Anonymous, Llibre Vermell de Montserrat

Ad Mortem Festinamus, virelai (fol. 26v)

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    As the European consciousness struggled to comprehend the incredible casualties of the Black Plague, the "Art of Dying" became piercingly pertinent. The Plague vividly taught that Death would carry away every human regardless of station; every person thus needs to consider death and live a better life in preparation. European art and literature already knew the frightening image of the three noblemen who encounter three decomposing corpses. The Danse macabre expanded this warning image by presenting Death itself leading a mad procession of all humanity to the grave. Images of Death and of the dead breathed warning and terror from the walls of the Campo Santo in Pisa and the old Cemetery of Les Innocents in Paris; poets such as Chastellain and Martial d'Auvergne detailed the horror of decomposition. Yet the living could amend their lives and better await this fate. The poem "Ad Mortem Festinamus" is the earliest surviving musical Danse macabre anywhere, and it adopts this more hopeful approach. Ad Mortem Festinamus is the final song in the Llibre Vermell, the fourteenth century poetic and musical collection used in the pilgrimage Abbey of Montserrat. Like many of the pieces in the Vermillion Book, Ad Mortem sets a Latin devotional text to a melody for the pilgrims to sing and quite probably to dance. Rather than a stately and sober "round dance," however, Ad Mortem directly evokes the Dance of Death from the beginning of its refrain: "We are hastening towards death; let us cease sinning!" The refrain sets off nine verses that are richly allusive to the Bible and to the Catholic liturgy. One verse borrows imagery from the Requiem Mass' Dies irae, another alludes to a vision of the Blessed in Heaven from the All Saints' liturgy, and the last verse paraphrases two popular antiphons to the Virgin Mary. The piece concludes with a terrifying litany expanding upon its refrain: after the pronouncement "You shall be a vile corpse," the repentant people sing seven further questions as if to counteract the seven deadly sins. Who could hear and not "fear sin," not "repent," not "love their neighbor?"

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 III Millennio IIIMIL 222
    2017 Brilliant Classics 95481
    2017 Alia Vox AVSA 9919
    2017 L'Oiseau-Lyre 4788104
    2014 Paraty PARATY 414125
    2010 Erato
    2010 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099962865
    2010 Decca
    2009 Christophorus 77312
    2008 Et'cetera 1286
    2008 Ricercar 260
    2005 Discant 1008
    2004 Licanus 201
    2002 Bongiovanni 56132
    2000 Dynamic 2026
    2000 Dorian 93202
    2000 eOne / Koch International / Koch International Classics 374532
    2000 Angel Records VBD 5618152
    1998 Opus 111 2005
    1997 Arts Music 47384
    1997 Sound Alive Music 101
    1995 Virgin 61174
    1995 Opus 111 30131
    1994 Rhino 79080
    Erato 88047
    L'Oiseau-Lyre / PolyGram 433186
    Arion 68181
    EMI Music Distribution 55559