Books on the theory of Gregorian chant's modes?
  • Geremia
    Posts: 130
    Are there any books or other resources that delve into the music theory of Gregorian chant's various modes? Or that are devoted to the music theory of Gregorian chant in particular?

    I categorized this post under "semiology," as that's tangentially related to what I'm asking here.

  • I made a booklet about the modes once (linked here), which lays out the standard information about the eight modes pretty thoroughly.
  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 348
    Cardine's "Beginning Studies in Gregorian Chant" is good and can be had used from Amazon and perhaps elsewhere pretty cheap. He talks a bit about how the modes are somewhat arbitrary since the greek 8 mode system was tacked on to the previously existing repertoire.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • This is a fascinating subject, pocked with ambiguity, misinformation, competing notions, and considerable academic theoretical variety. It is discussed here and there throughout David Hiley's magisterial Western Plainchant: A Handbook. Don't be fooled by the 'Handbook' in that title. The book is about three inches thick and is an exhaustive treatment of western liturgical chant. In addition to mention thoughout Hiley's book there is an entire chapter devoted to the modes (pp. 454-477). His work is all but unassailable and may be had from Oxford University Press.

    Hiley's 'Handbook...' is the successor to Willi Apel's Gregorian Chant, which was 'the last word' in the mid-XXth century. Though Apel's work is in some respects dated, it remains largely valuable. His book (Indiana Univ. Press) has considerable information about the modes in the chapter on 'Tonality'.

    Another excellent source is Charles M. Atkinson's The Critical Nexus: Tone System, Mode, and Notation in Early Mediaeval Music, had from Oxford UP. This book is chock full of delightfully stimulating information about the mediaeval modes and medieaval music theory. Every one should have it.

    Oh, and don't overlook Grove's!

    Back to Hiley: he also has a much shorter book which would be a good introductory tome for those who are new to chant. Published by Cambrigde UP, it is called, simply, Gregorian Chant, and is rather similar to, though somewhat more academically developed than, Dom Daniel Saulnier's little book of the same name. In fact, these two would make excellent companion volumes for any who offer courses or instruction in our western liturgical chant.
  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 348
    As an example of modes being fluid, consider how Kyrie I goes from mode 3 to 8 to 7. Bam. Death. Resurrection. Ascension. All summarized in a single chant.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,165
    Hiley's 'Handbook' is available as a scan, from his university so presumably legitimate.
  • Ted
    Posts: 144
    For the Gregorian modes, Fr Saulnier's book is invaluable. It is available in English:

    Dom Daniel Saulnier, The Gregorian Modes, tr. Edward Schaefer, Solesmes, 2002.

    Fr Saulnier also wrote his doctoral thesis on the same subject, available online in French:
    Les Modes du Plain-Chant: Nova et vetera,

    As for "theory", and by this I assume a discussion of the Gregorian chant tradition, Fr Saulnier's Gregorian Chant: a Guide, is also good and available online in English:

    I should note here an important general difference between the French and German understandings of Gregorian Chant. The French is more esoteric and intellectually daring even though stressing the scientific nature of the endeavour. The Anglo-Saxon world is more restrained and seems closer to the German understanding. In that later sense Hiley's book is very good as is the slightly outdated book by Willi Apel, Gregorian Chant which is also available online in various places. In the former understanding, and for those who read French, Jacques Viret's book is very good:

    Le Chant Gregorien et la Tradition Gregorienne, L'Age d'Homme, 2001.

    Viret was a student of the renown Jacques Chailley, by the way, whose works on chant are excellent, but perhaps too scholarly for beginners.
  • Ted
    Posts: 144
    I should have also mentioned the performance dimension of chant. An excellent little work showing examples based on semiology (in the French tradition) as well as the theology of the text is Robert Fowells' book,
    Chant Made Simple, Paraclete Press, 2007.