Rising diminuendo in chant performance
  • Andrew Malton
    Posts: 816
    There is a practice in chant performance according to which a rising phrase is sung diminuendo, or with a quite deliberate softness on the highest note. I've heard it called the "prayerful ending" (i.e. to a phrase) and explained in terms of monkish spirituality, reaching for the heights with modesty and reserve -- and presumably avoiding any hint of the operatic chorus .

    I also associate the resulting sound with old Solesmes, since on the recordings it is to be heard. To me is sounds "French" and a wee bit fussy.

    Is there a name for this practice? Is it discussed anywhere in the books?

    It is slightly related to the mora vocis, but specifically about rising phrase with top notes.
  • Andrew,

    I've often encouraged groups NOT to "Sing as Prussian infantry on parade", to avoid the tendency male voices have to pound and thump high pitches. Put another way, I want the music itself to stand out, not the struggles or parade habits of the singers.

  • Andrew Malton
    Posts: 816
    Chris,
    Sure, but if you listen to many recordings or different scholas, I'll say especially French and/or monastic, you'll hear this as a deliberate gesture, not just a suppressed tendency.
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  • Nisi
    Posts: 68
    The old Solesmes style called for all peaks in phrases (high notes) to be sung carefully and not loudly. In my experience, this always makes sense. Theodore Marier said that Dom J. Gajard said, "In the chant, there are no Gothic arches (here, he would put the tips of his fingers together to show a Gothic peak), only Romanesque arches (here, his fingers would bend to show a nicely rounded Romanesque arch)." It's a lovely image of controlled, high points in chant, and something which one certainly hears in Gajard's recordings.
    You may be describing a true diminuendo in an ascending passage, however, and that would be something quite different and upon which I cannot comment.
  • Andrew Malton
    Posts: 816
    This calls for more careful listening. My impression is of at least sometimes a rather abruptly quiet top note -- almost subito piano -- but perhaps this is a corruption of Gajard's Romanesque arch. His is a memorable metaphor.

    I think that there could be control and still a certain strength, even fortitude, in some rising passages and high notes. Those Romanesque arches may have been rounded but they sure weren't delicate. I'm thinking right now of the Alleluia Magnus Dominus, whose rising phrases suggest (to me) the strong towers of the holy city.
  • dhalkjdhalkj
    Posts: 50
    Yes indeed a very striking chant. Fussing about nineteenth century musical interpretation of it is like fussing about Busoni interpretations of Bach. Sometimes you have to know that they once existed and what they were. But generally you have the same right to interpret according to 21st century standards as they had to interpret according to 19th. The problem is if it has become a tenant of somebody's piety and devotion, I suppose. Good luck with that.
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