Maybe I Should Just Keep My Mouth Shut…

I think perhaps I should just learn to keep my mouth shut at times!

One of the oldest and longest serving members of our choir has a bit of a bugbear about the text of Ave Verum, a short Eucharistic hymn from the 14th century that has been arranged by numerous composers, the most well known versions being those by Mozart and Elgar.

Her argument is with the final word, which in every version we have is “examineâ€? – but which she maintains should be “exanimeâ€?. Every time we sing a version of Ave Verum we go through a protracted argument where she tries to persuade our Director of Music that from her university studies of Latin every version of the hymn is wrong, and we should sing it the right way. She has on several occasions maintained that the difference is to enable the words to rhyme. What usually happens is we go through this discussion, and usually end up singing it the way it is written.

Last time it came up, it bugged me enough that I took the time to look it up, in particular looking to see if there is any sort of controversy over the last word. Interestingly, I did find something, but this was discussing whether the text should be “mortis in examine� or “in mortis examine�, but no query over the word “examine�. I also found the entry on ChoralWiki which presents the original Latin with translations into a selection of other languages, but still no discussion of any issue with the final word. I even tried searching for the final line with the suggested final word, but nothing came up.

Then I turned up this blog posting which discusses differences in versions, and spends a lot of time on the final line, and especially highlights the difficulties in translating the final line. It also states that “examine� is the ablative form of the noun “examen�.

Anyway, tonight we started learning a new version of Ave Verum, this time by Saint-Saëns, and we got to “examineâ€? and the same discussion started. Our Director of Music started to give in and say that maybe we should sing “exanimeâ€?, at which point I said that I’d looked it up and as far as I was concerned “examineâ€? was correct according to the original text.

At that point our long standing choir member nearly exploded, and I got all of the usual arguments directed at me, but I held my line that I’d looked it up and that the use of “examineâ€? was correct according to all the musical and liturgical sources I could find. This seemed to bolster our Director of Music who said that we would do it as written – this produced a most amazing scene from the other choir member who quite literally threw her copy down and refused to sing unless we sang it the “right wayâ€?. Our Director of Music pretty well ignored her for the next few minutes, and then perhaps unwisely suggested that it probably wasn’t that important anyway… That not surprisingly produced another outburst. By this point I was trying to hide away as much as I could in the back row.

Having said that, on a positive note, my saying what I did, did seem to curtail any further discussion on the topic, and certainly avoided the grumbles we get from elsewhere in the choir if it is decided that we sing “exanimeâ€? instead – although quite what the fallout will be from our long standing member I don’t know. I wasn’t exactly expecting quite the explosion I actually got – if I had thought I was going to get that I wouldn’t have opened my mouth…

6 thoughts on “Maybe I Should Just Keep My Mouth Shut…”

  1. Goodness it DOES sound contraversial. Not go the time right now but will put my brain to it more fully.

    What does she THINK exanime means? because the word as a whole doesn’t exist. If she thinks it’s ex anime that also makes little sense as ex takes the ablative case and anima is 1st declension feminine with the ablative of anima so it would be ex anima not ex anime.

    Examen, -inis certainly has the ablative exanime which makes much more sense.

    As this is a medieval text the examen ultima in the fourteenth century was the final judgement so I’d guess this was what was being referred to.

    If she’s a classical latinist the text is no doubt hideously corrupt latin as it is so medieval. The use of Esto would make Horace turn in his grave as it is so NOT DONE and some translations which use DE Maria would equally be much frowned upon.

    Hope that helps a little…

  2. Richard, ‘examine’ is the ablative form of examen which can mean trial, testing, weighing in a balance – hence the usual translations of ‘In the trials of death’ or ‘in death’s agony.’
    But there is an adjective ‘exanimis’ which in the ablative singular would be ‘exanime’ which means lifeless, breathless terrified – so it could be translated in the terrors of death or in lifeless death – doesn’t make a lot of sense, though.

    This comes from my Collins Latin/English pocket dictionary – from schol xxxx years ago!

    Don’t get into a row over it.
    Love Mum xxxx

  3. Goodness – not in the online Lewis and Short over at Perseus or th revised Medieval latin word list. I blog corrected, Richard’s mum.

    I would however still support examine as it has always been that whenever I’ve sung it!

  4. Latin non-scholar that I am, I concur: “in mortis exanime” is a distracting redundancy, the equivalent of “now in death (is) dead”

    (what springs to mind is the Munchkin Coroner’s declaration
    “As Coroner, I must aver,
    I thoroughly examined her,
    And she’s not only MERELY dead,
    She’s really most SINCERELY dead”)
    (Harold Arlen: The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

    whereas “in mortis examine” (which actually rhymes BETTER with “Unda fluxit et sanguine”) implies “judged/tested in death” although there is also a subtext that might imply “agonizing death”.

    Which is, of course, the whole impetus for the veneration of the Body of Christ, He having born for us the agonies we most certainly deserve for our sinful natures, the word “praegustatum” giving the sense of the trial of death having been somewhat blunted in the process of Christ’s agonizing death.

    Or…something like that….

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