Pérès vocal sonority
  • Pérès' Ensemble Organum, and his imitators and disciples such as the Schola Cantorum Chosoviensis, have an immediately recognizable sonority, even when singing monophonic music. Yes, there is the "influence" of Byzantine cantillation and (apparently) of Corsican folk singing; yes, there is a certain deliberate "wild" raucousness (even when singing Machaut!) and yes there are those incredible A1 and C2 isons.

    But is it possible to say what is it that makes the vocal production so immediately recognizable? Even a single note ", in that "style"? I am not at all choral or singing scholar enough to know, but I know it when I hear it. Can anyone say?
  • Perez' chant is an adventure in speculative musicology and ethno-musicology. It is, though, speculation that is supported by much study of the literary and archaeological record of historical chant. As for the 'sonority' of his singers, it coincides with what would seem to have been the unvarnished vocal production which likely held force up until modern times when we began to cultivate a highly refined 'sonority'. For me, Perez' research is convincing. Others, put off by the raw sonority of his chant, are quite opposed to granting it any legitimacy.

    One notes that in an excursion to most any Orthodox church one would encounter a tradition of chant which makes no fuss over what we would call beautiful tone and nuance. The chant is delivered reverently, but with no attempt at a refined vocality. One will also encounter much scooping from low pitches to higher ones and a general un-fussiness of delivery. Just the opposite of what we of European extraction would call beautiful singing.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen toddevoss
  • Hugh
    Posts: 175
    I fell in love with the "Messe de Jour de Noel" - Ensemble Organum (Peres) - back in the early 1990s. It's inspired my interpretation of chant ever since. Particularly the Offertory: "Tui Sunt Caeli" with those incredible verses. My problem is I like Solesmes chant as well, so I guess my interpretation is a trade-off between the two. Rhythmically I'm tending to follow the semiology a la Peres, but I incorporate a lot more of the dynamic range of the Solesmes stuff - softening and slowing the ends of phrases, whereas EO is more blunt and cut off. Not that I object to the latter - it's very effective. (Eg - in the Tui Sunt Caeli, there's almost no dynamic variation at all. Each section is sung at the same volume throughout, though for example the first verse volume is higher than the other sections. It doesn't seem to lose anything by this dynamic uniformity within each section.) Some Vatican choirmaster I can't now recall of a few years back said chant shouldn't be delicate and namby pamby : it was martial, sung while going into battle as it were. Well, that's EO to me.

    When I ventured my fondness for EO/Peres to Dr Mary Berry (RIP) when I met her in the early 1990s, she was of accord. But she also added in her own inimitable way: "But Hugh, you have to be careful. In France they say of him "C'est un fou."" (He's mad.) Like Dr Berry, I was unmoved then by that verdict ... as I am now.

    To answer the question directly re. "style" - I can only confess to what I do when I try to imitate Peres. It's all "front foot", "no apologies", "in your face". I get up there and think "You're all swine and I'm here to make you listen to me, whether you like it or not."

    Obviously I do this with utter interior humility.
  • The Vatican choirmaster was Domenico Bartolucci: "Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day.". A forceful opinion to be sure.

    Choir conductor at Christmas Midnight, rehearsing rather vigorous 16th century homophony: " The mediaevals only knew two volumes, loud and soft"... prettty much right.

    I agree that 1/ Pérès is gloriously crazy, and his music is quite wonderful, and 2/ that the musicology is often fairly convincing. Also it does seem that the in-your-face presentation is part of the style, a least of the rhetoric.

    But there is a question still of how those voices work, how they produce those sounds. The rough edge, the absence of bel canto. Yes, but it is not only a negative quality, of course. The intonation, and evident use of quarter tones and perfect fifths, are part of it too.

    I think one can say that the vowels are raise and fronted, not low and back, so that the sound is "bright". But what else?
  • It seems to border on chest-tone / belting. I'd be interested to know how Peres' collaborator Jacky Micaelli produces her tone.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,959
    Here are a few examples for study and comparison, the last being a Pomerium reading of the Dufay Ave Maris Stella, which represents a different style, more upfront (than most groups we hear) and yet with some subtlety, which I happen to appreciate very highly.

    Chant Corse (Corsican Chant) - Tantum Ergo
    Ensemble Organum, Marcel Pérès
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    Johannes Ockeghem 1410-1497 : Requiem-Offertorium
    Ensemble Organum, Marcel Pérès
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    Johannes Ockeghem - Déploration sur la mort de Binchois
    Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer
    width="640" height="360">

    Josquin: Nymphes des bois
    Graindelavoix
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    Guillaume Dufay - Ave Maris Stella
    Pomerium, Alexander Blachly
    width="640" height="360">
  • Too, I've heard some priests and bishops whose chant sounds not at all different from Perez'. They sing and enjoy doing so, but haven't a clue about nuance and what we would prefer to hear in the way of a nice vocal register. They just belt their chant out, backwoods diction and all. By their unrefined and undistilled example we may see an historic praxis, one that precedes the coached and taught vocal style which our ears expect of singing.

