Rhythm in Jesu Dulcis Memoria
  • MarkB
    Posts: 479
    I'm going to teach my choir "Jesu Dulcis Memoria" this week. Question: the music notation does not have dotted notes before the quarter bars, as in the first stanza below, yet most choirs lengthen those notes and pause to breathe at the quarter bars when chanting this piece.

    What are people's opinions here? Lengthen the highlighted notes and breathe in those places or not?

    I'm inclining towards not lengthening the notes nor breathing at the quarter bars.
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  • You might take a look at the commentary here:
    I believe the monastic books have an episema there. There is some justification for either interpretation, in my opinion.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw MarkB
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,028
    Yes the Antiphonale Monasticum does have horizontal and vertical 'episemas' on both notes... But while it is good practice not to breathe at the quarter bars, how you emphasise that note is really up to you. This melody has a tendency to drag, so I would suggest only a slight emphasis and no breath.
    Thanked by 2francis MarkB
  • Given the comma, not telegraphing some sort of pause makes little sense to me.
    Thanked by 2MarkB CCooze
  • Personally, I would choose a middle way on these notes: a slight hold because you are reaching a comma in the text, but a lesser hold relative to the half bar and double bar. Every time I hear it sung without any hold at all, and conversely whenever people put full stops there, it sounds odd. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot for me.
  • However one treats the quarter bar and/or the neumes in question it is important to note that the last syllable of memoria is NOT accented - it should be sung relatively lightly so as not to rob the real accent, which is the second syllable, thereby savaging both the text and the melodic shape.
    I mention this only because I have heard many scholas, choirs, and people really sit on that last syllable, giving a rather bouncy and ugly Jesu dulcis memoriA, (not altogether unlike 'Anglican thump'). In fact, there is a very common tendency to sit on every one of the final syllables of each phrase. These syllables are NOT accented - and that, especially, includes the last syllable of the third phrase with its descending neume!. Sing this neume rather lightly and with grace.

    Also, be conscious of that the first syllables of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th phrases are 'pickup notes' which are not accented (the accent falls on the second syllable) and they should be sung lightly

    Also, I would, for my choirs, insist on a brief break or a small absolute silence at the comma which follows memoria and precedes dans. In doing this one neither lengthens the syllable in question nor delays the following one. Observing grammatical punctuation and flow is of the greatest importance for delivering the sense of the hymn-poem. It is also one mark of a very smart and accomplished performance.
    Thanked by 2MarkB CHGiffen
  • For "Jesu dulcis memoria", I would say that the way we always did it we consistently took three beats at every bar. Which is because we had learned it when we were just getting started, and that is how it came out. I don't recall that it ever bothered me; it was something we sang solidly, and that was the way we sang it.

    A surprising thing: much later, I taught the same schola the Lauds hymn for Advent "En clara vox redarguit" from scratch. My concept was a slight slackening as the melody tipped over the quarter bars, but definitely not a doubling of the note before the bar. What do you know, since that was the only way they had heard it, that is how they sang it.

    So, either works. But if you are starting fresh, you can choose.
    Thanked by 1MarkB
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,193
    I know that some "top men" have said that it's usually not "correct" to breathe or break at the quarter bars, but I honestly find it annoying to sing that way or listen to others who do. It doesn't need to be a big break, but something!
  • MarkB
    Posts: 479
    I think it depends on the context of the quarter bar within the musical phrase; musical phrases differ and the meaning of the quarter bar differs from phrase to phrase. I breathe at some quarter bars but not at others when I'm chanting solo.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,193
    Agreed -- I think there are some situations where it's okay, but I usually don't prefer it
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,259
    with chant, ALL THE RULES need be employed with exceptions to musicality and prayerfulness. If one just follows THE RULES, you are stuck in your head... move it down to the heart, please.
  • Well put, Francis! -

    Slavishly following the rules will inevitably and without fail result in
    a very amusing musical version of a paint by number set.
    Does anyone here remember paint by number kits? - which had a canvas all marked up in a myriad of little numbered shapes and areas to be filled in with the numbered colours, all of which resulted in an absurd caricature of what was supposed to be Michaelangelo's 'Last Supper' or van Gogh's 'Starry Night', etc.

