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The Sequence Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Author: Mrs. Myriam Van Lerberghe-Thibaut

The Sequence originated from the pratice of creating lyrics on the iubilus (melism) of the Alleluia. Notker Balbulus (the stammerer), deceased in 912, a monk of the Sankt Gallen Abbey in Switzerland, invented this mnemonic means, in order to remember the very difficult melisms.

One should understand that the long series of notes without lyrics had to be learnt by heart as there were not yet any printed books. Notker got the idea to give each note its own syllable, which helped to remember the tunes. Long melisms were especially to be found in the Alleluia, where the 'a' was cheered almost infinitely.

The mnemonic aid became an independent poetical and musical form very soon, standing apart from the Alleluia: the Sequence. This chant is still sung directly after the Alleluia at some Solemnities. Thousands of Sequences have appeared during the Middle Ages.

In the XVIth century the council of Trent (1545-1564) reduced their number in the official Roman liturgy to four:

  • Victimae pascali laudes for Easter,
  • Veni, Sancte Spiritus for Pentecost,
  • Lauda Sion for Corpus Christi and
  • Dies irae for the Requiem (funeral Mass).

In 1727 a fifth Sequence was added: Stabat Mater for Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows on September, 15.

The early classical Sequence is composed mainly of a series of double verses, preceded by a beginning verse. The two lines of each double verse are sung on the same tune. So the musical form is: A (beginning verse), BB (first double verse), CC, DD, etc.

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  Mrs. Myriam Van Lerberghe-Thibaut

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