Hosanna in excelsis

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts. The heavens and earth are filled with thy glory. Hosanna in the highest.

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem is a work I know well; I’ve studied it in detail and sung in it — and have adapted text from I Corinthians 13 so it could be sung (at a wedding) to the tune of the Pie Jesu. In short, I thought I knew the work quite well.

Hearing the Requiem on the radio this morning, I was surprised and delighted to catch, in those words, Hosanna in excelsis, something that hadn’t really impacted me before: a sudden sense of the donkey-ride into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9), and of its significance within the context of the Eucharistic Prayer.

“Ride on, ride on in majesty / In lowly pomp ride on to die,” says the second verse of Henry H Milman’s well-known hymn. “O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin / O’er captive death and conquered sin.” Then, in the third verse, we have an image of the angel armies “[looking] down with sad and wondering eyes / To see the approaching Sacrifice.”

PS: The version was by The Sixteen with soloists and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, recorded live at the Barbican’s Mostly Mozart Festival in 2008. The Times review says: “… despite the odd vocal glitch, this is a Requiem gently sculpted as smooth and tactile as glass. As the clouds slowly lift, the sense of an ecstatic movement towards paradise is tangible.”

Fauré’s setting includes the Sanctus and omits the Benedictus. But the Sanctus ends with the words, Hosanna in excelsis.


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