The "Holy Week", properly called in the Ambrosian Liturgy "authentic", is the "heart" of all the celebrations that take place during the Liturgical Year. Historically, the best of musical production for the liturgy - and also for "extra-liturgical" moments - is concentrated precisely in this week and in particular in the Holy Triduum. The depth of the texts, the relevance of Jesus' existential situation, his suffering, his own heartrending words, his being scourged and crowned with thorns, his carrying the cross, being crucified and dying... all this has inspired throughout history the codification of a musical heritage more unique than rare that continues to resonate today as an unequivocal code of a precise liturgical-existential context.
The Duomo Music Chapel, Milan's oldest musical institution, active uninterruptedly since 1402, has collected over time an immense repertoire closely linked to the particularity of the Ambrosian Liturgy. And it is precisely from this precious heritage that it draws on every year to pertinently fulfil its first task, which is the care, study and research in relation to the Pontifical and Chapter Celebrations in the Milan Duomo within the horizon of what the Liturgical Reform of the Second Vatican Council requires today.
From this work of research and study emerges a musical proposal for Holy Week that seeks to integrate the historical and cultural heritage of the Church with the necessary novelty that represents the inescapable dialogue with contemporary culture.
For Palm Sunday (2 April, Celebration presided over by the Archbishop), in addition to all the proper Ambrosian Chant (antiphons for the procession, 12 Kyrie and Sallenda, Ingressa, Post Evangelium, Confractorium and Transitorium), the Offertory motet, Improperium expectavit cor meum by Orlando di Lasso (Sacræ Cantiones, Munich 1585) is noteworthy. The Music Chapel, in the formation of adult singers only, will also sing at Solemn Vespers at 4.30pm, where the Magnificat Secundi toni (even stanzas) by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (Magnificat octo tonum, Rome 1591) will be performed.
The Evening Celebration of Holy Thursday (Missa inter Vesperas in Cena Domini) on 6 April at 5.30pm, presided over by the Archbishop, will feature a musical repertoire mainly in Italian, where Luciano Migliavacca's Gospel Song 'You have come to take me armed with swords' is noteworthy. In this context, the celebration will include gems from the Church's historical and cultural heritage such as the Motet performed during the initial procession, Nos autem gloriari by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (Motecta Festorum totius anni cum Communi Sanctorum. Quaternis Vocibus. Liber Primus, Venice 1571), the Antiphon in Ambrosian Chant Postquam surrexit Dominus a cæna, during the washing of the feet, the Post Evangelium in Ambrosian Chant performed by the Pueri cantores alone - arranged circularly around the altar - Cœnæ tuæ mirabili hodie, the Offertory Motet, Contumelias et terrores by William Byrd (Manuscript in Dow Partbooks, 27 ), the hymn Pange, lingua alternating between Ambrosian chant and newly-crafted polyphony for the odd stanzas, and the Motet (precisely the seventh Responsory of Holy Thursday) for the procession at the end of the Celebration, Eram quasi agnus innocens by Tomás Luis de Victoria (Officium Hebdomadæ Sanctæ, Rome 1585).
For the Good Friday liturgical action (Feria VI Parasceve, Celebratio Passionis Domini), on 7 April at 5.30pm, presided over by the Archbishop, worthy of note are the Motet performed in procession at the beginning of the Celebration, Christus factus est pro nobis obediens by Giovanni Matteo Asola (Lamentationes, Improperia et Aliae Sacrae Laudes, Venezia 1588), the hymn Vexilla Regis with the 9th stanza by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (Lateran Archives, Codex 59, ff. 75v-77), and the famous responsory in Canto Ambrosiano Tenebræ factæ sunt.
Regarding the Easter Vigil, on Saturday 8 April at 9pm, presided over by the Archbishop, it is interesting to note the presence of a brass ensemble that will perform Giovanni Gabrieli's 'Sonata pian et forte' (Sacræ Symphoniæ, Venice 1597) at the Offertory.
The celebration on Easter Sunday (9 April at 11am, presided over by the Archbishop), which includes the Missa de Angelis in order to encourage the participation of everyone, including the many non-Italian tourists present (with Gloria and Sanctus alternating between Gregorian Chant and newly composed polyphony), once again sees the presence of the brass ensemble, and will begin with a processional chant whose refrain (with only "alleluia" as the text) is thematically derived from the Ambrosian Ingressa of the same celebration, Resurrexi, and to which Ingressa naturally leads. At the offertory, the Music Chapel will sing its own antiphon, Angelus Domini by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (Offertoria totius anni, Venice 1593). Obviously, the Music Chapel will perform all the Ambrosian Chant proper to the Celebration.
The same Music Chapel, in the formation of adult singers only, will also sing at Solemn Vespers at 4.30pm, where Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Magnificat Sexti toni (odd stanzas) will be performed (Magnificat octo tonum, Rome 1591).
As mentioned above, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday will feature a brass band. This choice is a concrete response to what the Liturgical Reform of the Second Vatican Council requires in relation to a healthy 'ministeriality' where celebrant, assembly, choir and musical instruments interact as 'celebrating subjects'.
The challenge of the Second Vatican Council in relation to the Church's great cultural heritage is that of being able to relocate it in today's Liturgy with ''celebratory pertinence meaningfulness'', that is, with that characteristic of the sound sign that is congenial to that specific rite, not using it to assert itself but contributing to the full expression of the rite itself. This leads to the inescapable necessity of dialogue with culture and modernity. In essence, we are challenged to be custodians of tradition but not as one would in a museum. The 'tradition' must be relocated 'today', made alive 'today' within a 'living' liturgy, dense with memories precisely in order to live fully in the present moment. The intelligent dialogue with modernity should then lead to a greater appreciation of the Church's musical heritage recomposed with the intelligence and refinement of what today's scientific studies have communicated to us. We must also dutifully continue to "write tradition" with a compositional gesture dense with what music has understood today to give "today" sound form to the Word in order to interpret, explain and communicate it for the good and the journey of faith of each person.
Every Sunday, the Milan Duomo offers worshippers and visitors a new service, by means of special QR Codes located in various places in the Cathedral: the possibility of downloading a liturgical aid in English onto your device, including the Sunday Readings and the Rite of the Mass, in PDF format.
The English-language aids, which can also be accessed through the link liturgy.duomomilano.it, are also accompanied by a second file including all the musical parts, in order to facilitate greater accessibility and openness to those from all over the world who wish to experience the Duomo in its cultural and faith dimension.
Inviting everyone to experience this dimension, we remind you that all festive Chapter celebrations are streamed live on the official Duomo di Milano YouTube channel Duomo Milano Tv.
Text by Mons. Massimo Palombella
Maestro Director of the Music Chapel of the Duomo of Milan