Veni, Sancte Spiritus

SATB (divisi) a cappella

Recording credit: Premiere performance by Seattle Pro Musica
conducted by Karen P. Thomas in St. James Cathedral, Seattle, WA; May 2005

Click here for Order Form 


See score above for text and translation


When Karen Thomas approached me about a commission from Seattle Pro Musica to be written in part to celebrate the centennial of St. James Cathedral, I wanted to honor Seattle’s great spiritual and cultural institution by choosing a text that reflected its rich tradition and history, as well as the context in which the work would be premiered. When I found out that the premiere would be on the weekend of Pentecost and that it would share the program with Mozart’s monumental C-minor Mass, the “architectural context” for the work was clear to me. Thus, I decided on the text Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit), the great sequence used for the feast of Pentecost, and I decided to base the main musical material of the work on the opening melodic material from Mozart’s own Veni, Sancte Spiritus setting, which opens with the following pitch sequence: C-B, D-C, E-D-F-E-D-C. I filled out the balance of the scale with a chant-like melody of my own invention based on the remaining pitches G-A, C-B. Aside from one or two contrasting themes, most of the melodic material in the work is derived from Mozart’s descending step-wise motives and my own chant-like complement. I also borrowed two other elements from Mozart’s Veni setting: the C-major tonality (which serves as a complement to the C-minor tonality of the Great Mass) and the Alleluia-verse text.

While familiarizing myself with the two Veni, Sancte Spiritus texts, I also ran across a wonderful Veni, Sancte Spiritus prayer by St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (1566-1607), which amplifies the text of the sequence through its extraordinary litany of metaphorical references to the Holy Sprit. The Mozart text and the prayer by St. Mary Magdalene serve as “tropes” or interpolations in the text of the more well-known sequence, forming a bridge between the nihilistic references of the 6th stanza and the healing qualities of stanzas 7-10. Formally, the work opens with a prelude based on sections of the sequence text that focus on images of light  (ray of your light, light of hearts, light most blessed) and that musically represents the coming of the Holy Spirit as an image of light piercing the darkness. Following the prelude, the text of the sequence begins anew, eventually interrupted by the two Tropes: Mozart’s Alleluia-verse and St. Mary’s prayer, the latter of which forms the fast middle section of the work. The lyrical climax of the work begins with the text, “Lava quod est sordidum” (Cleanse what is sordid) and peaks at the text “Grant to your faithful, who trust in you, the Seven Sacraments.” The work ends peacefully on the words “perrene gaudium” (eternal joy).

– John Muehleisen, Lynnwood, WA (April 2005)