One of the best parts about Easter? The music! So much joyful, triumphant music! In this post, I’m going to introduce you to an ancient chant that transitions us from the somber Holy Saturday to the exultant Easter Sunday:
This beautiful sequence is sung before the High Mass of Easter Sunday at our chapel. The text was written by Venantius Fortunatus in the sixth century, and the melody is Gregorian chant. Listen to a sample in the YouTube video below.
The translation of the chorus (refrain) is:
Hail, festal day, venerable of all ages
By which God conquers hell and holds the stars.
What you heard was monks singing without an organ accompaniment, but not all choirs are capable of singing a cappella and staying in the same key, verse after verse. Two well-known composers who made harmonizations for many, if not all, of the sequences are Achille Bragers and Carlo Rossini. But neither of them wrote an organ accompaniment for Salve Festa Dies. The reason is a mystery to me, but it challenged me to search for other accompaniments. I didn’t have much luck, as you’ll see later.
Before going on, here is the score for the Gregorian chant, if you’d like to try singing it: (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
When I was asked a couple years ago to play Salve Festa Dies at our church, I had a hard time finding an accompaniment. Corpus Christi Watershed has one available, and if you’re interested, you can view it here.
Some of the religious did not like the chords that were chosen in that arrangement, however, so I tried to write one more to their taste. This is the result, and it’s a work in progress. I am an amateur at Finale (the music notation program I use), so I was not able to figure out how to write it in free form. The verse that I have is one that is not shown in the image above, and that’s why I chose it…might as well give you more verses to sing!
Latin text of the first six verses:
Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo
Qua Deus infernum vicit et astra tenet
Ecce renascentis testatur gratia mundi
Omnia cum Domino dona redisse suo (Refrain)
Namque triumphanti post tristia tartara Christo
Undique fronde nemus gramina flore favent (Refrain)
Qui crucifixus erat Deus, ecce per omnia regnat
Dantque Creatori cuncta creata precem (Refrain)
Christe, salus rerum, bone Conditor atque Redemptor
Unica progenies ex Deitate Patris (Refrain)
Qui genus humanum cernens mersisse profundo
Ut hominem eriperes es quoque factus homo (Refrain)
Funeris exsequias pateris vitae auctor et orbis
Intras mortis iter dando salutis opem (Refrain)
There are more verses! (21 in total, I believe!) If you are interested in reading the complete text, AND the translation, please visit this page on Catholic Culture.
Have a Blessed Easter!