NOTEworthy: May 31

Ubi Caritas

Maurice Durufle

Since I’ve rudely brought you all back to your high school Latin days, let’s start this week with a translation:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us exalt Him, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other.
Where charity and love are, God is there.

This piece is one of the classics in the choral world. Written by Maurice Durufle in 1960, Ubi Caritas is one of only fourteen compositions published in his lifetime. Durufle was a famously self-critical composer, a fact that likely limited his output. It’s always a strange revelation to find out that a now-famous composer didn’t believe in himself. Looking backwards, it’s easy to assume that “Of course Maurice knew he was onto something,” but he didn’t. He wandered through the muck of self-doubt and confusion like the rest of us, and his music still lives on today.

Musically, this piece is a spectacular mix of simple and complex. To put it simply, he takes the Gregorian Chant “Ubi Caritas” and harmonizes it. It’s as simple as a hymn in that way. The melody is in the top voice, and the other voices create harmony beneath it – this is called a homophonic texture. Most all hymns are homophonic, with melody on top, and all voices moving at the same time. The complexity of this piece is most evident in the constantly changed meters. In its original form, Gregorian Chant has no meters. It’s like high church canting or opera recitative, meant to be sung on specific pitches, but in a natural, speech-like rhythm. By constantly changing meters, Durufle creates perhaps the most natural codified rhythm to a Gregorian chant.

He stayed true to the original.

It’s so easy to take the beautiful message of Christ and add to it. “Where Charity and Love are, God is there” is so simple, it can be easy to dismiss it as a platitude. But I think it serves us better as a mantra. If you’re feeling down in the dumps about yourself like Durufle did, remember – “Where Charity and Love are, God is there.” If you’re getting too caught up in the overwhelming obligations of life – “Where Charity and Love are, God is there.” There is always room to be gracious, and there is always room to love.

“For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
1 John 3:11