Friday, September 28, 2012

From France to Canada, and to Eternity!

In twelfth century Brittany (today part of France), the university professor, philosopher, and theologian Peter Abelard wrote a hymn in Latin: O Quanta Qualia - which can be found today in Lutheran Service Book as hymn # 675 ("Oh, What Their Joy") - a magnificently beautiful anthem that calls to mind the victory of "the blessed ones" in Christ, the "endless sabbaths" the "crowns for the valiant" and "rest" for the "weary ones."  It ends in a high doxology to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The hymn made it into English in the 19th century via translator John Mason Neale (whose own life and ministry are extraordinary!), often sung in English to the 1681 Parisian tune Antiphoner.

Hoping to find a Latin version, I ran across the above absolutely euphonic plainchant rendition, recorded by singer Azam Ali, who was born in Tehran, raised in India, lived in the United States, and now resides in Montreal.  And so Peter Abelard's French hymn written in Latin, popularized in English, has been recorded in French Canada by a Persian singer - in its original Gregorian form.  It is simply magnificent!  I have never heard of Azam Ali, and I discovered this video by accident - or should I say, serendipity.  What a delight!  This version of O Quanta Qualia appears on Miss Ali's 2002 album Point of Grace, a multilingual collection which features medieval music sung in Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Could Peter Abelard have ever imagined that his Latin hymn would have made such a journey through time, space, and nationality from 12th century France, being sung by 20th century Lutherans after being translated into English by an 19th century Anglican priest who was named after a Puritan but who became a persecuted high churchman of the Oxford Movement, then being recorded in Latin by an Iranian-Indian-Canadian and listened to worldwide on iTunes and YouTube in the 21st century?

That is a long way indeed!

And yet this is nothing compared to the eternity confessed by the hymn:

We, where no trouble distraction can bring,
Safely the anthems of Zion shall sing;
While for Your grace, Lord their voices of praise
Your blessed people shall evermore raise.


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