Alma Redemptoris Mater – Muehleisen

Double Choir – SATB/SATB (divisi) a cappella

 


Recording credit: Premiere performance by Choral Arts, conducted by Robert Bode

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TEXT

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli porta manes,
Et stella maris, succure cadenti surgere qui curat populo:
Tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem:
Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore sumens illud Ave,
peccatorum miserere.
Marian Antiphon for Compline

Translation

Loving Mother of the Redeemer, who remains the accessible gate of heaven,
And star of the sea, help your fallen people who strive to rise:
You who gave birth, as nature marveled, to your holy Creator:
Virgin before and after, from Gabriel’s mouth receiving that “Hail!”
have mercy on us sinners.

PROGRAM NOTES

Alma Redemptoris Mater was commissioned in 2007 by Seattle’s Choral Arts in honor of Robert Bode’s inaugural concert as the group’s new artistic director, and was premiered by them in October 2007. Liturgically, the text is one of the four Marian antiphons, along with Ave Regina caelorum, Regina coeli, and Salve Regina. The text of Alma Redemptoris Mater is generally thought to have originated in the 11th century and is attributed to the monk Hermanus Contractus (Herman the Cripple), although some scholars question that attribution. Originally used for the Feast of the Ascension, following the reforms of Pope Clement VI in 1350 Alma has been associated with the Advent and Christmas season, being proscribed for use as an antiphon in the evening Compline service from the eve of the First Sunday of Advent in late November or early December through the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple on February 2.

Muehleisen’s setting of this text takes its primary musical cue from the Latin word “alma,” which can be variously translated as loving, tender, kind, nurturing, and other similar terms. Much of the musical setting favors the tender and nurturing connotations of the word. These qualities are reflected musically in the opening phrase of the text, which is repeated several times throughout the work. After a free treatment and development of musical material presented in the first two pages of the work, several contrasting ideas are introduced before the music settles on a refrain at the words “Virgo prius ac posterius [Virgin before and after],” one of the key theological tenets of the Virgin birth. A brief, dramatic accelerando leads to an energetic outburst based primarily on the words “Alma Redemptoris Mater” and several other brief phrases. Culminating on the word “Ave [Hail],” the refrain returns in a majestic forte statement, followed by several repetitions of the title text and a general relaxation of mood, leading to a varied recapitulation of music from the opening of the work. After a quiet, contemplative version of the refrain, a grand crescendo leads to the final climactic statement of the refrain and a general winding down of the music, culminating in a quiet, tender coda. Texturally, the work features a variety of antiphonal treatments of the voices, including use of a double choir and antiphonal exchanges between men and women, which take on an especially poignant tone during the statements of the refrain and the final measures of the work.