Saturday, 28 October 2017


Gregorio Allegri wrote his Miserere for the service of Tenebrae, to be performed in the Sistine Chapel. The service gets its name from the hour when it's sung – twilight – although the music itself is far from TENEBRAL.
Incidentally, I wonder whether the service of Tenebrae  was already commonly referred to as "Evensong" before the Reformation. I've just watched a fascinating programme on BBC Four: Lucy Worsley's Elizabeth I's Battle for God's Music, that detailed the invention of the service of Evensong based on John Merbecke's setting of the Book of Common Prayer (that's a gross [and possibly mistaken] over-simplification: it was all very confused).

But at the beginning of the programme (8 minutes in), she reads – and points out in the manuscript – an eye-witness account of the dissolution of the monastery of Evesham in 1539. And in that account the monk uses the term Evensong: 

I don't know enough about manuscripts to judge for certain whether  the E is capitalized: the first e of Evensong looks bigger than the second, but smaller than the E of Evesham (in the first hand-written line). It is clearly one word though – which suggests that it was a Thing.
There is a story about Mozart and the secretive Vatican rules that kept the music undocumented – protected, one might say, not so much by copyright but by papa-right.As Wikipedia says:
According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), fourteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was visiting Rome when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Less than three months after hearing the song and transcribing it, Mozart had gained fame for the work and was summoned to Rome by Pope Clement XIV, who showered praise on him for his feat of musical genius and awarded him the Chivalric Order of the Golden Spur on July 4, 1770.
Various embellishments have been added;  "At some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music" as that article puts it; no wonder that page comes with the stern warning/plea:

The version I was sold at school was "it had never been written down, but Mozart's version, after a second visit to the Sistine Chapel was note-perfect".

Well... Let me just....hmm..? I'm sure Mozart's piece was wonderful, and his memory remarkably accurate. But, if nobody had written it down, how could anyone judge its accuracy? One could surely rely on the Vatican authorities to claim Mozart‘s version as their own.

I mention this piece because it will form part of our Remembrance Concert in two weeks.

But it is not the mainstay of the concert; that is the choral suite from  Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, which has most of the good bits from the work originally commissioned (Wikipedia again) the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebrations, to mark the museum's move from London to Leeds
It was there (the Royal Armouries at Leeds) that I started one of my earlier posts. Strange how one keeps stubbing one's toe on these Aha moments. 
When we sang the whole piece some years ago, the only movement that struck me (apart from the choral suite, that is) was the song that gives the whole piece its name: L'homme armé.

Apart from this there are some lovely reflective pieces by composers  from Mendelssohn to Tavener, with many other gems  along the way.

Give it a go. Hurry, while stocks last.


PS Here are a couple more clues:
  • He improvised frantically, but without a bean.(12)
  • Causing a ruckus about tale I have first, making up the numbers for profit.(8, 10)
Update: 2017.10.30.16:45 – Added inline PS.

Update: 2017.10.31.12:05 – Added afterthought in red.

Update: 2017.11.07.10:55 – Added PPS.

Less than a week now to our next concert. One of the pieces on the programme that I haven't mentioned yet is In Paradisum from Fauré's Requiem. Some time ago, preparing to sing this piece, I wrote:
In can mean many things in Latin, but when followed by a noun in the accusative it doesn't mean 'in'. If the words were In Paradiso they would mean 'In Paradise'; but they are In Paradisum ... going on ...deducant Angeli : 'Angels will lead you into Paradise...' One of many other meanings of in, this time followed by the dative, is exemplified in the next phrase: in tuo adventu: that's closer to 'in' in meaning, with a sense something like 'on the occasion of', though I'd favour a simpler translation: 'When you arrive...'.
It is a lovely piece that  most people know, even if they can't place it. Knowing Lennon & McCartney's tendency to borrow from "classical" favourites (there are those metaphorical tweezers again – I'm seldom at ease with the phrase "classical music")...
It has been widely reported that the song Because was inspired by someone in the recording studio playing the easier bit of Moonlight Sonata.
</beatles_factoid> seems to me possible that the introductory bars (of In Paradisum) were at the back of someone's mind when they wrote the harp introduction to "She's Leaving Home".

Anyway, no time for more – I have words to learn for Saturday.


