O Vos Omnes – Communicate, people!
There have been many famous settings of O Vos Omnes by composers such as Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo of the Renaissance era and Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria who composed his arrangement during the counter-reformation.
Unlike Gesualdo and Victoria, Pablo Casals lived in a much later time and was one of the greatest cellists and artists of all time. His arrangement of O Vos Omnes in the 20th century represents a more contemporary style, but is still reflective of Renaissance structure and organization to that of Gesualdo and Victoria.
Casals’ original score was written for SATB, but for All State are using the TTBB arrangement by Richter for male voices. The male voices add a darker and tragic quality to the male voice for Casals’ setting of the sorrowful text.
Text painting and word stress
This setting of O vos omnes is written in ABA Form. The brackets () indicate the repeated text added by Casals to round out the piece. The text is taken from Lamentations 1:12 in the bible.
A: O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte:
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus. B: Attendite, universi populi, et videte dolorem meum.
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus. A[O vos omnes qui transitis per viam]
A: O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see:
If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. B: Attend, all ye people, and see my sorrow:
If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. A: [O all ye that pass by the way]
The meticulous phrasing marks in the score indicate motion and word stress. Finding a dramatic connection to the text is going to make your dynamics have meaning and communicate to the judges a specific interpretation of the piece. I always tell students that a strong connection to the emotion of a song improves your musicianship in ways a judge may not understand but will feel in your singing.
I recommend doing these two things BEFORE going to pitches in a practice session:
- Speak the English translation with feeling (doing so without feeling does nothing to improve your communication of the text)
- Speak the text out of rhythm to find the natural word stress. Hint: If you struggle to find the word stress, Casals indicates the natural word stress with longer note values.
- Think of a stressed syllable as a crescendo as opposed to an accent and try not to sacrifice the beauty of your tone to stress a syllable.
- Remember also that it is as important to un-stress the following syllable than it is to lean into a stressed syllable because it is contrast our ears need to hear.
- Chant the text in rhythm with the translation, phrasing, and emotional connection in mind
Markings and phrasing
Almost every phrase in this piece is phrased with a crescendo and decrescendo, which makes the piece extremely straight forward. It is clear what the composer wanted, so consider this the bare minimum. If at any time you don’t know what dynamics to do, you should use your best judgement and do something. It is so refreshing as a judge to hear a singer lift a piece off the page and make it their own.
Breathing is straight forward as there are many breath marks indicated, however be careful not to make the phrases choppy or to release abruptly at the end of the phrase. Always strive to create a long phrase and decrescendo gracefully toward the end, even if the music appears more fragmented. For example:
Casals’ has indicated breath marks where he wants them, except for the si est dolor theme beginning on page 4 (m. 21). I suggest staying true to the text and lifting/catching a breath on each of the commas. If this is uncomfortable and you need more air to make it through the phrase, pick a place that is indicated by punctuation or before a conjunction (such as et), and not in the middle of a word.
Tone and Articulation
Casals’ arrangement of O Vos Omnes looks back on a more simple and straightforward approach to articulation and tone in renaissance music. The diction in Latin should not be over-articulated and the tone and dynamics should reflect the meaning of the text, never singing so soft that the tone is sacrificed.
T and K sounds should be less aspirated than in English (less air and more like a dental t) and d’s should not be too hard (voiced with a pitch but not aggressive). Approach vowels in a pure, Italianate fashion with a forward and bright resonance. No diphthongs are permitted in Latin, basically, pick a vowel and stick with it (see below):
Correct: O Vos Omnes = Oh Vohs Ohmnehs
Incorrect: O Vos Omnes ≠ Ohhuuhw vouuuhws ohhuuuhhhwmnehayyys
Your singing tone should be warm, rich, and effortless with a focused vibrato. If your voice does not have a consistent vibrato, this piece might be best with a head-voice dominant straight tone. Alternatively, if your vibrato sounds out of control or is so wide that it affects the pitch center, try to find a simple straight tone and then focus the vibrato with your breath support. Tenor 1’s and 2’s should aim for a free and easy sound in the upper range. I personally prefer more vibrato to a strained and pitchy straight tone, so if the tone is not beautiful up high on a straighter tone, go ahead and let your vibrato come in to play.
Experiment and have fun with different colors that reflect the meaning of the text. I hope with detailed attention to the phrasing and text painting you can find a connection to this text and Casals’ powerful piece.