Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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Term describing an ancient wordless chant sung by labourers that in modern times came to be associated with the melismatic vocalization of the alleluia of the Mass (see Alleluia, §I). The nouns jubilus and jubilatio, and more often the verbal form jubilare, appear with some frequency in Latin literature, where they refer to a sort of wordless call or chant. Wiora has traced the Latin word jubilus to a common linguistic root, io, that has a peculiar acoustical force, and he associates the phenomenon of the Latin jubilus with similar cries heard in other cultures – the Alpine yodel, for example, and the call of the Volga boatmen. In Latin literature the jubilus could figure as a primitive whoop or shout, as when Apuleius speaks of a group of farm labourers who set their dogs upon intruders with ‘the accustomed jubilations [iubilationibus solitis] and other kinds of shouts’ (Metamorphoses, viii.17). A more lyric jubilus is suggested by Silius Italicus who writes of the Cyclops delighting in the jubilations (iubila) of the Siren (Punica, xiv.475). But probably the most common usage is that involving the song of farm workers, who, as they were harvesting, employed a repetitive rhythmic chant presumably to facilitate their labour; Fronto, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, describes how ‘we gave ourselves to the task of grape-gathering, we sweated and we jubilated [iubilavimus]’ (Ad M.Caes. iv.6). The 2nd-century grammarian Festus summarized matters in his definition of jubilare: ‘to jubilate is to cry out with rustic voice’.

The term entered Christian literature by way of the Psalm Commentary, a common genre of patristic exegesis in which the author works his way through the entire Book of Psalms, spinning figurative tropes upon virtually every important word of the text. The Church Fathers searched far and wide through sacred and secular learning and lore for their material, and it is no surprise that they seized upon the jubilus when commenting on the word jubilare. Hilary of Poitiers (d 367), the author of the first Latin Psalm Commentary, begins his treatment of Psalm lxv.3, Jubilate Deo omnis terra, by saying: ‘Now according to the convention of our language we give the name jubilus [iubilum] to the sound of a pastoral and rustic voice’. But as the following passage shows, it took the imagination of Augustine to exploit the implications of the wordlessness of the jubilus, which he saw as a symbol of a joy that surpasses the expressive capacity of ordinary speech: ‘Mowers and vintagers and those who gather other products, happy in the abundance of harvest and gladdened by the very richness and fecundity of the earth, sing in joy’. Angustine continues by noting the textless chants of these workers: ‘between the song which they express in words, they insert certain sounds without words’; and he concludes by exclaiming that a worker ‘bursts forth in a certain voice of exultation without words … because filled with too much joy, he cannot explain in words what it is in which he delights’ (In psalmum lxv).

Needless to say, Augustine saw spiritual implications in this kind of joy, but he never associated the jubilus with the textless melisma of a liturgical alleluia. He spoke of the jubilus numerous times in his Psalm Commentary but always in connection with the appearance of some form of the word jubilare in the biblical text. He never introduced the word ‘alleluia’ into any of these passages, nor, conversely, did he introduce the idea of the jubilus into his many extended discussions of the liturgical exclamation ‘alleluia’. (Moneta Caglio made the same observation and concluded that the Augustinian jubilus referred not to the alleluia but to melismatic passages of the responsorial gradual psalm; the language of the Augustinian references, however, makes neither an explicit nor implicit connection between the jubilus and any form of liturgical singing.)

The association of the jubilus with melismatic liturgical chant appears for the first time in the works of the 9th-century scholar Amalarius of Metz (d c850). The eventual linking of the two was all but inevitable: the notion of jubilus as expressing a joy beyond speech was an exegetical commonplace in the Middle Ages, and clerics were in the presence of melismatic chant every day. But it should be noted that Amalarius associated the jubilus not just with the alleluia but with melismatic chant in general. This remains the case with ecclesiastical authors throughout the Middle Ages; Hugh of St Victor (d 1142), for example, wrote: ‘Neumata, which take place in the alleluia and in other chants of few words, signify the jubilus, which happens when the mind is so fixed upon God … that it is not able to express fully what it feels' (De officiis ecclesiasticis, ii.19). It is chant scholars of modern times who have confined the definition of the jubilus to the melismatic extension of the alleluia of the Mass. This definition has greatly distorted the early history (or more properly, pre-history) of the alleluia in the centuries before the emergence of the mature Gregorian form. It remains nonetheless both proper and convenient to apply the term jubilus to the melismatic portion of the medieval chant. Discussions of the alleluia rightly dwell upon the fascinating musical characteristics of the hundreds of preserved alleluia jubili and the relationship of these melodies with those of the alleluia verses.

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