Performance practice of pre-Solesmes chant?
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,604
    Question: does anyone here know anything about the performance practice of Medicaean (pre-Solesmes) chant, especially in the 19th century? The notation implies unequal durations, but in what proportion? What was the typical tempo range?

    Yeah, I know, I'm a big boy, I can do my own research. But pouring through treatises in languages I don't understand well is not really how I want to spend CoronaLent
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 441
    Check out some of the pre-Vatican Edition organ accompaniments HERE. I'm sorry I don't know offhand which ones, but I know Jeff Ostrowski has pointed out some as examples showing how the square note notation of the time was treated rhythmically.
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • madorganist
    Posts: 602
    First page of this Ostrowski article touches on it:
    http://archive.ccwatershed.org/media/pdfs/13/08/17/14-49-29_0.pdf

    I recently saw something about a new edition of the Couperin organ Masses with a transcription of the chants. That's from an earlier period than you're looking for, but the style would be the same.

    Here's a recorded example with serpent accompaniment:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWlwr_GvBMw
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,852
    It is perhaps too easy to glance at the examples in modern notation, and think we just play them, perhaps with a modicum of better feeling than a midi player. But in the 1857 Kyriale, for example,
    The unequal value of the notes will produce the beautiful effect which we allude to; but it must be remembered that that value is not so much of mathematical exactness as of good taste and proper training ...
    That edition at least is clear that they are using a modern staff and note shapes, but not as precise indications of duration, or pitch.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,989
    Perhaps this example from outside of chant practice can give us an idea :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWtvbXmWqz4
  • good taste and proper training ...


    Would I stir up a hornet's nest if I asked for some definition of these terms?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,852
    Fr Pustet, 1874 edition
    valet ergo regula : Cantabis syllabas sicut pronuntiaveris
    As to how Latin was spoken in Baltimore, or Ratisbon, in those days - I could not possibly comment.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,621
    Why, Liam, just . . . why?!?!?
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,989
    Because.

    Given human nature, I think it's helpful to remember that chant in its time of greatest influence probably had its craptacular moments along with supernal ones.
  • craptacular


    new word for me.

    Can someone help me define "good taste and proper training", though, so I can identify "craptacular" moments ?
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 441
    Here is a note from a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic booklet for "Divine Liturgy with Vespers for Great Thursday", I think this booklet is from the 1970's:

    RENDITION OF PLAIN CHANT

    Plain Chant is merely words spoken to music. When we speak we say words with inflection and accent and that accent is always on an upward or downward inflection. Furthermore, when we speak we give words and syllables different time values within one phrase. Therefore, Plain Chant must be treated the same because it is words spoken to music. Music must necessarily be written with notes of certain time values - half, quarter, whole notes - but chant cannot be rendered pleasingly if we observe strict and unalterable adherence to the values of notes, otherwise we will hear a da-da-da-da-da-da-da effect. Attempt to give spoken feeling to the words you are singing and Plain Chant will be beautifully rendered.

  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,170
    The 'mechanical' effect often comes from singing unaccented syllables with the same stress as accented syllables. IMHO, this is more important than time values.
  • Irrespective of the probable 'time values' which inhered in historic plainchant renditions is the concept, so prevalent (and rightly so!) nowadays, that chant is 'sung speech'. Yet, this concept is realised in very different ways by XIXth century chant and we adherents of, say, modern semiology. In a look at certain printed editions of chant in the Victorian era one will notice that the chant is often rendered with crotchets on strong syllables and quavers on some weak syllables. There is actually 'method in their madness' - a method which we find somewhat amusing. This is undoubtedly an attempt at rendering the chant with a strong emphasis on strong syllables and a quicker rendering of weaker or less important syllables, as occurs in normal speech. This may reflect patterns of spoken speech applied to chant. Few of us today would apply this system so rigourously either to so-called Solesmes chant, or to Semiological-Cardinian chant. All of which suggests that ideas of 'speech rhythm' are certainly not new - they even appear in the performance of Medician chant and other historical chant traditions. What is new is a particular concept of 'speech rhythm' - not to mention changing patterns of 'spoken speech'.

