Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae (Guillaume Dufay)

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  • (Posted 2000-06-07)  CPDL #00921:  Network.png (PostScript MusiXTex)
Editor: Moriwaki Michio (submitted 2000-06-07).   Score information: A4, 6 pages, 111 kB   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes: zipped PostScript file, look under 'Score Library', PDF and midi files available at Werner Icking Music Archive

General Information

Title: Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae
Composer: Guillaume Dufay

Number of voices: 4vv   Voicing: SATB
Genre: SacredMotet

Languages: French, Latin
Instruments: A cappella

First published:
Description: Here is a note by Mick Swithinbank on this rather obscure text: "In 1453, the Christian city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks - an event which in Europe was widely seen as a catastrophe, despite the longstanding schism between the Constantinople-based Orthodox Christians and the Roman Catholic Church. The leading composer of the day, Guillaume Dufay, composed an eloquent lament on the fall of the great city, and it has often been asserted that this was the song which was sung by a woman in white, wearing a black cloak of mourning and riding on an elephant, at the extravagant banquet hosted in Lille in 1454 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in an attempt to recruit knights for a crusade to win back Constantinople. Striking though the image is, recent research shows that the song performed that day was a different one, while Dufay's lament, 'O très piteulx' - despite its French text - was probably composed soon afterwards as an appeal to the music-loving Pope Calixtus III in the same cause. Professor David Fallows, to whom we owe this information, tentatively suggests the following interpretation of the words. The weeping mother who speaks them is the city of Constantinople. She deplores the plight of the Byzantine church, referring to it both as her own son and, in a different sense, as that of the Pope; also, it would appear, as 'the fairest of men'. What is not in doubt is the appropriateness of the cantus firmus, sung by the last of the four voices to enter: drawn from the Old Testament Book of Lamentations and familiar from its use by the Church in Holy Week, it laments the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. The top voice also bases its melody on that of the cantus firmus at times, notably at the very beginning of the work."

External websites:

  • Free choir training aids for this work are available at Choralia.

Original text and translations

French.png French and Latin.png Latin text

O très piteux de tout espoir, fontaine,
Père du fils dont suis mère éplorée,
Plaindre me viens à ta cour souveraine
De ta puissance et de nature humaine
Qui ont souffert, telle dure vilaine,
Faire à mon fils qui tant m’a honorée,
Dont suis de bien et de joie séparée,
Sans qui vivant veuille entendre mes plaintes.
À toi, seul dieu, du forfait me complains
Du gref tourment et douloureux outrage
Que voit souffrir plus bel des humains
Sans nul confort de tout humain lignage.
Omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam
Non est qui consoletur eam
Ex omnibus caris ejus.

English.png English translation

Most merciful source of all hope,
Father of the son whose weeping mother I am,
I come to complain at your sovereign court
Of your authority and of human nature,
Which have allowed such harsh cruelty
To be inflicted on my son, who has so honoured me;
Whereby I have been parted from happiness and joy,
Without any living being who will hear my complaints.
To you, only God, I appeal from the sentence,
From the grievous torment and painful injury
That I watch the fairest of men suffer,
With no consolation from your human speech.
All her friends have betrayed her:
Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her.

English.png English translation

Constantinople begs the church, the Pope, and God to respond to the Ottoman conquest of the city:
“Father of the church, merciful source of hope, I, mother of the church, come in tears to plead at your high court. Your power and human nature have allowed such violence to be done to my son, who has always honored me. I have lost all my joy; no living human listens to my sorrows. You are my only God, and to you I bring this appeal against his fate, his torment, and his wrongs. You see the misery of this fairest of men without any words of consolation.”

Cantus firmus: “All her friends have rejected her; there is not one of all her dear ones who will comfort her.”

Translation by Nicholas Jones