Integrity of Musical Forms in Gregorian Propers
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 337
    As I think through the problem of Gregorian propers, I find myself at an impasse... and knowing the collective experience and knowledge on this forum, thought I'd pose my questions and problems here for discussion.

    It is clear that the Graduale Romanum was composed for schools of skilled singers (ie. the 'Schola Cantorum') and that within the repertoire, there are specific pieces that are meant to exemplify this skill. The Graduals, Tracts, Alleluias and Offertories (especially when one looks to the earlier sources with their incredible verses) are well beyond the competence of most 'parish' choirs wishing to reinstitute the propers. Unless there is a high level of musicianship and a firm commitment to learning (including spending REAL time on these to treat them with the caution and respect they deserve), it would seem to me that they are best left in the Graduale.

    There have been a number of solutions proposed (especially for the Graduale), as follows:
    1. Chants Abreges, with a simplified antiphon and psalm-toned verse,
    2. The Rice Propers, which re-set the verses to psalm tones while leaving the rest intact (a useful half-way house as the choir develops), and
    3. Complete psalm-toning of the verses.

    While recognising that each of these has its merits, it seems to me that they come at the expense of the musical concept of these works.

    As far as I can see, the idea behind each of this pieces is that the Antiphons (or 'full choir' sections) are not as elaborate as the verses. Thus, Chants Abreges would make more sense to me if the verses, while still within the ability of a small choir, were more melodically elaborate than the antiphons.

    In my mind the questions then begin to multiply:

    1. How can a simplified musical rendition still pay some kind of homage to the original intentions of the Gregorian musical forms? More importantly, how would this be achieved with real INTEGRITY ie. not just making up our own versions of what the chant 'should' look like, but engaging actively with sources that can give us an historically situated idea of it all?

    2. How on earth did any of this work in practice in the 'Parish Land' of the 12th and 13th centuries? What was the performance practice in a small parish, assuming that ANY kind of sung Mass was possible? Of course, I am imposing a Tridentine mindset here and wondering aloud whether the 'Missa Cantata' - which was only legislated for in the 20th century - did indeed happen in a period before all liturgical authority was reserved to the papacy. Do we have any sources for Graduals that we know were in use in smaller, parish churches, rather than their large cathedral, collegiate and monastic counterparts?

    3. What other sources are there for simpler, starker versions of these pieces that might help us today? I've tried the obvious (ie. Cistercian). Does anyone know whether the Carmelites in their pre-Avilan form had anything like this? In my research, it has been clear that convents of Carmelites in some places eschewed any kind of elaborate chant... but I haven't been able to find the sources for what the did as an alternative! [ie. Question 3 is for Medievalists... Please help!].

    I guess this is where I finally realised that the Simplex's greatest failing is this failure to recognise the distinctiveness of the different Gregorian compositional forms and their relative position in the liturgy, reducing virtually all of them to the kind of simple antiphon-psalm structure that in the Roman Rite seems to have only existed at Communion, and otherwise was relegated to the Office.

    Would be delighted for thoughts and advice for how to resolve the above conundra... Not least of all good historical sources! For the lurking medievalists here, any solid scholarship (ie. articles, books etc) would be much appreciated!!

  • smvanroodesmvanroode
    Posts: 817
    This exact question was debated at the Second Vatican Council and ended up in the Constitution Sacrodanctum concilium as a recommendation that “an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in small churches” (SC 117). It was a real concern, and not just in missionary territories. I remember linking on this forum to a series of articles from the 1930‘s about scholas in England that still had not put in use the 1912 Graduale Romanum because of its level of difficulty (but can’t relocate the post).

    For those who wish to know how this directive of the Council Fathers influenced the editorial choices made in compiling the Graduale simplex, I recommend reading Eckhard Jaschinski, Musica sacra oder Musik im Gottesdienst? (1990), which describes in great detail the discussions that lead to SC 117. Long story short, the Fathers in the end deliberately avoided language that made mention of psalm tone propers. The edition with simpler melodies should contain authentic gregorian chants, not newly composed materials.

