Libera plebem, Op.19 (1955)
O tristia secla priora, Op.32 (1959)
Solus ad victimam, Op.29. (1959)

  • 20 min

Programme Note

John Joubert: Three Motets - Pro Pace

My three motets, Pro Pace, though written at different times, form a triptych on the subject of peace. The first to be composed was Libera Plebem, composed for and first performed at the Attingham Park Summer School, 1955. The text is a 9th century Latin poem, in the form of a prayer for deliverance from the Black Death. The Black Death here stands for the threat of atomic annihilation - very real in my mind at that time. (Though the threat may be said to have receded somewhat since then, it nevertheless still remains).

The second motet, the last in order of composition, is a 10th century Latin lament for the day on which man first invented weapons for use against his own kind, and a protest against such use.

The final motet, the longest and most elaborate of the set, traces the Passion story from its sombre and tragic beginnings to its hopeful and triumphant end. It is a setting of a Latin poem by Peter Abelard, and its function in the triptych is to equate the victory of Christ's Passion with the eventual victory of non-violence.
© John Joubert

Libera Plebem

Libera plebem tibi servientem,
ira mitescat tua, sancte rector,
lacrimas clemens gemetiusque amaros
respice, Christe. Set free the people who serve thee,
Holy Ruler; assuage thine ire;
Look to their tears and bitter groans,
Merciful Christ.

Deleas nostrum facinus, precamur,
nosque conserva, benedicte princeps,
mentium furvas supera tenebras,
lux pia mundi. Wipe out our sin we pray thee;
And, blessed Prince, preserve us;
Disperse dark shadows from our minds,
Light of the world.

Sancte sanctorum, dominusque regum,
visitet plebem tua sancta dextra,
nos tuo vultu videas serenus,
ne pereamus.

(Sedulius Scottus, 9th Century) Blest of all blessed, King of Kings,
May thy holy right hand heal thy people,
May thy calm eyes lighten upon us,
Or else we perish.

(Translation by G. Hunter)

O Trista Secla Priora

O trista secla priora,
que vos docuere sepulcra
animisque parando nociva
bella fabricare pericla Which of you first, you ages past,
Found out this art of dying young?
Showed how, in wits new-kindled fire,
To forge the enormous pains of war?

Heu quis prior ille piator
qui cusor in arte gabrina
variavit in igne figuras,
cudens gladii male formas, Who was that first false celebrant,
Who at the Office of the anvil learned
To vary forms by means of flame,
And beat out swords to Hell's design?

Quis denique Martia primas
arcus volucresque sagittas
ignivit et edidit iras,
mortes stabilivit amaras? And who was next in primacy,
To find a shape for flying wrath,
Fashion the bow and arrow tips,
Stake down the bitterest form of death?

Qui spicula cudit in usus,
conflavit in incude funus;
lamne tenuavit et ictus,
ventris vacuaret ut hastus. Skill to turn spikes for use in war
Has made the forge a funeral pyre;
The flattened blade, beat out with pain
Is turned to disembowel men.

Docuit quoque cuspide mortem
qui duxit in ordine martem;
amiserat et quia mentem
umbre tenuere tumentem.

(Eugenius Vulgarius - 10th Century) Only to die upon the spear
He taught, who taught us shield's defence;
Wit seems to climb to sight of power,
But shadows hold the shattered brains.

(Translation by G. K. Hunter)

Solus ad Victimam Third Nocturne on the Vigil of Our Lord

Solus ad victimam procedis, Domine,
morti te offerens quam venis tollere:
quid nos miserrimi possumus dicere
qui quae commisimus scimus te luere? Alone the Victim-Lord goes forth to slaughter,
Stooping to Death, beneath whom Death must die;
And we, the fat offenders, how can we answer
The charge of sin Thou bearest slow away.

Nostra sung, Domine, nostra sunt crimina:
quid tua criminum facis supplicia?
quibus sic compati fac nostra pectora,
ut vel compassio digna sit venia. For ours, ah my God, the crimes are ours,
And as the criminal must Thou atone?
For this compel our hearts to suffer passion;
Suffering at last may make us stretch to pardon.

Nox ista flebilis praesensque triduum
quod demorabitur fletus sit verperum,
donec laetitiae mane gratissimum
surgente Domino sit maestis redditum. Make this a night of tears, a three-day-space
When weeping holds back time, darkened with Vespers,
Until the grateful morning give again
The joy of the rising Son to the sorrowing.

Tu tibi compati sic fac nos, Domine,
tuae participes ut simus gloriae;
sic praesens triduum in luctu ducere,
ut risum tribuas paschalis gratiae.

(Peter Abelard, 1079-1142) Make us to suffer so for Thee, my Lord,
That we with Thee may come to glory too,
Treading our triple night through such a gloom
As breaks to laughter of Grace on Easter morn.

(Translation by G. K. Hunter)