Canticle of the Sun
The Canticle of the Sun, also known as the Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures), is a religious song composed by Saint Francis of Assisi. It was written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian but has since been translated into many languages. It is believed to be among the first works of literature, if not the first, written in the Italian language.
The Canticle of the Sun in its praise of God thanks Him for such creations as "Brother Fire" and "Sister Water". It is an affirmation of Francis' personal theology as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to Mankind, rejected material accumulation and sensual comforts in favor of "Lady Poverty".
Saint Francis is said to have composed most of the canticle in late 1224 while recovering from an illness at San Damiano, in a small cottage that had been built for him by Saint Clare and other women of her order. According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was by Francis and Brothers Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions, on Francis' deathbed, the final verse praising "Sister Death" having been added only a few minutes before.
A legend which emphasizes the topos of "brightness" says he did not write himself the Canticle because of his blindness from an eye disease, but he dictated it and he did it looking at Nature through the eye of mind.
Father Eric Doyle wrote: “Though physically blind, he was able to see more clearly than ever with the inner eye of his mind. With unparalleled clarity he perceived the basic unity of all creation and his own place as a friar in the midst of God’s creatures. His unqualified love of all creatures, great and small,had grown into unity in his own heart. He was so open to reality that it found a place to be at home in his heart and he was at home everywhere and anywhere. He was a centre of communion with all creatures”.
Historically, the "Canticle of the Sun" is first mentioned in the Vita Prima of Thomas of Celano, in 1228.
Text and Translation
Original text in Umbrian dialect:
Altissimu, onnipotente bon Signore,
Ad Te solo, Altissimo, se konfano,
Laudato sie, mi Signore cum tucte le Tue creature,
Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora Luna e le stelle:
Laudato si, mi Signore, per frate Uento
Laudato si, mi Signore, per sor'Acqua,
Laudato si, mi Signore, per frate Focu,
Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora nostra matre Terra,
Laudato si, mi Signore, per quelli ke perdonano per lo Tuo amore
Beati quelli ke 'l sosterranno in pace,
Laudato si mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale,
Laudate et benedicete mi Signore et rengratiate
Notes: so=sono, si=sii (you are), mi=mio, ka=perché, u replaces v, sirano=saranno
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
Happy those who endure in peace,
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
The American composer Amy Beach (1867–1944) set the Canticle to music for organ or orchestra, choir, and solo vocal quartet, in 1924. The piece was first performed with organ in 1928 at St. Bartholomew's in New York. The orchestral version was first performed by the Chicago Symphony and the Toledo Choral Society in 1930.
Leo Sowerby (1895–1968) set Matthew Arnold's English translation of the Canticle for chorus and orchestra in 1945; the work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music the following year. The first performance was in New York at Carnegie Hall by the Schola Cantorum and the New York Philharmonic in 1945. The first recording of it by Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus under Carlos Kalmar was released in June 2011.
Charles Martin Loeffler (1861–1935) set a modern Italian translation of the original Umbrian dialect text for soloists and chamber orchestra ca. 1929 which was performed in the same 1945 Carnegie Hall concert as Sowerby's setting.
Franz Liszt (1811–1886) composed several pieces titled "Cantico del sol di Francesco d'Assisi" with versions for solo piano and orchestra.
Roy Harris (1898–1979) composed a setting for soloists and a large ensemble in 1961. Seth Bingham (1882–1972) made a setting in 1962.
Another setting of the canticle of the sun, titled Cantico del sole was composed by William Walton (1902–1983) in 1974 for the Cork International Choral Festival.
Sofia Gubaidulina gives the following outline of the formal sections:
- Glorification of the Creator, and His Creations - the Sun and the Moon
- Glorification of the Creator, the Maker of the four elements: air, water, fire and earth
- Glorification of life
- Glorification of death
Though she notes that the cellists 'abandonment' of his or her instrument actually divides the piece in two.
An overtone row played on the C string is used, after which the cellist tunes the string down to the lowest note possible on the instrument, plays near the bridge, on the bridge with a snare drum stick, behind the bridge, and then on the tailpiece. The cellist then puts down the instrument, playing on a bass drum, and then on a flexatone with a bass bow before returning to the cello.
The piece has been recorded and released on:
- The Canticle of the Sun (1997) and Music for Flute, Strings, and Percussion (1994). The first performed by cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and London Voices conducted by Ryusuke Numajiri, the second by flutist Emmanuel Pahud and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rostropovich. Gubaidulina attended the recording of both pieces.
The piece has been recorded and released on:
- Amy Beach: Canticle of the Sun (1998) by the Capitol Hill Choral Society, conducted by Betty Buchanan (Albany Records). Source: Liner notes by Betty Buchanan.
The acclaimed Spanish composer, Joaquin Rodrigo, composed a piece to the words in Spanish of the Canticle, for choir and orchestra in 1982: Cantico de San Francisco de Asis.
Perhaps the best known version in English is the hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" which contains a paraphrase of Saint Francis' song by William H. Draper (1855–1933). Draper set the words to the 17th Century German hymn tune "Lasst Uns Erfreuen", for use at a children's choir festival some time between 1899 and 1919.
Laudes Creaturarum has also been set to music by German composer Carl Orff.
- . Accessed 2010-10-08.
- http://www.womenpriests.org/honour/doyle_a.asp Fr Eric Doyle OFM.
- http://www.amazon.com/St-Francis-Song-Brotherhood-Sisterhood/dp/1576590038 St. Francis and the Song of Brotherhood and Sisterhood, by Eric Doyle, Publisher: Franciscan Inst Pubs (January 26, 2012).
- Lyrics to the Canticle at Prayer Foundation.
- Alternative Translation
- Umbrian Version 1
- Umbrian Version 2
- 101 Hymn Stories
- Invitation to Italian Poetry