Musicus Online Museum

Motet: Tota pulchra es

Motet: Tota pulchra es (Jacobus Clemens non Papa)


Clemens non Papa’s five-voice motet for St. Margaret of Antioch was published in 1555 in Antwerp (Belgium). He was a prolific composer of the mid-sixteenth century, whose output includes 15 masses and some 233 motets. Tota pulchra es is unusual among his motets because it features two independent texts sung simultaneously. Four voices sing a collation of verses from the Song of Songs (Old Testament), commonly repurposed for Marian devotion. The tenor voice – in the middle of the vocal texture – repeatedly declaims an intercession to St. Margaret (“Sancta Margaretha, ora pro nobis”). This short, memorable melody moves in slower notes than the other voices; its persistent repetition saturates the motet and stands out from the dense vocal textures surrounding it.

St. Margaret of Antioch converted to Christianity in her youth. Having been forced to leave her pagan home, Margaret lived as a shepherdess until the Governor of Antioch (in ancient Syria, now modern Turkey) tried to seduce her and take her as his bride, upon the condition that she renounced her Christian faith. After her refusal she was tortured cruelly and thrown into a dungeon, where Satan appeared to her in the form of a dragon and swallowed her whole. However, the cross that Margaret carried forced Satan’s stomach to expel her unharmed. She was subsequently martyred by beheading. The reference to the bride without “flaw” in the Song of Songs texts may signal the Virgin Mary or the mother church herself. However, it also resonates with the purity of St. Margaret, the virgin-martyr, and the Christian expectation that all the saints and martyrs would eventually achieve union with Jesus Christ. The recording here presents the first half of the motet.

Tota pulchra es amica meaEt macula non est in teVeni sponsa

Veni cara

Veni coronaberis.


Surge propera amica mea

Formosa mea

Columba mea

Veni coronaberis


Sancta Margaretha, ora pro nobis.

You are wholly beautiful, my love,and there is no flaw in you.Come by bride;

come dear one;

come, you will be crowned.


Arise and come away my love,

my fair one,

my dove.

Come, you will be crowned.


Saint Margaret, pray for us.


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