Gregorian Psalm tone assignment
  • Hello all,

    This may be a repeat discussion. Is there a logic to assigning a Gregorian Psalm tone to a Psalm text? Obviously, the traditional chanting of Psalms to the nine(+) tones comes from the Divine Office, with Psalm tones matching their proper antiphons. My question is about whether there is there is an appropriate way to assign Psalm tones to the texts. Perhaps the answer is simply, no!

    In that case - if the answer is no - then what rules (or thought process) might one follow in that sort of situation?

    Many thanks!
    Graduale
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,156
    The mode is usually based on the final note of the chant: RE would imply modes 1 or 2, depending on whether RE is near the bottom of the piece's range (1) or in its middle (2). A final note of MI would imply modes 3 or 4, in a similar way, and so on.

    Then the ending of the psalm tone is chosen to lead back into the antiphon. The psalm tone is labeled according to its last note: RE=d, MI=e, and so on. So tone 8g ends on SOL.

  • Thank you - certainly helpful, but that's not quite what I'm wondering about (I'm wondering about tones, not modes!).

    For the sake of example: let's say I'd like to point Ps. 51 to a Gregorian tone, and compose/point its antiphon (such as 'Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned' for Ash Wednesday). Would I arbitrarily assign a tone to the Psalm (I know I certainly could), or is there an established method or rule of assigning one of the nine tones to go with the text?

    Does that clear it up a bit?

    Thanks!
  • There are expressions associated with the modes, traditionally. For example, perhaps, "glorious praise" might be associated with mode seven. If you search "mode mood" here on the forum, you will indeed find many prior discussions.

    Simply stated, though, there is no hard and fast rule for assigning mode to psalm.
  • If you look at page 133 or so in the Liber Usualis you will see the same Psalms pointed for each of the tones, so the logic must lie more in choosing an appropriate mode for the antiphon text.
  • For the sake of example: let's say I'd like to point Ps. 51 to a Gregorian tone, and compose/point its antiphon (such as 'Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned' for Ash Wednesday). Would I arbitrarily assign a tone to the Psalm (I know I certainly could), or is there an established method or rule of assigning one of the nine tones to go with the text?


    That's going about it the wrong way -- at least, in terms of the logic of the development of Gregorian chant. You should first compose the antiphon. Then, as Chonak indicates, you choose the psalm tone based on the mode of the antiphon. Alternatively (though ahistorically), you could choose the psalm tone you like, and then compose the antiphon to match it.

    That's really all there is to it.
  • I’ve heard of some people taking the mode of the gradual for the day and using that to write a neo-Gregorian Antiphon for the responsorial psalm, and obviously chant the verses to the corresponding psalm tone
  • I am such a person, although in my work it was not the Gradual of the day, but a gradual responsory or an antiphon which used the same text as the responsorial psalm for the day. For there is of course no daily correspondence at all between the gradual and the responsorial psalm, as texts.
  • If you are not singing an antiphon you would assign a psalm according to the mood of the text. If you are not familiar with conveying moods with the psalm tones , try this: sing psalm 150 or " if today you hear his voice" through all the tones, you should sense a difference. The monastic tones have been tempered a bit and miss the mark a bit with this exercise. With an English text I would suggest using the Meinrad Psalm tones. Mode 3 retains the reciting pitch on the semi tone and is very plaintive. I usually assign mode 2 to a text that conveys God Speaking such as " this is my Son," or for an antiphon beginning with the words " I Am" . I use mode 4 when the voice of the text is a group collectively praising God as in "Te Deum." Mode 6 is restful and repose, Mode 8 is for telling stories, Ironically mode 5 is deadly , very memento mori -ish, as in "Christus factus est." Mode 5 sounds happy to us, but it is really quite austere and straight forward like an E.A. Robinson poem. All of the above may or may not be true.
    Thanked by 1Andrew_Malton
  • Graduale,

    in addressing your question, I'd first ask in what context are you assigning psalm tones. Is it for a responsorial psalm at Mass? Part of the Divine Office? Chanting a psalm at Mass for entrance, offertory, or communion? Teaching someone about psalm tones? A prayer meeting of some sort? Personal prayer? I might give somewhat different answers for each of these situations.

    Since you mentioned the Psalm Miserere in the context of Ash Wednesday, I'll note that the famous Allegri setting of this psalm uses the mode 2 psalm tone. As indicated in program notes for a recent concert, the historical, liturgical setting was matins for Holy Week at the Sistine Chapel. So it depends.
  • If we are speaking of the Divine Office in Latin, the rule is simple, you use the mode of the antiphon with the appropriate finale. If singing without antiphon, you use the "in directum" tone or sing recto-tono. I've never seen it done any other way in the monasteries I've visited.
  • rye
    Posts: 8
    The Ordo Cantus Officii gives the antiphons for the Psalms in the Divine Office. The antiphon setting also determines the psalm tone.
  • Simon
    Posts: 153
    For our Psalterium Project we elected to record the Miserere (psalm L) without an antiphon - the only one of all 150 psalms we recorded. All the other psalms had an antiphon whose text came from the psalm itself and was written in the famous Hartker Antphonary = St. Gall 390-391. We went for the tonus indirectum as the most appropriate for this most penitential of the penitential psalms. See: http://www.psalterium.nl/the-psalterium-project/ or: http://www.psalmchant.com/
    Thanked by 1Nisi
  • smt
    Posts: 32
    Since you mentioned the Psalm Miserere in the context of Ash Wednesday, I'll note that the famous Allegri setting of this psalm uses the mode 2 psalm tone. As indicated in program notes for a recent concert, the historical, liturgical setting was matins for Holy Week at the Sistine Chapel. So it depends.


    No valuable contribution, but: I think the original Allegri manuscript used tonus peregrinus, whereas most recordings use tonus 2.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • Simon
    Posts: 153
    In the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday tenebrae services in Holy Week the Miserere is simply chanted recto tono in total darkness at the conclusion of the service - which is more accurately described as Tenebrae matins and lauds. Preceding this simple recitation the antiphon Crhristus factus est pro nobis is sung (5th tone) after all the candles and lights in the church have been dimmed. The last remaining lit candle of the candelabrum triangulare has been carried to and hidden behind the high altar and the Christus factus est is then sung followed bythe Miserere recto tono. I believe it is for this solemn moment the Allegri Miserere was composed as a spectacular alternative to the traditional recto tono version. After a short prayer the candle appears from behind the high altar and is placed on the highest point of the candalabrum and the service is concluded and all depart quietly.
    The Misere is also sung as the first psalm in the Lauds with an antiphon in the 8th tone in theMaundy Thursday service and the 7th and 4th tone in the Good Friday and Holy Saturday services respectively.
  • smt
    Posts: 32
    Interesting, thanks! However, there is a section for the chant in the oldest manuscript.

    But compare this recording from Westminster cathedral under George Malcolm:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgwkU92WzzE
    (roughly from 1:35)
    That's why they sing recto tono, thanks for the insight!

    And from the description of witnesses of the liturgy of Holy week in Rome we know that Allegri's Miserere was used for the concluding Miserere of the Tenebrae liturgy, which was removed in the 1955 reform. Wikipedia has a good overview:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenebrae#Table_illustrating_the_contents_of_the_service
    Thanked by 3tomjaw CHGiffen Simon