    One gets a musical version of this by 'following the rules' slavishly - especially if those rules are the ones found in Liber Usualis.
    This is not to advocate utter abandonment to one's unlettered whims.

    Thanked by 1francis
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,448
    I recall a striking contrast in a broadcast concert by a world famous orchestra and an equally famous conductor. A vivid performance of one symphony, was followed by a Mozart symphony of utter woodenness. It was evident that they all knew the Mozart, and had not bothered to rehearse it, they were just reading the score mechanically. It sounded dreadful.
    I would apply this limited flexibility to rubrics.
  • The way I hear and direct this chant is to use a lift, not a pause or a breath, at the quarter bars. The lift makes it clear that you're finishing one clause and beginning another but adds no time. So I'm with you. No lengthening, no breath.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Hugh
    Posts: 192
    What I do is this: lengthen the final note slightly, enter it softly as if it were the end of a cadence, but then - no breath! - keep going, grow through it clearly but gently, and hit the first syllable on the other side at m.p. and shape the next phrase accordingly. It's all about expectations, and slightly upsetting them! Probably heresy, but IMO seems to stitch the two phrases together pretty well.

    I don't know where I got this idea from, but I think it was from listening as a kid to my dad's old Solesmes recordings where the monks were singing in outrageously beautiful accoustics; the notes just lingered, and so there was no break. So it's a very Fake Abbey way of supplying that effect in dingy accoustical environs. One has to do what one can.
  • One last potential source of inspiration: google some monasteries singing it. Some have their own quirks, but I like to have recourse to monastic recordings of chant; they literally LIVE the stuff, so it's sometimes telling to hear their interpretation vs. others or even my own. I've been surprised many a time by a monastic interpretation. Mind you, a particular schola may not be successful imitating a monastic sound, but using it to inform one's own interpretive decisions is certainly a sound idea (no pun intended).
    Thanked by 2francis marymezzo
  • Drake
    Posts: 131
    I know this is largely a matter of interpretation. What I've done when I was a schola director was sing through the quarter bar, treating the entire line as a phrase. I might take a slight lift, perhaps, at the comma, but not a full breath with elongation.

    Over the years, I have picked up the practice for certain chanted hymns of singing through even the first half bar (not quarter) at times and breathing at the second, if the verse is sufficiently long. An example is Dies Irae, where one might sing "Dies irae, dies illa, solvet seclum in favila" (breathe) "teste David cum sybilla." Again, there are lots of interpretations...
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CHGiffen
  • It is interesting to note that when observing punctuation other than periods one can have a split second break with utter silence without slowing things down by taking a breath. I always rehearse my choirs diligently in this. It takes practice and control, but a brief caesura needn't imply breathing. There are times at which I, like Drake, might sing through a quarter bar, or even a half bar, but never at commas or any other punctuation. The text, with its grammatical structure and message, always takes precedence and must be comprehended by the singers and communicated to the congregation. This takes great care in rehearsals and a demanding degree of musicianship. Sing and communicate as an orator or Thespian would deliver his speech.
  • My take is that you can still have a slight pause at a quarter bar without taking a breath if the music calls for it. In the case of Jesu Dulcis Memoria, before the quarter bars, the note is a down beat so more emphasis should be put there, but not too strong.

  • When you see an episema , you can assume that the preceding notes should have been increasing slightly in velocity. The episema means to cease increasing speed; sing the note at a full syllabic value- articulate the phonetics and the phrasing . But it should not mean a pause nor a breath.
    I think you could could sing thru the quarter bar as long at it sounds relaxed and let the first phrase come to a slight feeling of repose without a breath . There is nothing that ruins chant more than a panic to rush thru a quarter bar.
  • Maybe the answer can be sought not in the quarter bar or the (occasionally present) episema. The gap of a fifth at a place of relative rest in a musical phrase suggests a "reset" of sorts, a gap which is missing between the second and third musical phrases and between the third and fourth phrases.
    Thanked by 1Ralph Bednarz