And here are three more clues:
  • A-courting we will go, in disarray, "Upon St Crispin‘s Day"?.(9)
  • Charm is a recipe for winning friends and influencing people.(8)
  • Reportedly misbehave at beginning of soirée, but be brilliant, (11)

Update: 2018.03.23.1555 – Added P4S


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The lesser of the two weevils

The Académie Française takes a dim view of écriture inclusive – the proposed script reform that attempts to make French gender-neutral in spite of itself. The Times last week referred to a "mid punctuation  point", a glyph that French keyboards are soon to include. And they gave as an example cher⋅es amies [HD: their impoverished fonts presumably don't go as far as an è]. You can sidestep the Infernal Firewall by looking at this Indie article.

Their one English academician, Sir Michael Edwards, calls the result "gibberish"  – missing the point rather  (écriture – the clue's in the name); I don't think the words with the mid punctuation point are supposed to be read aloud – any more than the solidus is supposed to be read aloud in our "his/her". It just lets the reader's mind skip over the gender variation without missing a beat. So when the university of Nancy addressed imminent graduates as Futur⋅es diplômé⋅es it was simply doing them the courtesy of accepting that they might be of either gender, rather than, as heretofore, even in a class of 99 diplômées and a single diplômé, addressing them all as men.
Perhaps those more sexist times should be evoked as "as hisetofore". He is certainly to the fore.
One sententious self-important windbag, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, speaking on Europe 1 Radio, denounced it as "an attack on syntax by egalitarianism". 
Generally, I've noticed that people who complain about "an attack on <abstract_noun>" tend to be blowhards.
But language  is pretty insidious stuff. George Orwell (pace David Crystal, as I've said before) was right on the money when he warned about the influence of language on political power; Big Brother and Donald Trump have a lot in common: if something you want to be true isn't, say it is and keep saying it. If the existence of someone in history doesn't suit your politics, make them an unperson; people will stop talking about them if their identity has been erased... If you want to change a social reality, changing language is a good place to start.

And one system that has been thriving for millennia is the undervaluing and belittling of women. Which brings us to another topic (which turns out to be part of the same story). Harvey Weinstein got away with his pitiful predatory behaviour for so long because the system facilitated it; a pretty significant part of that system (hmm, "significant"... What would de Saussure have to say about that?) is language. If you want to excuse or ignore something, hide it behind a jokey euphemism, like 'casting couch', say. Many a protégée turns out to have been a victime. Disrespecting women ...
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn from Etymonline that "disrespect (v)" pre-dates "disrespect (n)":

1610s (v.), 1630s (n.), from dis- + respect. Related: Disrespected; disrespecting.
Just because I met the noun first, just because I heard the verb as a bit of a newcomer, I assumed the noun had greater "validity" in some way (not a way that a linguist should take any pride in). Of course, 20 years one way or the other in a word that goes back about 400 years is neither here nor there. But still...
</tangent> something that involves language, and the language of patriarchy (at best – a more appropriate word escapes me at the moment, that's the thing about something being unspeakable) underpins the male-dominated status quo, not only in La La Land but...well, just about everywhere.

And physical assault is just the tip of the iceberg the visible loathsomeness that is supported by a raft of tiny acts of disrespect. The other night I saw a repeat on BBC 4 of a programme made nearly ten years ago – a fascinating account of where we come from (<spoiler alert>: out of Africa) . Dr Alice Roberts was treated to this amazing exchange (about 16 minutes in to The Incredible Human Journey):
REWOP from The Incredible Human Journey
That's like a little spearhead.
Yes that's exactly what it is. We think it's actually the ... [looking for the right word, to avoid blowing her little mind with the AWESOMENESS of his findings]  ...TIP to a ...SPEAR.

Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive here; perhaps there was no slight. Almost certainly there was no slight intended. (They were two specialists, repeating something for the benefit of a less well-informed public.) But it just felt a bit patronizing to me.

It was 20-odd years ago that English-speaking female actors started to complain about the term actress. A Quora article, basing its conclusion on the Guardian's archives, said
In 1994, the word actress appears 1150 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 2418 times, so about 2:1.

In 2003 the word actress appears 1173 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 3948 times, so about 4:1. That dates the change to 10-20 years ago.
although AMPAS (as the Oscar-dispensing organization is called – not without irony ...impasse?)  has yet to catch up. But if actors in France want to be addressed as act⋅eur⋅rice⋅s what's the problem? OK, it looks a bit ugly; but there are worse things.


Update: 2017.10.17.15:50 – Added PS

PS – And here are a few clues:

  • I‘m muscular (or perhaps something like it). (10)
  • Editing...editing.., until smoke began to rise? (7)
  • Trees that bear fir cones. (8)

Update: 2017.12.31.15:35 – PPS added.

