Sacred Concerto: O Domine, Jesu Christe
Lodovico Viadana (ca. 1560-1627)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 4 Track 34
Viadana's penitent tune, to my ears, combines Gregorian chant with madrigal. Perhaps even more than a solid bass line, it is this combination that will make Rameau's chords so convincing. The O Domine
is simple without being obvious because the author had learned from a long tradition of writing unadorned melodies. And the melody is united with the chords so well because the chords follow the tune and the text. A few hundred years later listeners will forget that the line came first. They will hear a great tune like Amazing Grace
and with Gregorian chant and madrigal stuffed away in universities, will forget that meaningful chords developed from an interest in line.
The line Lodovico was interested in here is almost a straight line. The initial pitch dominates the piece so strongly that the listener's ear might image a drone accompanying this performance. The chords that support the melody make good use of this dominant pitch. Because of the harmony, the single pitch fluctuates in meaning.
What I like about O Domine, Jesu Christe
is that the phrase lengths are not symmetrical. The first two phrases establish a four-bar phrase length that is never entirely abandoned. This phrase length is used only to provide a very subtle rhythm for the tune. With this foundation the tune is free to expanded, contract and still conclude on schedule.