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Rorate Coeli desuper

Murray on Saltspring 10 Dec 06 - 12:33 AM
Joe Offer 10 Dec 06 - 01:08 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Dec 06 - 02:49 PM
Peace 10 Dec 06 - 03:11 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Dec 06 - 04:43 PM
MaineDog 10 Dec 06 - 04:55 PM
Murray on Saltspring 10 Dec 06 - 05:24 PM
T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) 10 Dec 14 - 10:51 PM
Joe Offer 10 Dec 14 - 11:39 PM
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Subject: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Murray on Saltspring
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 12:33 AM

The words of "Rorate coeli desuper" in the Oxford Book of Carols are by the great Scots makar Dunbar, set to "a little-known Scottish melody". The identification of this unnamed tune has bothered me for years. Any ideas? I did think it was maybe a descant on a well-known tune like Corn Riggs, but that doesn't quite work.


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 01:08 AM

Hi, Murray - until I looked in the Oxford Book of Carols, I would have said Rorate was a Gregorian chant for Advent and wondered what you were talking about. The original Rorate is indeed that, a Latin rendition of Isaiah 45:8, "Drop down dew, ye heavens from above; and let the clouds rain forth the just one" (Rorate coeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum). But of course you're right, Murray. I was going to scan and post the Dunbar lyrics, but I fund them online on this page: http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/jek/12/25.html. Here's the text:

Poem for Christmas Day:

What follows is a selection of stanzas from a Christmas poem by William Dunbar (Scotland, 1460-1520). I have modified the spelling and changed a few words. Here are a few footnotes in advance:

  • RORATE, COELI DESUPER = "Drop dew, ye heavens, from above." It is the opening of an ancient hymn about the Nativity.
  • PRO NOBIS PUER NATUS EST = "is born as a child for us."
  • ET NOBIS PUER NATUS EST = "and is born as a child for us."
  • GLORIA IN EXCELSIS (DEO) = "Glory (to God) in the highest."
  • Phoebus (= "FEE-bus") = the sun.

I have heard it sung to a double quatrain of "Old 104th" alternating with a double quatrain of "Veni Creator," both in very free rhythm, and with the "Veni" starting and ending one tone lower than the "Old CIV". (Check the Index of Tunes in your hymnal.)

And now the poem.

RORATE COELI DESUPER,
   Heavens, distill your balmy showers,
For now is risen the bright day star
   From the rosemary, flower of flowers.
   The clear sun, whom no cloud devours,
Surmounting Phoebus in the East,
   Is come down of his heavenly towers
ET NOBIS PUER NATUS EST.

Archangels, angels, dominations,
   Thrones, powers, and heaven's militia here,
And all the heavenly operations,
   Star, planet, firmament and sphere,
   Fire, earth, air, and water clear,
To him give loving most and least
   Who comes to bring us love and cheer
ET NOBIS PUER NATUS EST.

Sinners, be glad and penance do,
   And thank your maker heartfully;
For he that ye might not come to
   Comes to you in humility,
   Your souls with his own blood to buy
And loose you of the fiend's arrest,
   And only of his own mercy
PRO NOBIS PUER NATUS EST.

Sing, heaven imperial most of height.
   Regions of air, make harmony.
All fish of flood and fowl of flight,
   Be mirthful and make melody.
   All GLORIA IN EXCELSIS cry,
Heaven, earth, sea, man, bird, and beast.
   He that is throned above the sky
PRO NOBIS PUER NATUS EST.



Here's my MIDI transcription from the Oxford Book of Carols.

Click to play


I shouldn't have taken the time - there's a much better transcription of the tune at Cyberhymnal.org - but they don't know much about the origins of the song and nothing about the tune.


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:49 PM

Joe, the poem is much better declaimed than sung. Hearing it done in the language of Dunbar leaves one open-mouthed (if not in complete understanding).

ON THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST

RORATE coeli desuper!
Hevins, distil your balmy schouris!
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
That come in to so meik maneir;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
To you is cumin full humbly
Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest-
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
To him that is of kingis King:
Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
Him honouring attour all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
In wirschip of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
Regiond of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
Be mirthful and mak melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird and best,-
He that is crownit abone the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

schouris- showers; Ph[o]ebus- the Sun; dompnationis- those who dominate; cumin- come, entered; seir- various; lest- least; synnaris- sinners; benyng- benign; degest- digest; attour- over, above; firthis- brushy fields; Aurora- Dawn; perst- pierced; rute- route; raiss- rose, arise; armony- harmony; best- beast. The ending -is is plural.

William Dunbar (1465-1420?) was a Court poet and Franciscan monk. His poem, "Timor mortis conturbat me" is perhaps his best (pers. opinion).
"On the Nativity of Christ" from Quiller-Couch, The Oxford Book of English Verse; www.bartleby.com/101/20.html
On the Nativity of Christ


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Peace
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 03:11 PM

The phrase "Timor Mortis Conturbat Me" predates Dunbar. John Lydgate wrote a peom by that name.


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 04:43 PM

The phrase has been used by several writers; the Dunbar poem is the one of which I speak. The title "Lament for the Makers," perhaps is most used but I think many remember it from English lit. courses as "Timor..." (see http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/769.html). It is probable that Dunbar knew the Lydgate poem.

It should be noted that Dunbar seems to have taken his inspiration for "On the Nativity of Christ (Rorate coeli desuper)" from the old chant "Rorate coeli."

No luck on the 'Scottish' tune. The church meeting hall piano midi at Cyberhymnal, pounded out offensively, is miserable.
Listen to the carefully wrought playing of the tune (clip only) by David Miller on his cd "Quiet Christmas." Track 11. Celestial!
www.crystalclarity.com/product.php?code=MQC


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: MaineDog
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 04:55 PM

The Baltimore Consort has a wonderful version on their Bright Day Star CD, Custer LaRue singing.
The tune also makes for a good Scottish Strathspey.
MD


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Murray on Saltspring
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 05:24 PM

It may make a good strathspey, but it's closer to being a slow reel, or march - more technically a Scots Measure. My quarrel with Custer LaRue's performance is that she doesn't do it in Old Scots. Q is quite right, it's a magnificent thing declaimed in Scots. But the tune is quite haunting [and well done by David Miller] - and I can only wonder at the reticence or coyness or whatever of the OBC editor [Martin Shaw?], who, mind you, does not claim to have composed it.


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)
Date: 10 Dec 14 - 10:51 PM

The air is "Strily Vale" by James Oswald (1710-1769) and was published on page 5 of his Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book 2nd issued in the 1740s or thereabouts.

CaledonianPocket Companion at imslp.

Caledonian Pocket Companion at Internet Archive


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Subject: RE: Rorate Coeli desuper
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Dec 14 - 11:39 PM

Bingo!
....and it's nice to see you around these parts again, Okiemockingbird. Merry Christmas!
-Joe-


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