PPS: The answers: SIMULACRUM, IGNITED, and CONIFERS (which, last, may have taken as long as 5 μs to get).

Friday, 6 October 2017


In a choral singer's life, the pronunciation  of Latin is bound to become an issue. People learn one way in school, and can't help being infected. Fortunately, in the Venn diagram of my life,  Church Latin (which I started to ... enunciate at the age of about 7, as described here), school Latin (there are several of course, but mine was Church-Latin-speaking), and the Latin used in the study of Romance Philology (Vulgar Latin), all coincided.

I can't claim to know the whole story, but there are at least four gross variants – old and new Classical systems, Church Latin, and Germanic or continental Latin; there are probably more. And these are further compounded by  national phonemic peculiarities (sounds that are excluded – made effectively unpronounceable – as a necessary part of the acquisition of a mother tongue) such as those I mentioned here.

I  discussed one of the many problems arising from this clash of pronunciation regimes here. But in this post I want to talk about an old system that has almost died out but was once widely taught both in the UK and of course in many schools around the world in the British Empire (ensuring that the colonies paid at least twice for the dubious accolade of the imposition of the Pax Britannica).

Ask the search engine of your choice about Benedicite and you will be told this:
If you're not a user of the IPA, I recommend pressing the little loudspeaker doofer (in your browser that is, not on my screen-capture).

Elsewhere I wrote:
<autobiographical note>
In a choir I used to sing in, there was a great kerfuffle about how one should pronounce Benedicite. It couldn't have mattered less, as it happens, since that word does not occur in the [Ed: English] text.  But in  Benjamin Britten's world (and particularly at the school he went to when he went there) the first "i" (but not the second) had this same /ɑɪ/ diphthong.
<PS date=2017>
Benedicite was just the name of a canticle he was familiar with in the Book of Common Prayer: "Bless ye the Lord".
</autobiographical note>

The first i has the same /aɪ/  diphthong as the mori that ends that poem: as I said here (a post that unaccountably has attracted nearly 1 in 3 of all 100,000+ page visits that all HD posts have enjoyed over the last 5 years):
... in the school where Wilfrid Owen learnt his Latin, the last two lines rhymed...
The words are "old lie/mori", but it is an internal rhyme, I now see, as "Dulce" doesn't – as I had thought – start the last line.
...(and they may have scanned as well – I dunno; even  if they didn't they probably did in schoolboy-speak, where the stress  is often inverted in memorized (and drilled) Latin. Think of aMO aMAS aMAT..., whose actual stress [Ed: on the first syllable] is attested by most [if not all] Romance languages [aimer, amar, amare, etc. etc].)
(Naturally, if you know and remember and love the poem with the sound /'mɔ:ri:/ don't let  me interfere. In my house there are many mansions/let a thousand flowers bloom/etc.)

Many examples in legal Latin show a similar vowel sound: prima facie (/praɪmә feɪsi:/), decree nisi (/naɪsaɪ/).... The same system of diphthong vowel sounds accounts for habeas corpus (/heɪbiәs.../) among others (although later "corrections" may have been made, especially in parts of the world where the English legal system was adopted).

But I have promises to keep, and files [sic] to weed before I sleep.


PS: A few clues:
  • Do about 50, not completely. (6)
  • Used up exemplary piece, in which to be used no longer. (9)
  • Publish electronic Bible version? (7)

Update: 2017.10.07.15:30 – Added PPS.

PPS Just heard one on the radio (a misquote, FWIW, but enough to remind me: anno domini (the second i with an /aɪ/ sound). In fact, this phrase may have been the catalyst for the misquote, now I think about it: it was "laudato domini" ( for "laudate dominum"): <some-latin-stuff>o <more-latin-stuff>i).

But laudato means "to|by|with|from the praised [one]"; and domini means "of the lord". Put them together and... well, I imagine a Latin scholar could find a context that they would fit in, but that ain't me, babe.

Update: 2017.10.29.17:30 – Added PPPS.

And another (recalled by a Radio 3 playing of I was glad: "Vivat Regina".

And those answers: PARTLY, DESUETUDE and EVULGATE. Sorry about the "in which", which I'm afraid seems to have been an accidental typo.

Update: 2017.12.09.12:45 – Added P4S.

Last one: ex gratia (/'greɪʃə/)

Update: 2018.02.19.11:30 – How many Ps for Pete's sake, and didn't he say...?

The ghost of  "Last One Yet-to-come": verbatim (/vɜ:'beɪtɪm/)