Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/13

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IMPROPERIA, i.e. 'The Reproaches.' A series of Antiphons and Responses, forming part of the solemn Service, which, on the morning of Good Friday, is substituted for the usual daily Mass of the Roman Ritual.

The text of the Improperia, written partly in Latin, and partly in Greek, is designed to illustrate the sorrowful remonstrance of our Lord with His people, concerning their ungrateful return for the benefits He has bestowed upon them. The touching words in which these remonstrances are expressed were originally sung to well-known Plain Chaunt melodies, preserved in the Graduale Romanum, and still retained in very general use, both in England, and on the Continent: but, since the Pontificate of Pope Pius IV, they have been invariably chaunted, in the Sistine Chapel, to some simple, but exquisitely beautiful Faux bourdons, to which they were adapted, by Palestrina, in the year 1560. In depth of feeling, true pathos, and perfect adaptation of the music to the sense of the words, these wonderful Improperia have never been exceeded, even by Palestrina himself. We may well believe, indeed, that he alone could have succeeded in drawing, from the few simple chords which enter into their construction, the profoundly impressive effect they never fail to produce; an effect so strictly in accordance with that of the solemn Ceremony with which they are associated that we can only hope to render the one intelligible by describing it in connexion with the other.

A small Crucifix having been laid upon the Altar Step, the Clergy, first, and afterwards the people, kneel down to kiss its Feet. While they are slowly approaching the Sanctuary, by two and two, for this purpose, the Improperia are sung, very softly, and without any accompaniment whatever, by two Antiphonal Choirs, which answer each other, by turns, in Greek, and Latin, sometimes in full Chorus, and sometimes employing the Voices of a few leading Choristers only, on either side. After the last 'Reproach,' and the Response which follows it, the two Choirs unite in singing the first Verse of the Psalm, 'Deus misereatur nostri,' preceded, and followed, by the Antiphon, 'Crucem tuam adoramus.' The Hymn 'Pange lingua' is then sung, entire, with the Verse, 'Crux fidelis,' divided into two portions, which are sung, alternately, between the other Strophes. It is the duty of the Maître de Chapelle to take care that this music occupies exactly the same time as the ceremony of 'Creeping to the Cross' (as it was formerly called, in England). Should there be but few people present, he is at liberty to omit any portion of it: should there be many, he may cause as much as he considers necessary to be sung over again.[1] In either case, when all present have kissed the Crucifix, the Candles on the Altar are lighted: a new Procession is formed: the Blessed Sacrament is carried, with great solemnity, from the Chapel in which it has been reserved since the Mass of Holy Thursday, to the High Altar, the Choir singing the Hymn, 'Vexilla regis,' as they precede it on its way: and the Service called 'The Mass of the Presanctified' then proceeds in accordance with directions contained in the Missal.

No printed copy of the Improperia was issued, either by Palestrina himself, or the assignees of his son, Igino. They were first published in London, by Dr. Burney; who, on the authority of a MS. presented to him by the Cavaliere Santarelli, inserted them, in the year 1771, in a work entitled 'La Musica della Settimana Santa,' which has now become very scarce. Alfieri also printed them among his Excerpta, published, at Rome, in 1840; and, in 1863, Dr. Proske included them in the fourth volume of his Musica

  1. Mendelssohn, who, in the year 1831, was much impressed, both by the music, and the Ceremony, laments, in his well-known letter to Zelter, that, the crowd not being very great, he had not an opportunity of hearing the Responses repeated so often at he could have wished.