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Choral et Fugue sur le thème du Pange Lingua — for organ & opt. strings (R. B.)
  • Choral et Fugue sur le thème du Pange Lingua — for organ & opt. strings (R. B.)


    "Pange Lingua" is a Latin, plainchant Eucharistic hymn in the Phrygian mode that was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Vespers of Corpus Christi — but is also used as one of the hymn tunes at the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Repository altar on Holy Thursday. The chant is, to this day, widely regarded as one of the great seven hymns of the Catholic Church. The hymn Pange Lingua, the text of the chant, translates to "Proclaim, [My] Tongue," and is sung after the mass, at the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, wherein the text of the hymn honors the Word-made-Flesh of Christ. The hymn's last two stanzas, which are sung upon the Benediction of the Sacrament, comprise the ever-praising "Tantum Ergo," which stands in Latin for "Therefore, So Great." Interestingly, these words of the whole Pange Lingua are divided into six trochaic verses — sets of six lines, each stanza utilizing alternate triple rhyming — something that actually set a new lyrical precedent within medieval hymnody. The rhythm of the chant itself, like many early Latin hymns of the Catholic Church, is said to have originated from a marching song of Caesar's Legions, thus giving it that triumphant, burgeoning, war-like quality that I, and many composers who have quoted the Pange Lingua before, aim to reflect in our music.

    This s a Chorale and Fugue that I composed the Spring 2020 "Lockdown" semester at Manhattan School of Music, where I graduated with my Masters'. I was fortunate to take a class in organ/service playing with Dr. Ray Nagem, the assistant music director for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. When the class shifted to remote, our course study became geared more towards historically informed arrangements of hymnody, including Gregorian Chant. My composition is, by no means, a standard harmonization, but it is directly informed by a historical study of Gregorian Chant harmony as well as the French Fugue style.

    My piece, "Chorale and Fugue on a Theme of 'Pange Lingua'," begins with a simple and short Chorale that aims simply to present a harmonization of the full Latin chant. Immediately after, however, the movement divulges fully into a four-voiced fugue in F Phrygian mode, as you'd expect, and the subject of the fugue itself is based on the first two phrases of the Gregorian Chant. As you will hear, the first entrance begins in the bass, the second entrance in the tenor (with an unorthodox but deliberate two-part counterpoint presented in the bass against the tenor entrance), and then the subsequent addition of the alto voice, which finally, after a somewhat extensive episode, gives way to the entrance of the soprano. The fugue itself presents completely derivative material of the Pange Lingua chant that is developed and quoted at various junctures, as well as extricated from one somewhat foreign tonal center in the exposition (the beginning) to another tonal center, more relevant to F Phrygian mode at the end, thus hopefully invoking some sort of satisfying conclusion when the piece finally renders its subject and thematic material in its home key.

    The orchestration itself is sufficient on organ alone, but allows for optional full strings should you wish.

    I do hope that this piece enriches your solemnity of the Blessed Sacrament if even in some small way. Thank you for listening, and God Bless!
    Robert Buonaspina, June 2020


    For more info, view it at the online catalog here!

    Premiered June 14, 2020 as part of the "Tuesdays at 6" Concert Series at St. John the Divine Church, NYC.

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