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 â€œexamineâ€? – but which she maintains should be â€œexanimeâ€?. 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 â€œmortis in examineâ€? or â€œin mortis examineâ€?, but no query over the word â€œexamineâ€?. 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 â€œexamineâ€? is the ablative form of the noun â€œexamenâ€?.
Anyway, tonight we started learning a new version of Ave Verum, this time by Saint-SaÃ«ns, and we got to â€œexamineâ€? and the same discussion started. Our Director of Music started to give in and say that maybe we should sing â€œexanimeâ€?, at which point I said that I’d looked it up and as far as I was concerned â€œexamineâ€? 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 â€œexamineâ€? 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 â€œright 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 â€œexanimeâ€? 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…