    Addressing Chonak's point just above here - one of the greatest problems in applying speech rhythm to plainchant, particularly with respect to reciting tone texts, but also to neumatic repertory, namely, the rushing together or elision of weak or short syllables as one may do in normal speech. In chant (or any other song), actual, real, speech patterns need to be modified to endow the delivery with grace, and to make the text understandable to the listeners. I spend much effort in coaching singers to give extra clarity to weak syllables in a way that preserves the speech rhythms while making the speech comprehended. Very often, syllables that are dropped in normal speech (say the second syllable of a word like 'middle', or the central syllable of a word like 'jocular') need extra attention and clarity - and they should in no way be dropped or elided. Even professional orators and public speakers give emphasis, in order to make the language clear, to 'less important' syllables which are often glided over in spoken speech. The right balance in this matter is a constant problem for both singers and speakers, teachers and coaches.
  • Chonak,

    Is it fair to restate your premise as "sing music musically"?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,170
    I'd rather be specific about the technical aspects. As your previous question indicates, expressions like "sing as you speak" or "sing musically" don't provide the level of guidance that we ought to give singers, the proper training to indicate where "good taste" is.
  • Fair enough.

    It is sometimes valuable to chip away the pieces of marble which don't belong in a block, to reveal a beautiful sculpture, so here goes:

    1) Just as one wouldn't speak a sentence in monotone (except for specific effect) don't sing the melodies of Gregorian chant as if each note is of equal value.

    2) Although specific dynamic markings aren't provided within the chants themselves, don't behave as if all notes must be of equal loudness (or softness).

    3) Chant isn't opera. Don't sing it as if it is. Chant is prayer. Don't sing it as if it isn't.

    4) Even if the edition you have in front of you lacks vertical and horizontal episemas and other markings usually used to stretch certain notes, don't treat each note as if there isn't a musical phrase, or relative maxima or minima.

    5) Not all chants are of equal complexity. Don't sing the syllabic chants (say, Victimae paschali laudes the same way as you would treat the longest melisma in the Offertoriale. Neither is necessarily better or worse, but they aren't the same.
    Thanked by 2CatherineS MarkB
  • ...to indicate where "good taste" is.
    Hear, hear!
    Good taste is an objective aesthetic category the nature and substance of which needs, unfortuately, to be pointed out to those who are oblivious to it, or who prefer ugliness or 'bad taste'. Since my childhood I have thought of the aesthetic as a seventh sense. And, I believe that it can be experienced by all human beings who wish to experience it. I have known many 'converts' who were really just realising an aspect of themselves that they had had all along.
  • Ken of Sarum
    Posts: 373
    Dear friends, how would YOU classify the chanting of the monks at Fontgombault Abbey; pre or post Solesmes?
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 425
    I think I would (and do) give wide liberty to singing chant with a variety of interpretations, as long as it is sung well. That is, I have sung with a schola that uses the semiological interpretation, and also is made up of well-trained singers; and I have sung with a schola that did not use that method, and was made up of well-trained singers; and I have heard people sing both ways in other scholas (scholae?), and there are things I think matter more than fussing over rhythmic interpretation, more or less along the lines of the points made by Chris, above.

    The most frequent "terrible chant" I've heard in real life involved the following:
    1) the schola did not actually know the music very well, resulting in a muddly, painful mess. Even if one or two pretty much know the music, the mess of the rest drags the whole shebang over the cliff. I've run into this in three or four convents, off the top of my head.
    2) the schola (or cantor) sings the chant in a forced, awkward way, banging on the notes, robotically, with no sense of phrasing or flow.
    3) someone(s) in the group has a terrible voice that sticks out like a sore thumb, either excessively operatic, off-key, or just harsh and nasal.
    3a) some random person in the congregation has a voice that sticks out like a sore thumb; such person is usually the one who most loves to sing at the top of their lungs.

    These are to my mind all issues of basic music formation and experience.
    Thanked by 1Patricia Cecilia
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,058
    Good taste is an objective aesthetic category the nature and substance of which …
    everybody knows but we never exactly agree upon, even with our own past selves. All I would dare to assert is that all the change, broadening and refinement of my taste have been for the better and convinced me of the value of an open mind.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,604
    I saw all these answers, and thought, "Ah, the Collective Wisdom!" But instead, I got the Collective Opinion.

    As to Good Taste, was there ever a musician more tasteful than Whilhelm Furtwangler? Even in Bach? What I'm trying to learn is what Good Taste was to a pre-Solesmes chant master.

