July 17th – Feast of the Carmeltie Martyrs of Compiegne

I have posted the climactic scene of Poulenc’s opera, “Dialogues of the Carmelites”, not once but twice

Today, three days after Bastille Day, is the feast day of the Martyrs of Compiegne. Here is a piece by Stephanie Mann that tells their story:

Their trial, held in a courtroom crowded with other defendants, was quick. Accused of hiding arms for counter-revolutionary forces, the Prioress held up a crucifix, proclaiming it contained the only arms they had ever kept. Authorities had found an altar cloth decorated with a fleur-de-lis, so they were accused of supporting Louis XVI and the monarchy. One of the nuns answered that “If that is a crime, we are all guilty of it; you can never tear out of our hearts the attachment for Louis XVI and his family. Your laws cannot prohibit feeling; they cannot extend their empire to the affections of the soul; God alone has the right to judge them.”
Finally, one of the nuns asked the judge, Fouquier-Tinville, what he meant when he charged them with “fanaticism.” He replied, “I mean your attachment to your childish beliefs and your silly religious practices.” The Carmelites rejoiced that they could be found guilty of being true Catholics.
Their conduct at the guillotine, which had been moved from what is now Place de la Concorde to what is now Place de la Nation (too much blood had accumulated on the former site) is the stuff of legend—and of operatic drama (Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites”, based on a play by George Bernanos, based on a novel by Gertrude von Le Fort). Loaded into the tumbrel and driven through the streets of Paris, they chanted the “Miserere”, the “Salve Regina”, the “Te Deum”. Even the most hardened atheistic Revolutionary would have recognized these chants of the Church. When they arrived at the Place de la Nation, they sang the “Veni, Creator Spiritus”, invoking the Holy Spirit.
Each of the Choir nuns paused at the foot of the scaffold and renewed their vows to the Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, as they began to chant “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes”. They each kissed a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and mounted the scaffold starting with the youngest, Sister Constance, who made her final vows just before she died:

Mother Teresa of St. Augustine
Mother St. Louis, sub-prioress
Mother Henriette of Jesus, ex-prioress
Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified
Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, ex-sub-prioress and sacristan
Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception
Sister Teresa of the Sacred Heart of Mary
Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, widow
Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius
Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence
Sister Constance, novice

Three lay sisters, who had helped the choir nuns with chores and hospitality and two externs, who had been the nuns’ contacts with the outside world, also suffered martyrdom:

Sister St. Martha
Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit
Sister St. Francis Xavier
Catherine Soiron
Thérèse Soiron

The chant ended when the Prioress was guillotined. Their bodies were loaded into a cart and hauled off to the Picpus Cemetery, where they were dumped into a mass grave.

It wouldn’t hurt to embed Poulenc’s finale once again:

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When Toby Keith eased Merle Haggard’s burdens

Via the Unfinished Pyramid blog, I came across this touching story about the country singer Toby Keith and #AprilCountry outlaw fave Merle Haggard:

“It was Super Bowl weekend. Merle had already cancelled months of shows, but this particular booking was a big payday. Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig.

Toby Keith was in town with his wife to watch some football and have some fun. Toby got word that Merle was in Vegas, so he went to see him… Merle was in bad shape. He needed to be in a hospital – not on a stage; but The Show Must Go On. Merle would not take charity from anyone, but he did turn to Toby and say, “How songs of mine do you know?”
“All of ’em” answered T.
“All of ’em?”
“Yep. And I won’t need a teleprompter.”
“Well, stay nearby.”

After four or five songs, Merle’s infected lungs were spent. He couldn’t draw enough air to sing any longer. “We’ve, uh, we’ve got a special guest here tonight…” Toby came out and sang the rest of the show. Merle gave his last concert. The Strangers got paid. And the audience, while not realizing it at the time, saw something special.

Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact.”

#MarianMay : Magnificat, John Taverner, performed by Chanticleer

From labelmate of The Beatles on their own Apple Records, to composer of devout works of Orthodox faith, John Taverner followed an unconventional path from hippy fandom (the rather arch Gramophone review linked to above  recalls”the worn-out copy in the local library—potholed by the styli of countless gramophones that otherwise played nothing but pop, rock and jazz.) to Orthodoxy to “Universalism”.  Here is his Magnificat for this last day of May:

#MarianMay , “Salve Regina” – closing scene of “Dialogue des Carmelites”, Francis Poulenc

Last year I posted a YouTube video of the magnificent setting of the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) the concludes Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmelites , with the sound of the guillotine searing this into the memory. Here is another staging, from La Scala in 2004:

And from the New York Met in 1987, here is Jessye Norman and Maria Ewing inter alia in an extremely powerful scene (this guillotine seems especially loud!):