Festum Asinorum – Feast of the Ass

Festum Asinorum – Feast of the Ass (2015) – SATB a cappella (8′)
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-The text for this work comes from an ancient rite that was once prevalent within the Catholic Church, the so-called “Feast of the Ass.” It was observed on January 14th and celebrated the so-called, “Flight into Egypt,” during which Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt after hearing of King Herod’s plan to kill all of the infants in the homeland of the couple. A donkey carried Mary for the entire duration of the trip, as such, this Feast Day celebrates the holy animal.
The rite was a growth out of the “Feast of Fools,” and was an attempt by the Church to discourage pagan rituals and rites, instead replacing them with lighthearted events such as this. During this rite, a young (sometimes pregnant) woman and a child were placed on the back of a donkey and ridden through the town to the front gates of the church. Upon arrival, the donkey was sometimes even led into the church to stand near the altar for the service (other accounts of the rite state that wooden replicas of donkeys were often used as well).
This song was performed as one of the chants during the Mass and the original setting was performed in a very serious manner (apart from the braying). Upon conclusion of the service, the priest, instead of ending the service with the usual ‘Ite, Missa est’, would bray like a donkey, and the crowd, in turn, would return these raucous brays. As this Feast originated in France, the chorus was sung in French, I have retained the original, old French language in my setting to ensure authenticity to the source text.
My setting aims to capture this absurd seriousness coupled with the raucous masses braying like donkeys inside of medieval churches, usually full of intense meditation and staunch introspection.

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