Charlemagne Mass »In virtute tua«

The »Graduale Arnoldi« manuscript (Ms. G 13) in the Aachen Cathedral archives, so-called after its donator, a canon of Aachen, created in ca. 1200 and kept in Aachen, contains the oldest known transcript of the proprium chants of the Karlsmesse »In virtute tua«. A Graduale contains the chants of the Holy Mass. The orations and the texts to be read from the Holy Scripture on the Feast of Charlemagne, relating to the Divine Office and Holy Mass, are handed down in the form of ordinals, a psalter, a collectary, an epistolary and the »Florentine Missal« of the Church of St. Mary in Aachen. There are only few melodic variants in the different manuscripts of the Karlsmesse found in the Aachen Cathedral archives. Both ordinary and extraordinary form of the Roman Rite today use the common Mass of a Confessor »Os justi« instead.

The proprium chants of the Mass consist of Introitus (opening chant), Graduale (Latin: gradus = step (to the ambo)), Hallelujah Verse or Tract (Tract after Septuagesima (Pre-Lenten and Lenten seasons) - then the Hallelujah-Verse omitted), Sequence, Offertorium (sacrifice offering chant), Communio (Communion chant). The Karlsmesse sequences and the three Karlsmesse orations (prayers for the day) are created especially for this feast. The remaining chants, also anonymously composed, and existing since time immemorial for other saints’ feast days, are combined here in a new way to evoke the stature of Charlemagne, behind whose image, however, Christ himself ultimately appears. The leitmotif of the Karlsmesse is provided by Psalm 21, a »royal psalm«, which originally belongs to the preexilic Jerusalem Temple Cult and the ritual of the royal court in Jerusalem. Significant here is the key linear connection, which is established between the Old Testament Kingdom of the Israelites and the Christian sublime sacral Medieval Empire (»conregnator Christi«), both of which have their transcendental origin in God. The texts of Psalm 21 praise a clever, wise, god-fearing, just yet merciful ruler, strong of faith, a king chosen by God, who partakes in God’s work of salvation on earth. Charlemagne thus bears a precious, earthly and – by the same token – heavenly crown. His kingdom represents a source of blessing for all, which is the reason for praise and thanks on the part of the faithful. The just king also appears as intercessor and intermediary before the Lord, as expressed in the three orations of the Karlsmesse. The statement linking all the Karlsmesse texts is that of the correct way to experience and live based on faith, expressed in the metaphor of light. The Gospel pericope is taken from the Mass service for the former Roman officer and St. Bishop and confessor Martin of Tours (ca. 316-397), the patron saint of the Merovingian Franconian Empire, whose cape (Latin: cappa) is part of the crown jewels of Frankish kings since the Merovingian period.

The »Graduale Arnoldi«, which does not make reference yet to the Feast of Corpus Christi first celebrated in Liège in 1246, also contains the oldest hand-written evidence of the famous Karlssequenz »Urbs Aquensis, urbs regalis«. The structure and melody of this sequence bears a strong similarity to the Corpus Christi sequence »Lauda Sion« composed subsequently as well as the sequence on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross »Laudes crucis attolamus« contained in the same manuscript. The latter is probably the common template of the first two mentioned. In contrast to the text of the traditional Gregorian Chant, sequences represent rewritings. Their wording is thus not taken from the Holy Scripture. The sequence (Latin: sequentia = sequence, basic musical form: aabbcc etc.) is originally the Latin wording of the often extremely drawn-out final melisma of the Hallelujah verse, the so-called »Jubilus«. It develops into a separate genre within the Mass of important feasts. The Karlssequenz »Urbs Aquensis, urbs regalis« is probably created in Aachen as early as the period between 1165 and 1170, i. e. directly following the canonisation of Charlemagne. Together with its jubilant canticle of the entire church to the city of Aachen and – in particular – to its founder Charlemagne, it belongs to the musical highlight of the Karlsmesse and claims top place amongst all the hymns and sequences composed to the Emperor Saint. As a variation of the first verse, it is also sung in Zurich and Frankfurt am Main.

The text of the Karlssequenz for the Octave celebration »In Karoli magni laude« probably has its origin in Aachen. The melody is a variant of the Marian sequence widespread in Europe »Hodierne lux diei« from the 11th century that is also created in Aachen. Significant here is the manifest musical-textual connection between Charlemagne and Mary, Mother of God, in whose honour he has built the Palatine Chapel in Aachen. In this sequence, the praising community is particularly circumscribed and emphasised: it is the Aachen »Regalis Ecclesia«. The oldest known transcript of the Karlssequenz »In Karoli magni laude» for the Octave celebration is also to be found in the »Graduale Arnoldi«. The newly composed chants for the Karlsmesse are sung on the audio recording corresponding to this manuscript.

Text: © Dr. Michael Tunger 2013
Photo: © Edition SINFONIA SACRA e.V.: Karlsmesse in Aachen 2014