Musicus Online Museum

Hymn: Ut queant laxis

Hymn: Ut queant laxis (anon., 15th c.)

This hymn setting for three voices is taken from a late fifteenth-century manuscript from Verona, Italy containing music for the Mass and for the evening service of Vespers. The musical style of all sixteen hymns for Vespers in the Verona manuscript suggest that they may have been composed as early as the mid-fifteenth century. The Vespers liturgy included the singing of psalms, a Magnificat (Mary’s canticle), and a strophic hymn. Ut queant laxis was sung as a hymn on the feast of John the Baptist, celebrated annually on June 24.

The hymn melody used here dates from the eighth century. It is sung in an elaborate decorated version in the highest voice. The other two voices move more slowly underneath the top voice. Only the top two voices have the hymn text in the manuscript. This text arrangement is unusual for the period, but consistent throughout the manuscript. Some think that the contratenor part was to be played rather than sung, yet there is little evidence for such a practice. Such a solution is still attractive for Ut queant laxis; the untexted part has many wide leaps, which are not very comfortable to sing. This recording attempts to sing all three parts, however, which was the most likely tradition.

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
solve polluti labiis reatum,
sancte Joannes.Nuntius celso veniens Olympo,
te patri magnum fore nasciturum,
nomen, et vitae seriem gerendae,
ordine promit.

So that your servants may, with loosened voices,resound the wonders of your deeds,clean the guilt from our stained lips,O Saint John. 

A swift herald descending from the skies
bears to thy father

the promise of thy greatness,
his name and his future story.


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