This morning I came across this reference to the latest installment of From Heavenly Harmony by Ken Myers, in which Myers comments on the way Handl’s setting captures the disorienting, or as he expounds, the re-orienting nature of the Incarnation. The music enriches the text. Here is Myers from the original article:
The text for “Mirabile mysterium” (“Wondrous mystery”)—the antiphon to the Benedictus at lauds on the Feast of the Circumcision—is another opportunity for composers to consider how to depict marvelous abnormality: “A wondrous mystery is declared today, an innovation is made upon nature; God is made man; that which he was, he remains, and that which he was not, he takes on, suffering neither commixture nor division.”
A snappy lyric it’s not. But in the hands of Jacob Handl (1550–1591), it is an occasion to demonstrate how music can provide an experiential knowledge of realities too deep for words. In his setting of “Mirabile mysterium,” Handl uses unpredictable harmonic progressions to capture the sense that something disorienting—or better, re-orienting—is happening in the Incarnation, and thus, in the world. At the end of the work, the Latin phrase “non commixtionem passus” (“suffering no commixture”) is repeated over and over, underscoring this important Christological definition. Handl’s setting is one of many remarkable Christmas works featured on A Wondrous Mystery, a recording released last year by the ensemble Stile Antico. If you crave release from needless sentimentality this Christmas, this is a good place to start.
Listen. Immediately you know this event is out of the ordinary.
My new Christmas CD will be here tomorrow. You, too, can get one here.