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 Latin 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 part in the history of musical notation, in particular solmization. The hymn is sung to a Gregorian chant, the original "do-re-mi" music.

The chant is useful for teaching singing because of the way it uses successive notes of the scale, ut (replaced in modern solfège by do)–re–mi–fa–so–la. The first six musical phrases of each stanza of the hymn begin on a successively higher notes of the hexachord. 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. Guido, who was active in the eleventh century, is regarded as the father of modern musical notation. The hymn does not help with the seventh tone as the last line, Sancte Iohannes, breaks the ascending pattern. The syllable "si", for the seventh tone, was added in the 18th century.

It is not known who wrote the melody. Guido possibly composed it,[2] but he more likely used an existing melody. A variant of the melody appears in an eleventh-century musical setting of Horace's poem Ode to Phyllis (4.11) recorded in a manuscript in France.[3] The hymn uses classical metres: three Sapphic hendecasyllables followed by an adonius (a type of dimeter).

A version of Ut queant laxis

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 our tongues be
lavish in your praises,
Saint John the Baptist.[4]

Ut is now mostly replaced by Do in solfège due to the latter's open sound, in deference to Italian theorist Giovanni Battista Doni.[5] The word "Ut" is still in use to name the C-clef. 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".[2] 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".

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Liturgical use[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stuart Lyons, Music in the Odes of Horace (2010), Oxford, Aris & Phillips, ISBN 978-0-85668-844-7
  2. ^ a b (French) Ut queant laxis in Encyclopédie Larousse
  3. ^ This manuscript H425 is held in Bibliothèque de l'école de Médecine, Montpellier.
  4. '^ Gertken, Cecile: Feasts and Saints, 1981
  5. ^ 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]