Xavier professor completes a performing edition of a 17th century canticle

Music Chair Thomas Merrill first performed a rough draft of the piece for a gathering of Jesuits at Xavier | January 26, 2009

Thomas Merrill, DMA, professor and chair of the music department at Xavier University, has completed his performing edition of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Canticle in Honor of Saint Xavier (H 355). The project was initiated when Rev. John LaRocca, S.J., rector of the Jesuit community at Xavier University, asked him to perform the motet for a gathering of Jesuits held here a few years ago.

“I discovered the piece was not published, though it had been recorded,” Merrill said.

Charpentier composed In honorem Sancti Xaverij canticum (H.355) while employed by the Jesuits at the Church of St. Louis in Paris.

“I corresponded with the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and received a facsimile of Charpentier’s manuscript,” Merrill said. “Over a year, I made my first rough draft, which was performed for the Jesuits. A Jesuit in attendance at the conference, Rev. Gary Wright of the University of Detroit-Mercy, offered to help me with the translation. His translation with commentary is included in the critical notes to the edition.”

Merrill further worked with Lex Silbeger of Duke University to further prepare the edition. Silberger is the editor for the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. The edition was shared with two reviewers who added their comments to those of the general editor. The edition became final in November of 2008.

The Society for Seventeenth-Century Music is dedicated to the study and performance of 17th century music and related arts. Merrill’s edition is Web Library of Seventeenth-Century Music, WLSCM No. 13 Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) Canticle in Honor of Saint Xavier (H 355) for voices (SATB), flutes, strings and organ.
Merrill scored his performing edition for two flutes, violin, two violas, basso continuo, chorus and vocal soloists (two sopranos, tenor and bass). The tenor soloist sings the role of St. Xavier. The text of the motet is based on Biblical passages. While the librettist for the work is unknown, he was likely one of the Jesuit priests at the church of St. Louis in Paris. Michael H. Marchal of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati and Rev. Gary Wright, S.J., translated the Latin text for Merrill, and Wright produced a scriptural commentary.
“The theology of the Canticle is simple but elegant, and very much in the tradition of the Jesuits’ mission-oriented spirituality,” says Fr. Wright. “For the most part, the author selects biblical texts, which describe, or have been applied to, the saving mission of Jesus Christ, especially in its universal aspect of bringing light and salvation to all the peoples of the world. Even the passages from the Hebrew scriptures, which refer in their biblical contexts to the people of Israel, are used in the Canticle in such a way that they are made to point toward God’s universal love for all.”