Alma Redemptoris mater (Lat.: ‘Life-giving mother of the Redeemer’).
(Lat.: ‘Life-giving mother of the Redeemer’).
One of the four Marian antiphons retained at the Council of Trent and ordered to be sung at the end of Compline from the first Sunday of Advent to the Purification (2 February). It is now sung as a self-contained item, but originally it preceded and followed the chanting of a psalm or canticle. In the light of recent scholarship, the traditional ascription of the words and music to Hermannus Contractus no longer appears tenable. Of the two melodies in the Liber usualis, only the more elaborate (p.273) appears in medieval chantbooks. This melody, of uncommon beauty and originality, served as the basis for numerous polyphonic compositions during the medieval and Renaissance periods. It appears as the tenor of a number of polytextual motets in the 13th-century Montpellier, Bamberg and Las Huelgas manuscripts. Leonel Power’s Mass Alma Redemptoris mater uses the first half of the melody in each of the movements of the mass as a unifying cantus firmus. In one of Du Fay’s three-voice settings the melody is embellished in the superius; it is assigned to the alto and bass respectively in settings by Ockeghem and Obrecht. Josquin’s two settings show typical contrapuntal ingenuity: in one version the melody is treated in canon between alto and tenor; in the other it is combined in double counterpoint with the ...