A quartet sang an ancient hymn in a stairwell with a shiver-inducing acoustic

1 September 2020, 16:22 | Updated: 3 September 2020, 10:18

Kings Return quartet singing
Kings Return quartet singing. Picture: Kings Return

By Kyle Macdonald

A modern take on Gregorian chant, four singers, and a stairwell encounter that’s beyond words.

Sometimes the most beautiful things are the simplest. Gathered in a resonant stairwell, four men sang a setting of the ancient hymn Ubi Caritas et Amor.

It’s enough to take your breath away and send a shiver down your spine.

The four voices belong to the quartet Kings Return. This arrangement is a modern-day one by Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian composer and pianist.

Gjeilo’s setting uses an ancient text and simple melody inspired by the contours of Gregorian chant, a style of singing that dates from before the turn of the first millennium, when monks would have sung hymns in cavernous monasteries. To the lines of chant, Gjeilo adds just the right amount of melting harmony, which fits perfectly with the Kings Return voices.

Add in the resonant stairwell acoustic, and one can’t really wish for more.

This 800-year-old Icelandic hymn sung in a train station is utterly haunting >

Ubi Caritas text and translation

Ubi Caritas et Amor is a hymn of the Christian Church, used for centuries as one of the antiphons for the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week. The text is attributed to Paulinus of Aquileia in 796, and is most commonly sung in Latin.

Latin text:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

English translation:

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Taking this wonderful performance into account, we could perhaps add... “Where charity and love are – and a resonant stairwell – there God is”.