Sunday, April 4, 2010

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

In some traditions, the word Alleluia is not spoken during worship in Lent, making its return on Easter Sunday more significant. Easter hymns are therefore full of Alleluias, making up for lost time, so to speak (or sing). This one begins and ends with a triple Alleluia (actually, four in a row at the end).

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The strife is o'er, the battle done,
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun.

The powers of death have done their worst,
But Christ their legions hath dispersed:
Let shouts of holy joy outburst.

The three sad days are quickly sped,
Christ rises glorious from the dead:
All glory to our risen Head!

Christ closed the yawning gates of hell,
The bars from heaven's high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise his triumphs tell!

Christ! by the stripes which wounded thee,
From death's dread sting thy servants free,
That we may live and sing to thee.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Latin, 17th cent.
tr. Francis Pott, 1859; alt.
VICTORY (8.8.8. with Alleluias)
Giovanni da Palestrina, 1591
adapt. William H. Monk, 1861

This hymn which will be sung in many places today comes to us from a Latin Jesuit hymn printed in Symphonia Sirenum Selectarum (1695), though some sources claim it dates back as far as the twelfth century. The first Latin stanza was:

Finita jam sunt praelia,
Est parta jam victoria;
Gaudeamus et canamus,

John Mason Neale translated this text for one of his collections as:

Finished is the battle now;
The crown is on the Victor's brow!
Hence with sadness, sing with gladness,

and though he may have followed the rhythm and rhyme scheme better, I think everyone agrees that Francis Pott came up with the better verse in this case.

William H. Monk, in his capacity as musical editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), derived this tune for this text from a section of a longer choral work by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, probably the finest Italian composer of the sixteenth century. From the final Gloria Patri section of Palestrina's Magnificat tertii toni Monk took the first and second lines here, repeated the first line, and added the Alleluias. In some hymnals the triple Alleluia is used as a refrain, repeated after each stanza, but his intention was to use those only at the beginning and end. Maybe he thought that it was possible to sing too many Alleluias.

P.S. The Resurrection window above is from the Church of St. James the Lesser in the English village of Dorney, near Eton.

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