Vile Merchant - Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories

Cycled over to Norwich Cathedral last night for the Spy Wednesday evening Eucharist. Two things attracted me to go:

1. The well-loved poet Malcolm Guite was preaching at the Eucharist
2. The lovely Norwich Cathedral Chamber Choir were offering a musical meditation afterwards

I have to confess that I did not hear all of the sermon (if only Mrs Asher had been there to elbow me).

I did however, hear all of the amazing music offered:

Villette - Attende Domine
Poulenc - Quatre Motets pour un temps de Penitence
Victoria - Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday (1-6)

So taken with the music, I shared the programme /text / translation with friends. Their response was that the Victoria went too far in its depiction of Judas and The Jews, and could (today at least) be seen as anti-semitic.

In particular:

Judas, the vile merchant,
required a kiss from the Lord
who, like an innocent lamb,
did not deny the kiss to Judas.
Responsum
For a large amount of dinarii,
he betrayed Christ to the Jews.
Versus
It would have been better for him,
had he not been born.


This view took me by surprise.

Views?

Thanks

Asher



Comments

  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    Well, considering when it was composed, it's not surprising. I wonder if it would be acceptable to change a word here or there (assuming there were someone on staff with decent Latin)?

  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Framing Judas as a merchant is rather suspect - do we know Judas' occupation? I assumed he like the others was a fisherman. Certainly seems to paint him as Shylock, which is an anti-Semitic trope.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    We don't, so far as I understand it, know Judas's occupation, but they weren't all fishermen; Matthew, for example, was a tax collector. But I took "vile merchant" to mean that Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    I suspect ‘mercator’ may be a reference to Judas ‘selling’ Jesus rather than an occupational description. ‘Low trader’ or ‘worst kind of trader’ might be a better rendering in English of the gist of the Latin.
  • asherasher Shipmate
    Latin text (for those better educated than me - the English is in the top post:

    Judas mercator pessimus
    osculo petiit Dominum
    ille ut agnus innocens
    non negavit Iudae osculum.
    Denariorum numero
    Christum Iudaeis tradidit.
    Melius illi erat
    si natus non fuisset.

    The composer and organist Owain Park (who has set this text) offers the following reflection on 'mercator' on his (freely available) notes to his setting:

    The textual origins of Judas mercator pessimus lie in the Responsories of the Maundy Thursday tenebrae service. The text has only been set a handful of times by composers, most notably Gesualdo and Victoria. It is an amalgam of Gospel texts and images about Judas and Jesus, along with some questionable medieval translation of Judas' familial name 'Iscariot' as 'sachar', meaning 'mercenary' or 'merchant', considered apt given Judas' cupidity in selling Jesus for thirty coins. (available here)

    Regards

    Asher
  • Don't get me wrong, but this all sounds a bit esoteric.

    Surely, the events of Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Easter Day (however rendered liturgically) take precedence?
  • asherasher Shipmate
    Don't get me wrong, but this all sounds a bit esoteric.

    Surely, the events of Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Easter Day (however rendered liturgically) take precedence?

    <laughs> given some of the topics that are discussed here, I'll check my compass and heading.

    Of course Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are the focus. Our shack enjoyed footwashing/stripping to Bruckner and Allegri last night, and did a simpler 3 hour today (with just a few hymns).

    Looking forward to singing Messe solennelle (Vierne) for Easter day - with two organs. And some of it will offer our singing as a prayer for Notre Dame (the setting has historic links to Notre Dame).

    Best wishes

    Ahser
  • The Latin mercator can definitely have a pejorative connotation, which I really don't think the English "merchant" normally does.

    But pessimus doesn't really mean "vile." It means "the worst," possibly but not necessarily in moral terms. The most obvious translation would be "the worst of traders." One obvious interpretation of that would be, as Rossweisse said above, that Judas made a terrible trade -- taking 30 pieces of silver for something that was infinitely more valuable than that.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    Bruno Turner did a set of program notes for Westminster Cathedral Choir's recording of the Victoria responsories a while back, and made some comment to the effect that the texts don't always make perfect sense, but are remarkably effective nonetheless. There's a strange otherworldliness to some of the texts - the ones Victoria set as well as the other third of Responsories that other composers set - that is strangely compelling despite being not always easily parsable on normal Anglo-American principles of the textual interpretation. I suspect there are several levels of translation involved in many of the texts which creates levels of allusion that you wouldn't find in the original Hebrew or Greek.

    The Canadian composer Healey Willan set the remaining texts of the responsaries in English (by happenstance, the one third of the texts that Victoria did not set) and they are still sung throughout the three Tenebrae services at the Toronto parish (St. Mary Magdalene) he composed them for. One of the Holy Saturday responsaries (sung on Friday night) has a line from Lamentations, Englished as follows: "let tears run down like a river day and night; let not the apple of thine eye cease". In the original Hebrew apparently the "apple" of the eye just means the dark part of the eye, but Englished in this way it suggests additional meanings, a reference to Jerusalem itself, (formerly, Jeremiah suggests) "the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole world" that has fallen on hard times.

    The Tenebrae liturgies as a whole are actually a rather strange collection of highly allusive texts that I think aims to create a certain affect rather than to be read in a literal-minded way. Like a lot of Holy Week liturgical texts they are vulnerable to being interpreted in anti Semitic ways if read through a certain lense. I don't think that's the point though.
  • asherasher Shipmate
    Marsupial wrote: »
    Bruno Turner did a set of program notes for Westminster Cathedral Choir's recording of the Victoria responsories a while back, and made some comment to the effect that the texts don't always make perfect sense, but are remarkably effective nonetheless. There's a strange otherworldliness to some of the texts - the ones Victoria set as well as the other third of Responsories that other composers set - that is strangely compelling despite being not always easily parsable on normal Anglo-American principles of the textual interpretation. I suspect there are several levels of translation involved in many of the texts which creates levels of allusion that you wouldn't find in the original Hebrew or Greek.

    The Canadian composer Healey Willan set the remaining texts of the responsaries in English (by happenstance, the one third of the texts that Victoria did not set) and they are still sung throughout the three Tenebrae services at the Toronto parish (St. Mary Magdalene) he composed them for. One of the Holy Saturday responsaries (sung on Friday night) has a line from Lamentations, Englished as follows: "let tears run down like a river day and night; let not the apple of thine eye cease". In the original Hebrew apparently the "apple" of the eye just means the dark part of the eye, but Englished in this way it suggests additional meanings, a reference to Jerusalem itself, (formerly, Jeremiah suggests) "the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole world" that has fallen on hard times.

    The Tenebrae liturgies as a whole are actually a rather strange collection of highly allusive texts that I think aims to create a certain affect rather than to be read in a literal-minded way. Like a lot of Holy Week liturgical texts they are vulnerable to being interpreted in anti Semitic ways if read through a certain lense. I don't think that's the point though.

    Thank you. That's useful and thought provoking.

    Asher
Sign In or Register to comment.