Veni: Come, Creator Spirit
•a cantata for choir, soprano soloist and orchestra
•commissioned by Canadian Mennonite University
•premiered 12 November 2000 at the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall; soprano Henrietta Schellenberg, Mennonite Oratorio Choir, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Mark Bartel
Veni is an elaboration of the hymn, Come, O Creator Spirit, come. The original Latin text dates from the 9th century, and the melody is an even earlier 4th century plainsong chant. The well-known English translation of the Latin text is by Robert Bridges, 1899. Although the full hymn text runs to more than four verses, I have stayed with the four most commonly used verses. Between verses two and three I have inserted the naming of the gifts of the Spirit, as given in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. The result is a composition with five movements (v. 1, v.2, Corinithians text, v.3, v.4). The fifth movement is further expanded by including both the hymn, O Holy Spirit, Root of life, and a final verse of commitment.
The 4th C. chant melody, Veni Creator Spiritus, undergirds the whole piece in one form or another, and becomes gradually more obvious and perceptible until, in the final movement, it is stated in its familiar form by the soprano soloist, above the hymn, O Holy Spirit, Root of life (that hymn text is by Jean Janzen based on Hildegard of Bingen; music by myself). In earlier movements the chant melody is always present but largely unrecognizable, since it may appear backwards or upside down, or in some other guise. Part of the symbolism in all of this is related to the idea that the Spirit is always with us, it is “the well of life”, which, like the wind, or like the flow of a melody heard from “the other side,” is constantly undergirding all of life, even though it may not be directly perceived.
The final verse of Jean Janzen’s text is perhaps the most useful door through which to enter this piece. Her text reads: “O Holy Wisdom, Moving Force, /encompass us with wings unfurled, /and carry us, encircling all, /above, below, and through the world.” The text suggests upward, downward, and encompassing movements; it suggests musical gestures to me. As Veni begins, we hear the text “Veni Creator Spiritus” (Come, Creator Spirit) as a low imprecise mumbling in the men’s voices. The final time we hear that text, in the last bars of the piece, it is sung several octaves higher by the soprano soloist, above a celebrative “Alleluia” in the choir. Over twenty minutes the invitation has moved upward, like a prayer, from our faintest mumblings to a clear and confident request. At the same time, the five choral movements are separated by four short instrumental “interludes” featuring solo woodwind instruments, progressing gradually from high to low (first piccolo, then oboe, clarinets, and finally bassoons). The melodic fragments carried by the woodwinds have, like the breath of the Spirit, descended to join the rising movement of the choral invitation, “Come, Creator Spirit.”
But Janzen not only uses “above” and “below;” her text also invites the Spirit to “encompass,” “encircle”, and “carry us through the world.” It is in the third movement that makes a sound-picture of such encompassing, such encircling, and such presence throughout the world. The choral voices gradually embark on a huge “round song”, with the melody being imitated at ever-shorter distances. Before the movement is out, the instruments too are involved in this round song, and the whole group sets up a huge reverberation. This is no longer so much a concept of “above” or “below,” but rather one of a tremendous infilling of the Spirit--an active, vital, in-spirat-ion.
Veni concludes with a hymn of thanksgiving and commitment (…our very lives will praise bestow / with gifts that from the Spirit flow). Having invited the Spirit; having acknowledged the gifts of the Spirit; having prayed that the Spirit inflame our senses, reclaim our hearts, and heal our bodies, we now dedicate our lives as an offering of praise--an offering expressed through the very gifts we have received.
Leonard EnnsI. Come, O Creator Spirit
Come, O Creator Spirit, come,
and make within our hearts thy home.
To us thy grace celestial give,
who of thy breathing move and live.
II. O Comforter, that name is thine
O Comforter, that name is thine,
of God most high the gift divine;
the well of live, the fire of love,
our souls’ anointing from above.
III. To one is given through the Spirit
To one is given through the Spirit
the utterance of wisdom, and
to another the utterance of knowledge
according to the same Spirit,
to another faith by the same Spirit,
to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
to another the working of miracles,
to another prophecy,
to an-other the discernment of spirits,
to another various kinds of tongues,
to another the interpretation of tongues.
(1 Corinthians 12:8-10)
IV. Our senses with thy light inflame
Our senses with thy light inflame,
our hearts to heav’nly love reclaim,
our bodies’ poor infirmity
with strength perpetual fortify.
V. Veni Creator Spiritus
May we by Thee of our God learn,
And know the Son, and Thee discern,
Who art of both: and so adore
In perfect faith for evermore.
(RB, alt. LE)
O Holy Spirit, Root of life,
Creator, cleanser of all things,
anoint our wounds, awaken us
with lustrous movement of your wings.
Eternal Vigor, Saving One,
you free us by your living Word,
becoming flesh to wear our pain,
and all creation is restored.
O Holy Wisdom, Moving Force,
encompass us with wings unfurled,
and carry us, encircling all,
above, below, and through the world.
To God Creator, God the Lord,
And Holy Ghost, with one accord
Our verylives will praise bestow
With gifts that from the Spirit flow.
Veni Creator Spiritus, tr. Robert Bridges, Yattendon Hymnal, 1899.
(v. 4 alt. LE)
To one is given through the Spirit…… 1 Corinthians 12: 8-10
O Holy Spirit, Root of Life, © Jean Janzen, 1991, used by permission.
To God Creator, © Leonard Enns, 1999.