Sunday, 4 September 2016

Echoes and Traces

Apologies for the short notice, but tomorrow (Monday 5 September) at 7.30 p.m. in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, the Glasgow-based choir Cappella Nova will be performing eight new works inspired by the thirteenth-century song in honour of St Magnus, Nobilis humilis.

It is going to be great. Full details on the website of the project, which is called Echoes and Traces.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Happy Saint Magnus' Day ...

... according to the traditions of Roskilde in Denmark. Most places keep the Orkney martyr's feast on 16 April (the day of his death) and/or 13 December (the day his relics were translated), but Roskilde was one of the main centres of the Magnus-cult, and they celebrated him in summer.

My apologies for this blog's half-year of dormancy. I will shortly post a belated report on our April performances; and news of another choir's forthcoming Magnus-related concert in Kirkwall (link here if you can't wait to learn about this).

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Forthcoming performances

The Orkney Schola will sing parts of the reconstructed office of St Magnus at the following events:

On Thursday 14 April 2016, at 6 p.m. in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. A public lecture by Dr Barbara Crawford (University of St Andrews) on Seals in Medieval Orkney: communal and personal identity, as part of the Third International St Magnus Conference.

On Friday 15 April (the eve of St Magnus' Day), at 7.30 p.m. in the St Magnus Centre, Palace Road, Kirkwall. The launch of Alison Gray's new book George Mackay BrownNo Separation (Gracewing).

This is the first time any of this music will have been performed in public since 1560, so please come! Both events are open to all.

Friday, 26 February 2016

LA5 Fit mestis

Fifth psalm antiphon at Lauds in the office of St Magnus.

Fit mestis letítia, *
egris medicína,
Spes firma perículis,
salus in ruína.

There is joy for the sorrowful, 
medicine for the sick, 
firm hope for those in peril, 
rescue from ruin.

Click here for a practice recording.

Model: Tu per Thome (office of St Thomas). Recordings: Schola Hungarica (track 23); Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge (track 10; starts at 23'53").

Friday, 19 February 2016

LA4 Ferro vincti

Fourth psalm antiphon at Lauds in the office of St Magnus.

Ferro vincti mártyris *
ope relaxántur;
Naufragántes néxibus
mortis liberántur.

From irons the enchained are released
by the martyr’s aid;
the shipwrecked are delivered
from the clutches of death.

Click here for a practice recording. (Updated with a better version, 26/2/16.)

Model: Ad Thome memoriam (office of St Thomas). Recordings: Schola Hungarica (track 22); Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge (track 10; starts at 16'49").

Thursday, 28 January 2016

LA3 Surdi muti

Third psalm antiphon at Lauds in the office of St Magnus.

Surdi, muti, précibus *
Magni reparántur;
Claudis datur sánitas,
leprósi mundántur.

The deaf, the dumb are cured 
by the prayers of Magnus; 
health is given to the lame, 
lepers are cleansed.

Click here for a practice recording. A somewhat shaky recording, I fear; this mode 3 melody never goes quite where you expect it to, but these *are* the notes you're looking for. I'll upload a better version in due course.

Model: Aqua Thome (office of St Thomas). Recordings: Schola Hungarica (track 21); Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge (track 10; starts at 11'27").

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Modes Demystified

Click here for Francis Koerber's simple but brilliant demonstration of the eight 'church modes' and how they relate to major and minor scales.

Music plays after a few seconds, so look to your volume controls if you are at work!

"O tempora! o mores!" - O Times! O Daily Mirror!

There was an interesting article about St Thomas of Canterbury in The Times on Saturday, so I wrote them a letter about St Magnus, the 'Becket of the North'. I know they printed it because my wife's publisher saw it! I'm not a subscriber, however, and one doesn't often see a copy of the newspaper out in these parts, so if any Times-readers have a copy of the relevant issue, could you kindly let me know? Thanks.

I didn't write to the Daily Mirror, by the way; I just couldn't resist the Flanders & Swann allusion.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

LA2 Vir sanctus

Vir sanctus is the 2nd Psalm Antiphon at Lauds (hence LA2) in the office of St Magnus. There are two other antiphons in the office which also begin Vir sanctus, so the 'serial number' is useful for avoiding confusion.


Vir sanctus occíditur, *
cujus dant stupórem
Signa: cecos lúminant,
témperant furórem.


The holy man is killed, 
whose miracles cause astonishment: 
they enlighten the blind, 
they restrain madness.

Click here for a practice recording. 

Model: Totus orbis (office of St Thomas). Recordings by Schola Hungarica (track 20) and Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge (track 10; starts at 7'25").

LA1 Favus stillans

Favus stillans is the 1st Psalm Antiphon at Lauds (hence LA1) in the office of St Magnus.


Favus stillans frángitur, *
mellis dans dulcórem;
Mala queque fúgiunt
cujus per odórem.


The dripping honeycomb is broken, 
releasing the sweetness of honey; 
at whose scent 
all evils flee.

Click here for a practice recording. N.B. These recordings are rehearsal aids only; no claims are made for the quality either of the singing or of the recording!

The model for this antiphon was Granum cadit from the office of St Thomas of Canterbury. Recordings of Granum cadit [N.B. not from the same manuscript that I am using] can be found on the CDs by Schola Hungarica (track 19) and Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge (track 10; starts at 4'58"). See here for details of these recordings; the Schola Hungarica recording is on Spotify.

This is the first of a series of posts illustrating chants from the medieval liturgical office of St Magnus of Orkney. For this and subsequent excerpts from the office of St Magnus, I have established the text by collating all four pre-Reformation sources; however, I am indebted to Alan McQuarrie for his excellent edition of one version of the office in Legends of the Scottish Saints: Readings, hymns and prayers for the commemorations of Scottish saints in the Aberdeen Breviary (Four Courts, 2012), and I largely follow his punctuation of the texts. The translations, the setting of the texts to ancient melodies, the practice recordings, and any errors occuring in these posts, are my own.