2. Reform circa 1600
Gregorian chant derives its name from Gregory the
Great (Pope 590-604) with whom its origin is associated since the eighth century. His own
writings, however, do not give any reference to musical matters and only scanty
information on liturgical activities in general. Nor does Isidorus of Sevilla (writing in
638) tell anything about this subject in connection with Gregory. Liturgical regulations
are indeed ascribed to other popes and abbots, among whom Bonifacius II (530-532: a cycle
of songs through the year, cantilena anni circoli). A schola with a prior cantorum
(precentor) is mentioned first only half a century after Pope Gregory. This institute is
essential for singing the Prorium. Other Christian liturgical singing is known since
the fourth century, a.o. the hymns by the Milanese bishop and church father Ambrosius.
There is not the faintest evidence for origins of
Gregorian plainchant, in either the music of the classic Greek, or the Roman antiquity, or
in the Jewish music.
Several countries in Western Europe gave birth to
different styles and repertories of plainchant. The most imortant are the Beneventan
(Southern Italy), the Roman , the Mozarabic (in Spain) the Gallican (in France) and the
Ambrosian (in Northern Italy). The latter is still in use in the bishopric of Milan.
Two different developments mainly took place in
the time of Charlemagne.
The first was the introduction of Byzantine
musical theory in Western Europe. This subject will be treated beneath, under Modi.
The second development was the aspiration of
Pippine the Short (751-768) and his son Charlemagne (768-814) to unify their empire from
Northern Italy to Northern Spain, including the newly conquered parts of Germany,
involving cultural and religious aspects. So Roman clerics were invited to France and
Frankish clerics went to Rome to teach and learn the way plainchant was sung in Rome. In
the same period many new liturgical songs were composed. Consequently the need made
itself felt to write down the music. About 900 the so called neumatic notation had been
developed. Neuma (Greek) means head or hand movement. This notation restrained itself to
the rhythm, the pitches were notated in mutual relationship only: high, low, equally, etc.
These neumes were in use for simple hymns, the
ordinary of the mass (Kyrie, etc.) and psalmody as well as for the more complicated
proprium chant. It is nearly certain that the latter was sung by a solo virtuoso and not
by a choir.
Only gradually a system was developed to notate
the pitch on one,later more horizontal lines, and ayt the same time the rhythmical
notation eventually waned. Gradually all notes gained the same appearance of black squares
and the same duration, this way becoming real plainchant. One of the characteristics of
Gregorian chant, the extended series of melodies sung to one syllable, lost its
significance this way. They were however performed for centuries afterwards.
2. Reform about 1600
Only the Concily of Trent (1545-1563) ended in a
decision to simplify the existing church music. The decision implied the simplification of
the polyphonic music in use since about 1300 for the Ordinarium of the mass, but also of
the plainchant of the Proprium. This task was originally commissioned to Giovanni
Pierluigi da Palestrina in 1577,
only to be completed by his successors. They published the Editio Medicea in 1614
and 1615. This development is generally considered to be regrettable in the manuals.
The simplified melodies however harmonise
extraordinarily well with the polyphonic masses of Josquin, Palestrina, Mozart or
Bruckner, which continued to be performed after the Concily. In my opinion the
simplification has been executed in a extraordinary logical and musical way. The
reconstructed original chant of the 8-th - 10-th century, to be discussed beneath, does
not lend itself to be performed in one service in combination with Western polyphony,
either medieval or modern.
New plainchant was composed in the seventeenth
century, like the well known Credo III and the hymn Rorate caeli that is sung during
Advent. They were composed only in the simple way. Nowadays there are also composed new
compositions in Gregorian chant, for instance my composition Quod chorus vatum, a hymn on
text by Hrabanus Maurus (ca 800) for the vesper of St. Mary's Purification on the page Post Petrucci.
In the nineteenth century the Benedictine monks of
Solesmes (France) began reconstructing the early medieval Gregorian chant. The name of
André Mocquereau is connected with this. He made a classification of the two most
important manuscript families from the 9-th and 10-th centuries, as far as they contained
neumes. The most important manuscripts of these groups are a manuscript preserved in the
library of the abbey of St Gallen, Switzerland, dating from the end of the 9-th century
and a manuscript in the municipal library of Laon, France and its derivatives. Besides he
consulted a manuscript from the 11-the century in the library of the Medical Faculty of
Montpellier. This manuscript contains both the neumatic signs and a notation in letters
for the pitches. This manuscript served as a Rosetta Stone for the original chant
melodies. The manuscripts from Sankt-Gallen
(nrs. 359, 339, 376 en 390/391), Laon
(239, 12, 226b and 240) and from Montpellier
(H 159) are accessable on internet, see also the page Links.
The most well-known results of this work are: (a)
the Graduale Romanum, with the liturgical chant for the masses throughout the church year,
(b), the Antiphonale Monasticum, with the Office and (c) a combination of both that got
the name Liber Usualis ("users book").These books have been introduced in the
church in the beginning of the 20-th century, after a several decads long struggle between
promotors of the way of performance of the reconstructed medieval chant and sceptic and
conservative scholars (among whom respected specialists) supported by the commercially
involved reprinter of the Editio Medicea. You may found here the Liber Usualis in square notation
and the Liber
Usualis in modern notation.
The sceptics and conservatives were partially
right, arguing that the new Graduale contained many errors in the transcription, and that
the interpretation of the rhythmical signs was far from certain and partially even wrong.
Nevertheless the Graduale remained in use for nearly the whole of the 20-th century.
By comparing the manuscripts systematically
another Benedictine monk, Eugène Cardine, succeeded in finding a reliable point of
departure for the reconstruction of the rhythm, in a way he called the semiological
method. His publication Sémiologie Grégorienne dates from 1970 (English translation by
Robert M. Fowles, Solesmes 1982).
The existing print of the Graduale Romanum,
enlarged with neumatic signs of the two most important manuscript families was edited
under the name Graduale Triplex (= Threefold Gradual) in 1979. The two different series of
neumes were added in different colors above and under the original square staffs.
Regrettably the errors in the transcription from the Montpellier manuscript were not
corrected. Furthermore, only the Proprium chant was handled this way, and the editors did
not reanalyse or reconstruct the Ordinary. Only a few manuscripts have been
transmitted containing the Ordinary provided with neumatic signs.
The errors in the proprium have however been
restored by a Dutchman Chris Hakkenes, in his publication Graduale Lagal (The Hague 1984,
with an introduction in Latin and English). He invented a new way of rendering neumes and
notes, and produced a complete edition of the Gradual according to the semiological
Parts of the corrected Graduale may also be found
on the website of the Choralschola Freiburg (Germany) Gregor und Taube (Gregory
and Dove). The site is in German and Latin. This edition does not render all rhythmical
differences. But the neumes from the Sankt Gallen family of manuscripts have mostly been
added above the amended square notes. This edition, based on the Graduale restitutum,
published in the German periodical Beiträge zur Gregorianik, will
gradually be completed.
More and more Gregorian choirs converted to the
semiological way of singing since about 1990.
A comprehensive history of Gregorian chant is:
David Hiley, Western Plainchant, Oxford 1993. See also the page Links.
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