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Trinitatem reserat aquila

Neumatized sequence: Trinitatem reserat aquila


This sequence honoring St. John the Evangelist presents a newer melodic and textual style than most sequences in this exhibition. The wide-ranging and ornate melody, with its unusually large leaps, was probably written in the twelfth century. Over twenty variants of the melody exist, but all have a similarly florid surface. It is probable that the text was newly composed with the melody; it presents a number of important images associated with St. John, the foremost  gospel writer. John, whose symbol was the eagle, soars into heaven, where only he has the acuity to fully perceive the divine mysteries of all creation. According to ninth-century theologian, Alcuin, John “beheld, with a most acute and powerful mind, the Word in the beginning, God issuing from God, light from light.” The eagle is associated with John because “of all birds, the eagle flies the highest…he alone dares to fix his gaze on the rays of the sun.”

A thirteenth-century source from the Abbey of St. Arnulf of Metz gives unique performance directions for this sequence, prescribed for the principal mass in honor of St. John the Evangelist. Three or four brothers (“fratres”) were instructed to stand behind the altar to sing the Alleluia of the mass, followed by the sequence Trinitatem reseret aquila.The choir would then respond with textless repetitions after selected verses, according to the cantor’s preference. This flexibility of neumatization practice is followed in the recording here.