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Musical Musings: Easter

O filii et filiæ

H.T. Henry
Transcribed by W.G. Kofron
With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and Saint Mary's Church, Akron, OH

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.

The first line of a hymn celebrating the mystery of Easter. As commonly found in hymnals today, it comprises twelve stanzas of the form:

O filii et filiæ
Rex cælestis, Rex gloriæ
Morte surrexit hodie.

It was written by Jean Tisserand, OFM (d.1494), an eloquent preacher, and originally comprised but nine stanzas (those commencing with "Discipulis adstantibus," "Postquam audivit Didymus," "Beati qui non viderunt" being early additions to the hymn). "L'aleluya du jour de Pasques" is a trope on the versicle and response (closing Lauds and Vespers) which it prettily enshrines in the last two stanzas:

In hoc festo sanctissimo
Sit laus et jubilatio:
De quibus nos humillimas
Devotas atque debitas
DEO dicamus GRATIAS.–Alleluia.

The hymn is still very popular in France, whence it has spread to other countries. Guéranger's Liturgical Year (Paschal Time, Part I, tr., Dublin 1871 pp.190-192) entitles it "The Joyful Canticle" and gives Latin text with English prose translation, with a triple Alleluia preceding and following the hymn. As given in hymnals, however, this triple Alleluia is sung also between the stanzas (see The Roman Hymnal New York 1884 p.200). In Lalanne, "Recueil d'anciens et de nouveaux cantiques notés" (Paris 1886 p.223) greater particularity is indicated in the distribution of the stanzas and of the Alleluias. The triple Alleluia is sung by one voice, is repeated by the choir, and the solo takes up the first stanza with its Alleluia. The choir then sings the triple Alleluia, the second stanza with its Alleluia, and repeats the triple Alleluia. The alternation of solo and chorus thus continues, until the last stanza with its Alleluia, followed by the triple Alleluia, is sung by one voice.

It is scarcely possible for any one, not acquainted with the melody, to imagine the jubilant effect of the triumphant Alleluia attached to apparently less important circumstances of the Resurrection: e.g. Saint Peter's being outstripped by Saint John. It seems to speak of the majesty of that event, the smallest portions of which are worthy to be so chronicled (Neale, Medieval Hymns and Sequences 3rd ed. p.163).

The rhythm of the hymn is that of number and not of accent or of classical quantity. The melody to which it is sung can scarcely be divorced from the modern lilt of triple time. As a result, there is to English ears a very frequent conflict between the accent of the Latin words and the real, however unintentional, stress of the melody: e.g.: Et Máriá Magdálená, Sed Jóannés Apóstolús, Ad sépulchrúm venít priús, etc. A number of hymnals give the melody in plain-song notation, and (theoretically, at least) this would permit the accented syllables of the Latin text to receive an appropriate stress of the voice. Commonly, however, the hymnals adopt the modern triple time (e.g., the Nord-Sterns Führers zur Seeligkeit 1671; the Roman Hymnal 1884; Hymns Ancient and Modern rev. ed.). Perhaps it was this conflict of stress and word-accent that led Neale to speak of the "rude simplicity" of the poem and to ascribe the hymn to the twelfth century in the Contents-page of his volume (although the note prefixed to his own translation assigns the hymn to the thirteenth century). Migne, Dict. de Liturgie (s.v. Pâques, 959) also declares it to be very ancient. It is only very recently that its authorship has been discovered, the Dict. of Hymnology (2nd ed. 1907) tracing it back only to the year 1659, although Shipley (Annus Sanctus London 1884 p.23) found it in a Roman Processional of the sixteenth century.

The hymn is assigned in the various French Paroissiens to the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, on Easter Sunday. There are several translations into English verse by non-Catholics. The Catholic translations comprise one by an anonymous author in the Evening Office, 1748 ("Young men and maids, rejoice and sing"), Father Caswall's "Ye sons and daughters of the Lord" and Charles Kent's "O maids and striplings, hear love's story," all three being given in Shipley, Annus Sanctus. The Latin texts vary both in the arrangement and the wording of the stanzas; and the plain-song and modernized settings also vary not a little.

     GASTOUÉ, L'O filii, ses origines, son auteur in Tribune de Saint-Gervais, April, 1907, pp. 82-90, discusses the origin, authorship, text, melody; Hymns Ancient and Modern, historical edition (London, 1909), No. 146, Latin and English cento, comment.; MARCH, Latin Hymns with English Notes (New York, 1875) gives (p. 206) the Latin text with the same arrangement of stanzas as found in OULD, The Book of Hymns (Edinburgh, 1910), 33, and in the Liber Usualis (No. 700, Tournai, 1908), 67; a different arrangement is followed by The Roman Hymnal (p. 201); GUÉRANGER, Liturgical Year, Paschal Time, part I (Dublin, 1871), 190; Offices de l'Eglise (Reims-Cambrai ed., Paris, 1887), 202; LALANNE, Recueil (Paris, 1886), 223; Les principaux chants liturgiques conformes au chant publié par Pierre Valfray en 1669 in modern notation (Paris, 1875), 114; the Paroissien Noté (Quebec, 1903), 128, contains another arrangement. Where the same arrangement of stanzas is found, the texts have different readings; the works cited exhibit many variations in melody.

Transcribed by W.G. Kofron
With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and Saint Mary's Church, Akron, OH

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.

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