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Easter, which for Christians marks the resurrection of Jesus, also resurrected theatrical drama. The fall and fragmentation of the Roman empire brought Roman stage plays, and their Greek predecessors, to an end. Theatrical production ceased, fell out of memory, and there were no stage dramas as Europe entered the Middle Ages. There was pageantry, yes, but not theatrical dramas and plays as we know them today. Much of the Medieval Christian Mass was — in addition to its sacred ritual — an occasion of pageantry, and the church knew the uses of such displays.
Sometime in the 10th century, certain Easter services began to incorporate a bit of drama.The plot was simple:On the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus, the three Marys go to the tomb in search of the body of Jesus and find there an angel who asks who they are looking for. (You can see them in the Medieval illustration at the top of this post.) They say they’re looking for Jesus Christ who was crucified. The angel replies that Jesus has risen, as he had foretold he would. Go an announce that he has risen from the grave.
Here in Latin and English are the alternating questions and answers by the angel and the three Marys. The angel speaks first, asking the Marys who they are looking for:
- Quem quaeritis in sepulchro, o Christicolae? Whom do you seek in the grave, o followers of Christ?
- Jesum Nazarenum crucifixum, o caelicolae.
- Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, o heavenly one.
- Non est hic; surrexit, sicut praedixerat. Ite, nuntiate quia surrexit de sepulchro. He is not here. He has risen, as he foretold. Go out and announce that he has risen from the grave.
No one can say whether it began by having a single speaker, a priest or cantor, ask the question “Who do you seek?” and other speaker, or singer, replying, or whether it was a whole chorus. In any case, the little exchange became more elaborate and other crucial turns in the life of Jesus were dramatized. Soon these little plays, or skits, were performed outside the church and eventually scenes from the old testament were added. The dramas were originally intended as lessons from the Bible, but they soon became enjoyable plays that were mounted on wheeled platforms — carts that could be taken from town to town and arranged in a circle so the spectators could move easily from one skit to another. Eventually, the playhouse was born, drama as we know it today was born. It all began at Easter.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, affectionately called Wolferl by his family, or Wolfie, as we might say in English, was born on January 27th, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria. The kid was a musical prodigy. He was playing the harpsichord and composing music when he was five years old. His older sister, Marianna, called Nannerl ( call her Nanni), was musically talented, too. Their father, Leopold, was a musician and in no time Leopold and his two children were touring Europe and astonishing audiences.When it came to music, Mozart’s brain was neurologically different from others: the Vatican never permitted copies to be made of Allegri’s Miserere, but Mozart — around the age of 14 — was able to listen to that composition twice in the Sistine Chapel and to write it out from memory. Mozart married Constanze Weber, a woman who had, among other virtues, a fine singing voice. He composed over 600 pieces, symphonies, operas, choral music, chamber music, masses, serenades — you name it, he was astonishing at whatever form he turned his hand to. Most of his life Mozart was famous and successful, and he spent money freely, much too freely. When times turned bad, the brilliant young man, husband and father, found himself asking his friends for loans. Eventually, modest good fortune returned — but then Mozart fell ill, sickened and died. He was 35 years old, survived by Constanze and two of their six children. It was a brief life, but astonishing and productive of dazzling music.
There’s a little story about a nun and a dog. A dead dog. Fortunately, everything turns out well in the end. The story is set to music and both the story and the music were composed by Marilyn Robertson. And Yes, that’s Marilyn playing the guitar and singing. It’s a simple whimsical tale and we think you’ll like it. Ms Robertson has a way with words and she manages some delightfully sly puns along the way.
The nuns in the image we’ve posted here are from way back in Medieval times, but our nun is quite contemporary — she rides trolley cars and deals with the hazards of life in the city. The only recording of “The Nun’s Story” is located at SoundCloud.com, which you may not be familiar with, so we’ve made it easy and all you have to do is click HERE. And after you’ve listened to Marilyn you can explore the other music on the site, too. Then return to Critical Pages.