the saints,
and remember us too
in your holy prayers,
both me who engraved and me who wrote this.
Cyriaco, dear one, sweet child:
may you live in the Holy spirit.

May you always live in God;
Agape, may you live in eternity;
live in the Lord;
may your spirit be in peace;
peace to you, Spes (hope);
sweet soul.

Lord Jesus, may you remember
our child.
Castorino, good and sweet husband,
who lived sixty one years,
five months and ten days;
well deserving.
Your wife made this.
Live in God.
Lord Jesus, may you remember
our child.
dear one
may you remember.
Sweet soul, may you always live in God

(Barnes 2006).

The music of Vive in Deo incorporates music from two sources that have personal symbolic associations with the idea of memory. The first source is Brahms's Intermezzo in E minor, op.119 (see Example 6), which is one of many pieces that I remember my father playing when I was a child. Vive in Deo was written two years after his death, and these references to the Intermezzo are my own musical inscription to his memory.

Example 6 (click to enlarge): Brahms, Intermezzo op. 119, Beginning

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Several fragments were taken from the intermezzo and used motivically through Vive. The opening two chords, for example (upbeat and downbeat), appear as a repeated figure at bars 24 and 85 in Vive (see Example 7). The first eight bars of the Brahms melody are taken up by the first sopranos in a chordal passage at bar 92, which culminates at bar 96 in a cadence also taken from the Intermezzo (bar 8) (see Example 8, listen to an mp3 sample).

Example 7 (click to enlarge): Maclean, Vive in Deo, First Brahms Fragment

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Example 8 (click to enlarge): Maclean, Vive, Brahms Melody and Cadence
Listen to an mp3 sample.

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The second source of musical material in Vive are pigeon calls, a reference to the dove which was a common symbol above catacomb inscriptions (see Figure 1) because of its associations of faithfulness, hope and the Holy Spirit.

Figure 1: Catacomb Inscription with Dove, Chapel of the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis MO.

figure 1

The pigeon calls in Vive are those of the spotted turtledove, an Asian species introduced to Sydney, the appropriately named North American mourning dove, and the rock pigeon which is found in most parts of the world. The piece opens with repeated figures setting the word 'remember,' transcribed from turtledove calls in our garden (see Example 9) and these figures appear throughout the work.

Example 9 (click to enlarge): Maclean, Vive, Turtledove Calls

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These borrowed materials are woven amongst melodies which are often plainsong-like - a memory of plainsong, which itself is a memory of the Greek, Roman and Jewish song from which it arose, with some of which the inscription writers would have been familiar. The homophonic passages in Vive are also a kind of 'remembering' of the harmony in Brahms's Intermezzo; the sharpness of his non-harmonic notes is extended in the clashing harmonies of Vive (see Example 8) and is, perhaps in both pieces, an expression of the emotional dissonance caused by the experience of loss.

In both texts, separation and connection are expressed through the medium of memory, and the music which sets them uses memory of musical works to express a sense of connection and distance with the past. These memories in text and music also point beyond time by telescoping and rearranging the past, connecting things that are temporally distant. By sidestepping time, the interweaving of borrowed and original musical material makes an allusion to the eternity that is implicit in the two texts. At the end of Monteverdi's opera, Jove invites Arianna and her new lover, Bacchus, to live as gods above the stars, and in the text of Vive in Deo, those honoured in the inscriptions have been released into a 'now' that is 'not yet' for those remembering them.

Greek pronunciation of Vive in Deo is as follows:

a as in father
ai as in aisle
th as in thin
ē as in lake
ei as in eight
ch - k
e as in pet
eu - eoo
ph as in phone
ō as in phone
oi as in oil
g as in gate
o as in pot
ou as in spoon
pn as in pneumatic
y as in keep


Barnes, P. 2006, Translations of Selected Roman Catacombs Inscriptions, unpublished document.
Brahms, J. 1971, Complete Shorter Works for Solo Piano, ed. Eusebius Mandyczewski, Dover, New York.
Chafe, E T. 1992, Monteverdi's Tonal Language, Schirmer, New York.
Monteverdi, C. 1999, Lamento d'Arianna,ed N. Routley, Saraband, Sydney.
Routley, N. 1999, Arianna Thrice Betrayed, University of New England Press, Armidale, New South Wales.


Mp3 samples are used with the kind permission from the performers, the St Louis Chamber Chorus and its director Philip Barnes. The recording was made in Christ the King Church, St Louis MO, on May 31st, 2009, by Barry Hufker.

Further links

Clare Maclean - AMC profile (http://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/artist/maclean-clare)
The Saint Louis Chamber Chorus (http://www.chamberchorus.org/)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Clare Maclean is a New Zealand-born Sydney composer who writes choral and instrumental music. She has been commissioned by a number of choirs in Australia and is at present composer in residence with the St Louis Chamber Chorus in the United States.


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