    Still, mediaeval English choir boys were said to produce a sound sweeter than any other. We can only conjecture what was meant by 'sweet'. They must not have been untutored in vocal production. What were mediaeval standards of beautiful singing? Erasmus of Rotterdam complained that 'we have money to train boys to squeal'. Perhaps he was just unappreciative of all music - a 'cantatothrope' (if I may be permitted a neologism).
  • This reminds me of something related I have been thinking about. Congregational singing of Gregorian chant during Ordinaries need not ( I would say "should not") be performed in the way Gregorian chant is typically sung in religious communities or by highly trained scholas. More rough and exuberant - a key difference to me would be the absence of the "softening and slowing the ends of phrases" as noted above by Hugh above. Most congregations won't do that naturally and I think that is a good thing in that context. See linked video for a good example of what I am talking about. Note in the Gloria, for example, when they get to Iesu Christe, the organ "swells" along with the congregation (and in fact encouraging the congregation). Just the opposite of "softening".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMCSIKmfo_o
  • Not that I don't appreciate a more contemplative and exquisite approach. For example, this practice rendition of Missa IV ordinaries helped me appreciate this incredibly beautiful Mass.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF0z7-AifmU

    For me this Gloria is the most beautiful piece of chant I have ever heard so far. If this Mass was sung in Church, I would want the ordinaries chanted by a schola so PIPs like me could quietly meditate in the pews. Maybe if it was done enough, the PIPs could chant along.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen hilluminar
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,001
    What about the drones he uses in like the Orbis factor....that's seems to be completely made up.
    This discussion reminds me of jordi savall, a great musician, but gevtajes three measures if music and has his group improvise in it for 40 min. Nothing to do with mediaeval music.
  • Hugh
    Posts: 175
    One of the side-delights of heaven (if God willing we make it) will be to find out what chant and polyphony sounded like back in the day.

    Scores will be settled, but with the utmost charity!
  • madorganist
    Posts: 443
    Some Vatican choirmaster I can't now recall of a few years back said chant shouldn't be delicate and namby pamby : it was martial, sung while going into battle as it were.
    It was Bartolucci. Here's the quote:
    Certain extravagant deteriorations of Solesmes had cultivated a whispered Gregorian chant, a fruit also of that pseudo-Medieval restoration that had so much success in the 1800s....Gregorian chant is modal, not tonal, is free, not rhythmic; it is not “one, two, three, one two three.” The way of singing in our cathedrals should not have been scorned in order to substitute an affected and pseudo-monastic whispering. One does not interpret a Medieval chant with theories of today, but rather one takes it as it comes to us. Moreover, Gregorian chant was at one time known to be the song of the people, sung with force as our people, with force, expressed its faith. Solesmes did not understand this. But all of this is said with a recognition of the great and astute philological work it did with the study of the ancient manuscripts.
    Source:
    http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2009-0831-ferrara-catholic_tradition_vindicated.htm
  • So now I have a quandry.

    Pope St. Pius X basically baptized the work of Solemnes.
    Cardinal Bartolucci (an otherwise well-respected musician) says "Solemnes did not understand this".


    A Pope, or a man shunned because of his adherence to the principles of sacred music?
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,422
    chez moi, we go with Bartolucci.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 443
    Pope St. Pius X basically baptized the work of Solemnes.
    Only to the extent of supporting the restoration of the authentic melodies. (Incidentally, this important work did not end with the publication of the Vatican edition of the Gradual in 1908!) I think it is a mistake to view his support of the work of the Solesmes monks as an official endorsement of a particular aesthetic and style of vocal production. Of course, if someone produces evidence to the contrary, I stand corrected, but I believe the papal support was in view of the melodic restoration rather than the "(old) Solesmes method" per se.

    PS - My earlier comment was "moderated" (perhaps because of the link?) and does not appear at the point in the discussion where I actually intended to post it. It's redundant after what others have already mentioned.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 443
    Also Bartolucci:
    It was once very moving to hear the assembly sing the Te Deum, the Magnificat, the litanies, music that the people had assimilated and made their own – but today very little is left even of this. And furthermore, Gregorian chant has been distorted by the rhythmic and aesthetic theories of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,066
    Pope St. Pius X basically baptized the work of Solemnes.
    I believe Dom Pothier oversaw the Vatican's Gradual Romanum of 1908, but it very clearly does not include any of the rhythmic signs pubished by Solesmes, no ictus, no episemata, not even any of the dots to double some notes. Though there are subtle typographical hints of the phrasing in melismata, for which see the lower part of p.XII. The Solesmes markings have been 'tolerated', never officially recommended by the Vatican.
  • I believe Dom Pothier oversaw the Vatican's Gradual Romanum of 1908, but it very clearly does not include any of the rhythmic signs pubished by Solesmes, no ictus, no episemata, not even any of the dots to double some notes.


