Stephen Dufton

My favourite from the choir repertoire

There is often discussion on the back row about our favourite pieces in the repertoire.

Ray’s views are fairly predictable. If I like it, he doesn’t, and if I don’t like it, he does. Big Kev, who sits on the other side of me, has a different yardstick:  “soul”.  I argue with him that he can’t use this yardstick as he has been converted by Big Clive into a Dawkinist.

My favourite piece is  Ave Verum Corpus Natum.   I’m accustomed to hearing it during the Christian mass. Its effect is always the same: soulful, transcendental, overwhelming. The words are a sublime piece of medieval religious poetry written during the 14th century.  They sum up, in a very few words, the deep central mystery of the Christian faith:

Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine
Vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine
Cuius latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine
Esto nobis praegustatum in mortis  examine
O Iesu dulcis, o Iesu pie, o Iesu fili Mariae.

Hail, true Body, truly born of the Virgin Mary mild
Truly offered, wracked and torn, on the Cross for all defiled,
From Whose love pierced, sacred side
Flowed Thy true Blood’s saving tide:
Be a foretaste sweet to me
In my own death’s great agony.

O my loving, Gentle One,
Sweetest Jesus, Mary’s Son 

Have mercy on me…[2] 

The poem has been set to music many times, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s setting (K 618) is surely the greatest. It is only forty-six bars long and is scored for chorus, strings, and organ. Mozart’s manuscript contains minimal directions, with only a single sotto voce at the beginning. It is not even complete, lacking the last two verses of the poem. And yet it encompasses a universe of deep spiritual feeling in forty-six short bars.

Stephen Dufton