Aurora Christi (Christ’s Daybreak) (2005)
fanfare for SATB chorus and symphony orchestra (2005), 3 minutes
Orchestra: 2222/4331/timp/2 perc/hp/opt org /vn solo/strings
Chorus and organ version also available
This Christmas fanfare, based on a Gregorian chant melody (Conditor Alme Siderum, “Creator of the Stars of Night”), presents Christ’s birth as glorious sunrise.
Aurora Christi (Christ's Daybreak), is a Christmas fanfare for SATB chorus, symphony orchestra, and optional organ, commissioned by the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music as part of its annual tradition of commissioning a new fanfare from a Catholic University of America composer for CUA's annual Christmas Concert for Charity, held in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, and televised on EWTN.
The inspiration for Aurora Christi is the ancient Christian imagery of Christ as light-in-darkness. Comparisons of Christ to the sun (and to the sunrise) are as old as Christianity itself; and innumerable writers, from the Church Fathers to the present day, have employed this meaningful metaphor both in devotional writings and in the Roman Catholic liturgy. The placement of the feast of Christmas on the date of the ancient Roman Saturnalia, the time of year in which the days cease to grow shorter and begin again to lengthen, was a further symbolic linkage of Christ with light. Thus, the dawn, which daily brings light into the darkened world, is highly appropriate for Christmas, commemorating as it does the birth of Christ.
Three ancient and medieval Latin texts are combined in Aurora Christi, and the piece is correspondingly divided into three sections. The text of the first section, "Night," is an anonymous 7th-century text, "Condite Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night)," employed in the Vespers liturgy during Advent, the season in which Christ's coming is prepared. The second section, "Dawn," is taken from St. Ambrose's (attr.) "Hymn to the Dawn." The third section, "Daylight and Rejoicing," is from a text attributed to the 5th-century author Coelius Sedulius. The texts may be found at the bottom of these notes, with translation following, and the corresponding musical sections indicated.
Aurora Christi begins by depicting a starry night, with sparkling figures in the woodwinds and harp, and soft string chords in the high register providing additional color. The tenors and basses enter, intoning a variant of the Gregorian chant melody of "Condite Alme Siderum." This chant melody is employed as a fundamental thematic element throughout the course of the fanfare.
After the words, "exaudi preces supplicum," a single held tone (G) is heard very quietly in brass and organ, the first inkling of the coming dawn. Sopranos sing the word "Aurora (dawn)", repeatedly; and as the orchestra builds in volume, the chorus joins on the word "Aurora," as well.
The climax of the work represents the arrival of dawn, and the first rays of daylight: a massive F-sharp major chord heralds the moment, as full orchestra and chorus rejoice.
The third section, "Daylight and Rejoicing," features canonic passages in the chorus on the words "Gaudet chorus caelestium (the heavenly chorus rejoices)." As the initial energy of the dawn broadens into full daylight, so does the pace of the music, as it broadens to a broad and powerful conclusion.
Aurora Christi was premiered on December 2, 2005, by the Catholic University of America Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Dr. Leo Nestor.
Texts and Translations:
(Night) Anon. 7th century, for Vespers in Advent
I. CONDITOR alme siderum,
aeterna lux credentium,
Christe, redemptor omnium,
exaudi preces supplicum.
Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.
(Dawn) Attr. to St. Ambrose (350-397)
II. AURORA iam spargit polum:
terris dies illabitur:
lucis resultat spiculum:
discedat omne lubricum.
The dawn is sprinkling in the east
its golden shower, as day flows in;
fast mount the pointed shafts of light:
farewell to darkness and to sin!
(Daylight and rejoicing) Attr. Coelius Sedulius (d c 450)
III. GAUDET chorus caelestium
et Angeli canunt Deum,
palamque fit pastoribus
Pastor, Creator omnium.
The heavenly chorus filled the sky,
the Angels sang to God on high,
what time to shepherds watching lone
they made creation's Shepherd known.