    Pothier was over the GR 1908. My understanding was that most of the ictus markings (and I imagine other episemata / dots to which you refer) were added by Mocquereau subsequently. I had read that the two argued vehemently about Mocquereau's approach to rhythmic interpretation of chant.
  • CGM
    Posts: 425
    Are there any volumes of chant melodies notated as understood by JWA Vollaerts or Dom Gregory Murray? I find their rhythmic ideas, the very antithesis of Solesmes, quite fascinating.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 502
    "One of the side-delights of heaven (if God willing we make it) will be to find out what chant and polyphony sounded like back in the day."
    If we get to heaven, we will be engaged by much more than finding out what was done. Dante describes the music of heaven as nothing like what we have heard on earth. And as he approaches the face of God all is light and silence.
  • Thank you, Dr Mahrt -

    St Paul, in Ist Corinthians 2.9, put it well -

    Oculos non vidit,
    Nec auris audivit,
    Nec in cor hominis ascendit
    Quae praeparavit Deus his
    Qui diligunt illum.

    Eye hath not seen,
    Nor ear heard,
    Neither hath it entered into the heart of man
    What God hath prepared
    For them that love him.

    Nor ear heard!
    And that goes for music - none of us can have experienced nor imagine any heavenly realities.

    When all is said and done, our finest music most beautifully performed will be, to borrow a phrase from the Angelic Doctor, naught but 'straw' compared to what is heard in what we hope to be our heavenly home.

    Thanked by 2Hugh CHGiffen
  • Hugh
    Posts: 175
    Very true, Dr M - I stress the "side" in "side-delight". :)

    But here's a paradox: we (three or four) sing Midnight Mass, the Dawn Mass (8.00 am) and the Day Mass (10.30 am) at Christmas. The Dawn Mass propers ("Lux Fulgebit") are especially exacting, at least for me, after a few hours' snatched sleep, or rather, fitful non-sleep. This year I had episodic laryngitis as well following a severe bout (for me) of bronchitis. Not recommended! Yet at the end of the Dawn Mass, facing the Day Mass within the hour, I was both at the end of my tether, but strangely uplifted by the beauty of the Dawn Mass propers I'd staggered through. The Day Mass was a welcome respite. (I then promptly slept through the rest of Christmas Day. Bliss!)

    We, meaning a handful or less, then sang from St Stephen till the Sunday within the Octave, and then Jan 1. Same strange combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. St Stephen in particular I find challenging, especially the Offertory. Johner's comments help to make sense of the thing.

    However transcendent the glories of heavenly music will be, I'm sure that chant sung with the right attitude here on earth, in hac lacrimarum valle, will prove a type.

    None of which gainsays what you've pertinently observed.

    Happy Twelfth Night !!

  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,222
    Bartolucci was, in my opinion, correct. Certain practitioners of the "Old Solesmes" style are far to affected and effete in my opinion, singing as if walking on eggshells: To me, to be entirely avoided: There needs to be a certain virilitas about it--whether sung by men or women, adults or children.

    The style of singing used by Peres seems to me, to be much more like the old style of singing that one can still hear on early discs--once one gets one's ear wrapped around the primitive techonology--especially those on Sistine Choir during the directorship of Lorenzo Perosi, particularly those from 1904 and before (before the ejection of the castrati). If you listen carefully to the recording made by Moreschi of Palestrina's madrigal "La cruda mia nemica", peeling away the late 19th century surface (the various attacks from a lower pitch--which evidence suggests is actually a stock ornament of the castrato repertory from the 18th century), what you get is a vocal tone not dissimilar (to my ear) to the forward, more chesty tone used by Peres. What it most certainly is not, in any case, is the ethereal 'English' tone invented by A.H. Mann, R.R. Terry, and Boris Ord, nor what passes for "Bel Canto" in the opera world today.
    Thanked by 1Andrew Malton
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 100
    I have no qualifications except my own experience singing, but I am not at all a fan of singing the chant delicately. Scripture is not delicate material, the saints are/were not delicate folk, and Christianity is not a delicate religion.

    I hate seeing chant consigned to the same shelf as "New Age" music, for relaxation, and I don't like to sing it or hear it that way.
    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • stulte
    Posts: 215
    Bartolucci was, in my opinion, correct. Certain practitioners of the "Old Solesmes" style are far to affected and effete in my opinion, singing as if walking on eggshells


    This is spot on!