Ut queant laxis

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First verse of the hymn (Gregorian chant)

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Ut queant laxis or Hymnus in Ioannem is a hymn in honour of John the Baptist written in Horatian Sapphics[1] and traditionally attributed to Paulus Diaconus, the eighth century Lombard historian. It is famous for its association with a Gregorian chant whose first six phrases each start on successive notes of the scale. The naming of the notes of the hexachord by the first syllable of each hemistich (half line of verse) of the first verse is usually attributed to Guido of Arezzo in the eleventh century, who is also sometimes proposed as the composer of the melody. The syllable "si", for the seventh tone, was added in the 18th century.

The musical origins of the hymn are less clear, but the melody shares a common ancestor with the eleventh-century arrangement of Horace's Ode to Phyllis (4.11) recorded in the Montpellier manuscript H425. In this melody, each of the first six musical phrases of each stanza of the hymn begins on a successively higher note of the hexachord, corresponding to the tone proposed by Guido of Arezzo, except the last line, Sancte Iohannes, which is an adonius after the three Sapphic hendecasyllables, breaking the ascending pattern. It is possible that the music was created by Guido of Arezzo himself or is just a re-use of a former melody.[2]

A version of Ut queant laxis

In the Roman Rite, the hymn is sung in the Divine Office on June 24, the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The full hymn is divided into three parts, with Ut queant laxis sung at Vespers, Antra deserti sung at Matins, O nimis felix sung at Lauds, and doxologies added after the first two parts.


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The first stanza is:

Ut queant laxis
resonare fibris,
Mira gestorum
famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti
labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

It may be translated: So that your servants may, with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds, clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John.

A paraphrase by Cecile Gertken, OSB (1902-2001) preserves the key syllables and the meter:

Do let our voices
resonate most purely,
miracles telling,
far greater than many;
so let out tongues be
lavish in your praises,
Saint John the Baptist.[3]

Ut is now mostly replaced by Do in solfège due to the latter's open sound, in deference to Italian theorist Giovanni Battista Doni.[4] The word "Ut" is still in use to name the C-clé. The seventh note was not part of the medieval hexachord and does not occur in this melody, and it was originally called "si" from "Sancte Ioannes".[citation needed] In the nineteenth century, Sarah Glover, an English music teacher, renamed "si" to "ti" so that every syllable might be notated by its initial letter. But this was not adopted in countries using fixed-do systems: in Romance languages "si" is used alike for B and B flat, and no separate syllable is required for sharp "sol".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stuart Lyons, Music in the Odes of Horace (2010), Oxford, Aris & Phillips, ISBN 978-0-85668-844-7
  2. ^ (French)Ut queant laxis in Encyclopédie Larousse
  3. '^ Gertken, Cecile: Feasts and Saints, 1981
  4. ^ McNaught, W. G. (1893). "The History and Uses of the Sol-fa Syllables". Proceedings of the Musical Association (London: Novello, Ewer and Co.) 19: 43. ISSN 0958-8442. Retrieved 2010-12-12. 

External links[edit]