    I started digging, only just. So far:
    1. Every note gets an accompaniment chord (accompanied seems to have been more the rule than unaccompanied.) Looking at Singenberger's accompaniments, a late 19th c. Mass in a German-American church probably resembled a black Pentecostal church more than we'd be comfortable with.
    2. Longs/virga get 2 beats, breves/(square)punctum 1 beat, diamond punctum, 1/2 beat

    Once I get mechanics down, we can figure out taste.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,852
    As to tempo, for renaissance music I see this -
    a semibreve (our whole note) should be played roughly as fast as human heart beat
    at http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/anaigeon/e_mensur_intro.html , but that might not apply three centuries later.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 425
    re: useless opinions, my apologies. it is so tempting!!
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,621
    Jeffrey, did you ever discuss this with Nihil Nominis? He made a recording attempting to capture the Medicaean (sp?) approach to chant (which he was kind enough to ask for my participation). He has recordings of the whole mass; here is a snippet:

    https://soundcloud.com/seanconnolly/offertorium-ascendit-deus
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,879
    @jeffrey: you'll be pleased to know that actual Chant singing here in Milwaukee does NOT include accompaniment. However, there are some who accompany who really don't have a clue about 'modal' music. Sad.

    Back to Chant singing. I made it a point to give the singers an oral translation of the text to chew on. It seemed to help them deliver the elevated-speech better.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,166
    ...really don't have a clue...
    Indeed!
    If they had a 'clue' they wouldn't be 'accompanying' chant.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,450
    If they had a 'clue' they wouldn't be 'accompanying' chant.


    Not necessarily. Chant has been accompanied for probably 1,000 years since the introduction of organs into the liturgy. There are times you might not want to accompany chant but there are other times you could validly accompany - bring back the serpent! I find the same thought process to not accompany exists among those who went off the deep end and played Bach using toes only, required 17 ranks of shrieking mixtures (Bach would roll over in his grave), and could only play clattering trackers. God save us from purists who are often neither pure nor authentic.
    Thanked by 2JL StimsonInRehab
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 496
    Depending on how your music program is run, and what expectations the congregation has, organ accompaniment can be a powerful tool in any chant that you wish the congregation to sing. In this case, the kinds of nuances possible with a smaller group are impossible, so the organ does not really limit expression.

    For anything reserved for the schola, the organ paints over all nuance with its monolithic sound (and to use the swell box for such a thing is ridiculous) and too often results in one (rather loud) dynamic level rather than the natural ebbs and flows of the line.

    When I play and lead at my local parish, everything intended for the congregation (hymnody, the Ordinary) is accompanied harmonically. This congregation is not used to the nuances of chant, so I find accompaniment helps to give them that context and sonically support their singing. Anything sung by the choir (Propers) is either unaccompanied or melodically doubled if they are struggling with a particular piece. I find this preserves as much of the unaccompanied sound as possible and leads to a clear demarcation between what is intended for the choir and the entire congregation.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,450
    An issue I have noticed is that accompaniment for chant can become overpowering and loud. Chant doesn't require heavy registrations but the opposite. For a good Anglican hymn, yeah blow the roof off on the last verse. The two are not the same and have to be played differently.
  • toddevoss
    Posts: 127
    Here's a recorded example with serpent accompaniment:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWlwr_GvBMw


    Thanks Madorganist. My only comment is whatever the tempo or approach, the sublime near-perfection of Mass Setting IV shines for all to hear. I love that mass setting.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,166
    Schonbergian has expressed perhaps a wise via media in regard to the accompaniment of plain chant by the organ. There are times and congregations who cannot or will not (usually the latter) sing chant or anything else unaccompanied. What we should guard against is the assumption that there are no Catholic congregations who can sing chant unaccompanied - that they all are incapable of this human activity (which is a variant on the pernicious 'Catholics can't sing' syndrome). The truth is that Catholics can sing and will sing chant without help from the organ and do so given the opportunity. It is unfortunate for all that they are so seldom given the opportunity or treated with the expectation. Even those who are taught chant with the aid of the organ can be weaned successfully from that instrument after they have become comfortable with their chant repertory.

    We have at Walsingham an early Sunday mass at which a large congregation sing one of the Gregorian masses (in Latin) with gusto and without organ. I have on repeated occasions led two hundred or so people singing Gregorian ordinaries without organ accompaniment at Houston's St Basil's Chapel (UST). I know that all the Gregorian masses were put into English (St Dunstan's Kyriale, ed., Canon Winfred Douglas) for Episcopalians who sang the entire repertory of Gregorian masses without accompaniment. At Holy Rosary (Houston) I led two and three hundred people in several of the Gregorian masses without accompaniment. These results, it must be said, will not be achieved everywhere, but they can be achieved far more often than many think. Our people are not incapable of this accomplishment.