    Except for the offertory (which is actually responsorial in character), I think the Graduale simplex generally keeps true to the form of the propers, namely antiphon + psalm verses. Yes, they are taken from the office, but that's the only source of simpler, authentic gregorian chants, and hence an understandable choice.

    If a schola is unable to sing the gregorian repertoire from the Graduale Romanum and takes its refuge to the Graduale simplex (that is its intended use), you lose indeed the distinctive compositional differences between the propers. If you would like to insist on these differences: take up some extra rehearsal time and sing the real deal. Otherwise, the chants from the Graduale simplex are a legitimate and recommendable option (it’s an editio typica and mentioned in the GIRM).

    Your question #2 is quite interesting and worth researching! I can imagine that there's scholary research out there that provides answers, and I will keep an eye out to any papers that I might find.
  • SMVanRoode,

    The rites were to be simplified, but what we got wasn't a simplified version of the existing rites but new rites with new foci which, when found severely wanting, encouraged embellishment (the same way a vacuum invites matter when the seal is broken. The music, simplified in the same way, doesn't get us the Chants Abreges, but the Gelineau Psalter.
    Thanked by 1MatthewRoth
  • smvanroodesmvanroode
    Posts: 817
    I wouldn't compare the Graduale simplex to the Gelineau Psalter. They are two completely different things, both in language, period and style.

    The reformed Roman rite (I disagree with your assertion that the 1970 Missale Romanum is a new rite) takes the full, sung Mass as its starting point, which, when found too demanding, can be celebrated less ornate, whereas the 1962 Missal works the other way around (if I'm well informed), giving priority to Low Mass.

    But the wish of the Council Fathers to compile an edition with simpler chants can be seen entirely apart from the desire to reform the rites themselves. Their wish was rooted in an actual concern over practical difficulties for choirs to sing all the parts from the Graduale Romanum. We tend to romanticize the old days, but many small parish choirs had real trouble to adept to the new 1912 Graduale Romanum.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,016
    2. How on earth did any of this work in practice in the 'Parish Land' of the 12th and 13th centuries? What was the performance practice in a small parish, assuming that ANY kind of sung Mass was possible? Of course, I am imposing a Tridentine mindset here and wondering aloud whether the 'Missa Cantata' - which was only legislated for in the 20th century - did indeed happen in a period before all liturgical authority was reserved to the papacy. Do we have any sources for Graduals that we know were in use in smaller, parish churches, rather than their large cathedral, collegiate and monastic counterparts?

    They had Solemn High Mass at least every Sunday, and every Feast day. The Sarum use usually had two Masses on Saturday.
    Solemn High Mass was always possible for an number of reasons,
    1. We had no seminaries, so the minor orders were part of the Parish.
    2. We had Chantries, with a priest and lay clerks employed to sing a Mass every day for the benefactor. These would then assist at the main parish Mass.
    3. We had various preaching orders that travelled around parishes.
    4. We had Monasteries every couple of miles, many in the centre of each town.
    5. People believed (and did not have a T.V.) so would have the inclination and the time to assist and study the Liturgy.
    6. In a time when the local ruler could punish 'crimes' as he wished it made sense to be some kind of minor cleric, so under the jurisdiction of the Church courts. The Church courts had stricked rules to follow with regards to justice.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 337
    tomjaw, thanks for this. Is there a book or article I could read about the liturgical life of England at the parish level before the Reformation?

    I am still sceptical of the idea that a parish-level lay clerk could sing all the melodies of the Graduale... Is there any evidence for this as a uniform practice?
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,016
    @Palestrina
    My information comes from talks by one of the researchers from this project,
    http://www.experienceofworship.org.uk/information/about/
    and
    http://www.sarumcustomary.org.uk

    They found even small parish churches would be able to manage sung Liturgy. I have not been able to find the primary sources they used. I could e-mail one of the researchers I know. Although I will first log into my Alumni account and look for books!
  • SMVanRoode,

    Thank you for your response.

    I don't mean to compare the Graduale with the Gelineau. That Gelineau exists and is treated as the high watermark (in some circles) of traditional chanting is, in itself, evidence that someone (or several someones) has become disoriented and is searching to recover at least something chant-like.

