Monday, January 7, 2008


The Latin Hymn to Saint John the Baptist

During the Christmas holidays our family always make it a ritualistic point of watching “The Sound of Music.” There is the famous scene, which takes place in the Mirabel gardens of the von Trapp family. Maria and the children dance and sing around the statue of Pegasus, the white winged horse. They sing “Do-Re-Mi.” One of the children declares that the silly sounding syllables "don’t mean anything.” Wrong and quelle horreur dear child.

Tsk! Tsk! Oscar Hammerstein.

The lyrics originated in medieval choral music. They are based on the first six phrases of the text of a beautiful hymn to Saint John the Baptist, written by Paolo Diacono (720 - 799), which in Italian means deacon. He wrote the Latin words:

“Ut quant laxis,
Re-sonare fibris,
Mi-ra gestorum,
Fa-muli tuorum,
Sol-ve polluti,
La-bili reatum.”

The translation of the text is as follows:

"So that your servants may sing at the top of their voices the wonders of your Acts, absolve the original sin from their stained lips.”

We thank the Italian monk Guido d’Arezzo for being the first to create the System of Solmisation, sometimes called the Aretinian syllables or the Guido syllables to honor Paolo Diacon. Based on Diacon's poem, Guido d'Arezzo used Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol and La – to name the six tones of C to A.

Ut was eventually replaced with the more melodic Do and another syllable Si or Ti was added, creating a scale of seven notes – Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si.

Sol was later shortened to so, making them all end in vowels.

This forms the present system of singing names for the tones of the scale.

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