    We must admit that there is no historically verifiable 'right' or 'wrong' concerning the accompaniment of chant. This has likely been going on from very early times. It was Pope Vitalian (mid-VIIIth century) who is credited with having introduced the organ into Roman liturgy. What it was used for we do not know. The organ (such as it was, about the size of a positiv or chamber organ) was used by the Romans in ceremonies surrounding the emperor, so one might conjecture that the organ was adapted for similar ceremonial at the great Roman churches. It may or may not have supported chant (such chant as existed at that time). Also, according to Wllm L Sumners, there were German bishops as far north as Metz who requested organs several centuries earlier than Pope Vitalian's use of them. Whether and when the organ was definitely used to support chant in the pre- and post-Carolingian worlds we simply cannot say; and it is in vain that some will insist that it was, or that it was not. Organs have had many ceremonial roles in liturgy throughout much of the Church's history, and the accompaniment of the chant of highly trained cantors and scholae was not, in early times, likely to have been one of them.

    As to its actual use in supporting chant in later centuries it seems plausible, but not certain, that it was so used at least by the XIIth and XIIIth centuries to play 'organum' while the choir sang. (This may or may not have been the inspiration for vocal organum [or vice versa!].) This is a question mark. We do know that the organ was used in alternatim fashion by the late XIVth century, as is attested by both the Faenza and Robertsbridge Codices.

    Later, we are on firmer terra firma. The serpent was in use probably by the mid- to late XVIIth century, as were, possibly, other 'continuo' instruments. What seems apparent from the genesis of chant in the very early centuries is that the chant (such as it was) was sung by highly skilled cantors and, later, scholae cantorum. There are conflicting accounts of some instruments, such as the aulos, finding their way into early Christian worship, but these were categorically forbidden by the ecclesiastical authorities.The serpent, then, would seem a very late participant in the chant genre. Nor can we say that the presence or absence of 'accompanying' instruments does or does not represent a degeneration of chant. Using the very earliest cantorial music of the Church as a guide, we could well assert with certitude that they are a late accretion to an originally purely vocal art.

    This brings us to today. There are those who may accompany chant because it is needful in given locales, but will not do so unless it is absolutely needful. There are those who will accompany their chant no matter what for the simple reason that they like their chant accompanied - regardless of any scholarship that would seem to assert the inappropriateness of doing so. So - today - we have it all - just as we have a variety of schools of thought about how to sing chant - so-called 'Solesmes', Semiological-Cardinian, Victorian, Medician, and, thanks to Marcel Perez, on back to the twelfth century or earlier. That is the beauty of living when we do - our scholarship reveals realities of early centuries and allows for a variety of 'modern' accretions. And, whether they be pleasurable or not, or have a certain history, they remain just that - accretions.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,604
    It's also "wrong" or at least untraditional to sing chant with a solo voice. Sunday, when I sing my bimonthly livestream, I'll be doing Mass I and Credo with an organ. Not because I have to, but because I can. Is it "authentic"? I couldn't care less. I'm doing it for a Missa Cantata with nobody there; is THAT authentic?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,450
    The problem with authentic performance practice is that no authentic performers are still alive. Then if someone from that time did indicate correct practice and it doesn't jive with what the musical mafioso today hold to be correct, it will be ignored - Bach's son on how his father played organ in church as opposed to how he played other keyboard instruments. Widely disregarded today.

    I think what you are doing is exactly what I would do, Jeffrey.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 496
    It also further reduces chant to a historical, non-living art form. I approach the Gregorian repertoire from a modified Solesmes method because I'm convinced of its artistic superiority, not because the Solesmes method is how plainchant sounded in whichever century.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,879
    The truth is that Catholics can sing and will sing chant without help from the organ and do so given the opportunity. It is unfortunate for all that they are so seldom given the opportunity or treated with the expectation.


    This!

    I would add that Catholics can also sing hymns and responses without help from the organ. I did the 'no organ with responses' with a small congregation (200+/Mass) and it went very well. Same with the simple Propers.

    Cutting back on the organ during the Lent re-enforces the point of the season, too.

    But "mo' music" still reigns in a lot of places.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,879
    The problem with authentic performance practice is that no authentic performers are still alive.


    Yes. Which is why "Sing It As Though It Were MUSIC" should be the only performance-practice--unless you think that 'authentic performers' sang otherwise.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Dad,

    You borrowed my line.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,310
    The problem with "Sing It As Though It Were MUSIC" is that not everyone has the same perception of what singing "it as though it were music" is. To some - in fact, to many - rap, rock, country, pop, and other contemporary genres are music. We see hear it almost every time that we have to experience suffer through yet another singing trashing of the national anthem solo.

    Thanked by 2bhcordova CharlesW
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,636
    @CHGiffen

    There are those, too, who ascribe to the Post-Solesmes school of chant.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,166
    Singing it as if it were music, as Chuck points out, can have very different meanings to very different people. I was once at a church at which I had to play some of those happy-clappy songs. Knowing how the people who liked them sang them, I deliberately sang them in strict rhythm without the happy-clappy nuance - in other words, just as if they were any other hymn. When I introduced them to the choir their response was an astonished 'this is nice - you take the "country" out of it'. Indeed I did! Which means that I didn't perform this music 'authentically'.

    On the other hand, I once saw on the television an encounter between a concert pianist and a pop-jazz pianist. As they got to talking the concert pianist played some Mozart, and then the pop-jazz pianist played the same piece with pop-jazz tinkering with rhythm, and with pop nuance and tinkly decoration. Well, his 'rendering' may have been self referentially interesting but I think all except the most facetious among us would agree that it wasn't Mozart.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Elmar
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,879
    You borrowed my line.


    Nope. That's a direct quote of Roger Wagner, KCSG. (Unless you're Roger, who died a few years back....)
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,879
    not everyone has the same perception of what singing "it as though it were music" is.


    Problem would be solved were Catholic pastors to hire only musicians who have real Catholic music training (which is not necessarily a 4 year degree.)

    Yes, I know. Whirled peas, disease-free, the rain may only fall after sunset, at 8 the morning clouds must disappear....
  • Dad,

    I'm glad to know someone of worth had the same sentiment.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,604
    The problem with "Sing It As Though It Were MUSIC" is that...rap, rock, country, pop, and other contemporary genres are music.


    I think it's time to sing the Proper in jazz style, complete with scatted melismas.
    Thanked by 1bhcordova
  • Jeffrey,

    Can we manage (perhaps as a separate thread) the difference between music and organized noise?
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,879
    scatted melismas.


    Well........if you think outside the box a bit, melismas ARE 'scat', particularly in the (EF) Alleluias. Expression of inexpressible joy and all that.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,166
    Music vs. Organised Sound -
    There is a very real difference between a musical tone (of, unfortunately, any 'music') and noise. The sound waves of musical tones are highly regular in shape and, in fact, make a beautiful pattern of waves. Not so the sound waves of noise, which are highly irregular and are quite ugly. This means, unfortunately for us, that much of what we would like not to call 'music' is, in fact music insofar as it is crafted (albeit poorly and tastelessly) of musical tones, whereas that which is made of 'noise' (jackhammers and silverware falling onto a cookie sheet [or Stockhausen's helicopter]) is not music and cannot make music (although Karl-Heinz Stockhausen (not to mention John Cage) and his ilk might beg to disagree).

    I should think that much rock music (noise), which consists of the noise of highly amplified and unmusical sounds from electronic instruments would largely be considered noise. To wit, I once read of a famous rock musician who attended the dress rehearsal of a symphony orchestra under the direction of a famous conductor. When a certain piece, fraught with multiple dynamic levels, moods, and subtle nuance, was over the rock musician was asked what he thought of it. All he could say of it was 'wow! I had no idea that you could generate that mush noise without amplification'. All, it would seem, that interested him was 'noise'. One could be forgiven for noticing that the greater part (if not the whole) of rock music is just that - noise.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Elmar
  • Jackson,

    I think it was Cardinal Arinze who described much of modern popular music as "organized noise". With your definition of noise, this takes on clearer meaning.

    Would you consider the disordered dulcet tones of most sacropop also noise?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,166
    All we, like sheep, have gone astray....... -
    from the 'Performance Practice of pre-Solesmes Chant'.

    What with the organised noise of Stockhausen and his ilk the pendulum has swung about as far away as it can get - perhaps it's time for it to swing back?
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Elmar
  • Elmar
    Posts: 215
    Just one more second, please!
    whereas that which is made of 'noise' (jackhammers and falling silverware) is not music and cannot make music
    While fully agreeing with your concept, I think this goes too far: what about the percussion instruments in a classic orchestra and our local schola cantorum?
    'wow! I had no idea that you could generate that mush noise without amplification'
    This is the whole point of the carnival fanfare corps in our villages. They lost their monopoly with the invention of the triode tube.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 7,166
    Let's see, Elmar -
    Of the percussion instruments in an orchestra the ones that actually make musical pitches are the piano, tympani, bass drum (?), triangle (?), chimes, and celesta - that's all I can think of right now.
    The percussion instruments that do not make musical pitches (noise) are snare drums, cymbals, wooden blocks, gongs, rattles, castinets, tambourines, there must be another several that don't come to mind just now.
    Thanked by 1Elmar