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Christus factus est

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On his way back from the Villa Medici, Gounod stopped in Vienna. On 14 September 1842, he conducted his RomanSaint-Louismass at the Karlskirche. In celebration of the day’s Feast—the Exaltation of the Holy Cross—he replaced the original offertory with this motet for tenor or soprano and orchestra. The text is that of the Gradual which takes a sort of hymn from St Paul’s Epistle extolling the obedience of Christ who died on the cross and his heavenly glorification by his Father. It is followed by a Hallelujah: “Ô douceur du bois, des clous, du fardeau qu’ils portent : toi seule fus digne de porter le Roi des cieux, le Seigneur.” Anxious to adhere to a specifically religious mode of expression, as plain as truth and stirring in its restraint, Gounod focused on essentials. Were it not for the sombre mood of the initial lament, combining clarinets and bassoons, its suspension before the entry of the vocalist might be reminiscent of operatic writing. The equally archaistic first phrase, which makes full use of the flexibility of the 9/8 time signature, expresses Christ’s docility; as in Bellini’s work, the vocal line hovers around the mediant; the text seems to serve primarily as a base. The second phrase, on the contrary, over an ostinato bass line, suggests the authority of God the Father. The line swells until swathes of regular chords add strength to the harmonic progressions underpinning “super omne nomen”. The Hallelujah is the climax of the motet. It is followed by a long pedal in which the hypothetical gentleness of the wood and nails (douceur du bois, des clous) echoes, musically, that of an obedient Christ. The motet ends the same way as it started.


publication date : 25/09/23

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