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Entrance Antiphons – Peter Ollis
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The singing of the Scriptural antiphons at the Entry and at Communion was a problem even before the revisions of 1970. In its earlier days, the Society of St Gregory devoted much energy to teaching plainsong settings from the Liber Usualis, but there were still many parishes where all that could be managed was a psalm-tone (usually 8G), and even that was sung by the choir, not by the congregation. So when an alternative in the form of hymns was approved in the 1960s, it is not surprising that it soon became almost compulsory. Although some of these hymns were more or less free translations of psalms and other Scriptural texts, many were not, so that over the years there was a risk of some spiritual impoverishment. Recently there have been attempts to restore the balance, of which the latest is this serviceable series of settings by Peter Ollis of the complete entrance antiphons.
There is a certain irony about the texts. For the translation made by ICEL between 1986 and 1998, the Entrance and Communion antiphons were deliberately put into more or less regular rhythmical patterns (rather like the verses of the Grail Psalter and printed in that form), so that they were suitable for balanced musical phrasing and the same settings could easily be adapted from Sunday to Sunday. But this procedure, like much else in that version, was deemed to be pervasively erroneous and rejected in 2002 in favour of literal versions which are awkward to set and are not rhythmically interchangeable. So here, ingeniously, the actual antiphon becomes a verse or verses to be sung by a cantor, while the ‘refrains’ (also mostly Scriptural) have been added by the composer himself. And these turn out to be in more or less regular rhythmical patterns (rather like the verses of the Grail Psalter, though not printed in that form), so that they are suitable for balanced musical phrasing and the same settings can easily be adapted from Sunday to Sunday. There are one each for Advent, Christmas Eve and Christmas (all these to one setting); four for Lent (all to one setting); five for each of years A, B and C in Ordinary Time (fifteen different settings); and one each for Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Easter; Ascension, Pentecost and the other solemnities and major feast-days of the year.
The settings themselves are simple and tuneful, with a modal flavour. I particularly liked the refrains for Easter (‘The Lord is risen! Rejoice and be glad!’), Ordinary Time B1 (‘With joy I heard them say’), both of which would be effective with the reeds or a trumpet; and the melismatic and plainsongy Ordinary Time C2 (‘Hear me, faithful Lord’), though here ‘Bend down to’ might be better than ‘Bend to’, which puts a musical emphasis on the unimportant word ‘to’. My only reservation is that by treating the antiphon as a verse sung by the cantor these settings also lessen the weight given to it. In Ordinary Time, when many of the antiphons are interchangeable anyhow, that is not serious, but for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Eastertide I am less convinced that the emphasis comes where it should. But as things are, this is a workable and well-thought out solution to a long-standing problem.
Music and Liturgy Issue 359, Vol 42 No 3, January 2017