    The legal fiction that the Missal of Saint Paul VI and the Missal of Saint John XXIII are just two forms of the same rite doesn't make them so, nor does it make the idea convincing. How many changes (in style or substance) are permitted to a rite before it's called no longer a new form of the same rite?

    IF the Missal of 1970 takes the Sung Mass as normative, why does it happen so infrequently?

    On the other hand, the rubrics of the 1963 Missal (including the description of a Missa Privata) illustrate that the normative Mass is the Pontifical High Mass.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,338

    The reformed Roman rite (I disagree with your assertion that the 1970 Missale Romanum is a new rite) takes the full, sung Mass as its starting point, which, when found too demanding, can be celebrated less ornate, whereas the 1962 Missal works the other way around (if I'm well informed), giving priority to Low Mass.


    1) Until the Roman Canon is given absolute primacy, then I'm unconvinced.

    2) The missal is ambiguous on this point. An honest reading informed by tradition would give primacy to sung Mass, yes, but as Gregory DiPippo has said, the council and the reform managed to enshrine everything that was bad about preconciliar practice, leaving us with the very worst instead. The missal and various books put out by Solesmes and/or the Vatican aren't in accord with each other, and the missal might permit and encourage the Mass as an entirely sung liturgy, or very nearly so, but there are several parts that are rather inconvenient to sing unless you're just committed to the Latin NO as a bit, e.g. the priest's part before the Confiteor, the Confiteor itself, the Orate Fratres, the Ecce Agnus Dei etc. And why have three texts for the response to Mysterium Fidei if only one is ever going to be sung in chant? Would not one have sufficed? But no, there's three, and local missals (Ireland, the US…) have had four or five. Not even the most committed sing the readings on a regular basis, which is a huge disappointment.

    3) No. That's not really true, as the basis of the Mass is the pontifical Mass and from then on the solemn Mass sung in choir in cathedrals and collegiate churches. It just happens that the priest uses a missale plenum that contains everything. This was the case even in 1962, although the rules for the second Mass had changed under Pius X, and all Masses were said after Terce in any case by this point, as the Lenten ferial days now trumped the feasts entirely.

    Palestrina, Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars is, if not the last word, then the magistral text on the subject. But I think that your skepticism is unwarranted and is rooted in thoroughly modern assumptions, because these people heard these melodies day in and day out for years, in a culture that would have been much more conducive to orality and to performance of any kind than our own.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 337
    Thanks for useful leads above...

    Folks, for those of you wishing to argue about the liturgical reform, could you please start a new thread?
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 120
    Palestrina said: "I am still sceptical of the idea that a parish-level lay clerk could sing all the melodies of the Graduale..."

    It is not really that hard, especially if one is brought up with music, which many people were as part of their culture in those times. I was immersed in music at a young age, but even though I never learned chant until college, it was not hard at all to pick up chant, even the most difficult pieces. Many of the graduals follow a common melodic formula (i.e. mainly the mode 5 graduals, which appear very often).

    I think it is only hard for our more modern minds to grasp (modern in this case going back to even before Vat. II). In a more spiritually minded age, with the proper upbringing, and with less musical trash to infect the mind, many people would be capable of learning chant well.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,338
    and these melodies repeat, frequently. It is true that there's more variety in the Mass than in the office, and it's also true that you'd have some variety in the selection, though more often than not, there were trees and branches just like with the usages themselves, as well as proper chants for this or that saint from the area. But in any case, Masses would be sung often enough that one could learn them.

    There are some tricks that the modern learning from books as well as by ear has to avoid e.g. the Gradual of Quinquagesima begins like that of the Requiem, or vice-versa, but since the Requiem is sung multiple times a year, on Quinquagesima one has to avoid continuing like it's "Absolve me." But if you learned principally by ear, year in and year out, this association wouldn't happen, as you'd have learned Quinquagesima as its own bit apart from the Requiem, instead of just rehearsing it the week before once a year, trying to cram for the test as it were.

    Also, for medieval England in particular, the bibliography of the Sarum usage project, or whatever it's now officially called, might be useful, although it's heavy on musicology and not description of what people did, which is why Duffy's book, almost thirty years old, is still invaluable.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw