Various Questions on modes
  • Hello! I am a music-thanatologist. We use harp and voice at the bedside of the dying to help ease transition (the short description). Two-thirds of our rep is Gregorian Chant. I have had some Gregorian chant study through CMAA study and otherwise. I would like to offer what I’ve learned and cultivated in my own work to my colleagues. I have the following questions:

    Is a mode one chant with a flat 6th still called Dorian?
    In addition to Pange Lingua, are there other accessible mode 3 chants, so called Phrygian?
    Any suggestions for harmonizing instrumentally mode 3 chants?
    Is there such a thing as true Lydian chant, in other words, ‘do’ as tonic with a raised 4th?
    One of my colleague gave feedback on some material I wrote wondering why I referenced the chants by mode names only and not the Greek names. I have some understanding of this but it would be helpful if someone could address this more than simply…this is the way I learned it.

    Any resources you could provide would be helpful. Many thanks,

    Jayne
    janula123@gmail.com
  • I oppose mixing the Greek names as known today with the numerals because they are used to describe completely different ideas. The defining characteristic of Dorian vs. modern minor is the raised sixth, even though the sixth is lowered around half of the time or more in Mode I/II. Similarly, the lowered fourth is commonplace in Mode V even though the raised fourth is what defines the Lydian mode. The Gregorian modes need to be understood on their own merits and referencing a different modal system with mostly contradictory ideas will only serve to confuse the student.
  • Mode I or II with B-flat throughout has Aeolian/minor tonality; similarly, mode V or VI with B-flat throughout has Ionian/major tonality. There are a number of examples of mode 2 chants with the final on A, e.g. the Requiem gradual. There is an expanded system of twelve modes that designates Aeolian and Hypoaeolian as IX and X and Ionian and Hypoionian as XI and XII. I find it useful when there's not a true correspondence between the theoretical mode and the actual tonality, e.g. when there's a B-flat throughout. There are many other exceptions. Most of Mass I has a final on B (ti/si), which isn't what any of us learned for mode IV. The Graduale accompaniments at ccwatershed.org/library might be helpful for giving you ideas about mode III harmonizations. God bless you in your work!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,665
    Look at the Nova Organi Harmonia for the most excellent harmonies for the chant. It is the ultimate harmonization collection that is truly modal.
  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 386
    If you want to learn more about the history of chant, its theory and modes, and have a good source for why the Greek names aren't great indicators, the first several chapters of the first volume of Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music are really good, and the volume is pretty cheap and there might even be some pdfs online ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Helpful comments. Thanks everyone.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,801
    Is a mode one chant with a flat 6th still called Dorian?

    Yes. It's pretty rare for a chant to have the flat consistently. "Una nota super la semper est canendem fa." Also see below.

    In addition to Pange Lingua, are there other accessible mode 3 chants, so called Phrygian?
    Any suggestions for harmonizing instrumentally mode 3 chants?


    Mode 3 is my favorite mode. Since the tenor/reciting tone is C, it can easily slide into "C major" and just as easily back to the "hyperminor" of pure Phrygian. Examine Dufay's "Se la face ay pale", which is a purely Phrygian piece that sounds major.

    By "accessible" I assume you mean "easy" (It's the same work to access any chant in the Liber). Which pretty much means "hymns". A solis ortus cardine (LU '62 400) is one. I'd just grab the index of the Liber and check the hymns by mode. What about Mode 4? There's an Ave maris stella (LU 1261)
    Is there such a thing as true Lydian chant, in other words, ‘do’ as tonic with a raised 4th?

    Consistently? Purely? Probably not. But "mode" /= "scale". It's a relationship between a given species of 4th and a species of fifth. Modifications to avoid the tritone don't compromise the mode any more than a secondary dominant compromises a major key.

    Oddly, one can more often find fa-ti interaction in Mode 8 than mode 3. A good example is Deus enim firmavit, last Sunday's Offertory, starting at "tua, Deus, ex tunc"

    One of my colleague gave feedback on some material I wrote wondering why I referenced the chants by mode names only and not the Greek names. I have some understanding of this but it would be helpful if someone could address this more than simply…this is the way I learned it.

    The Greek system is totally different from the church system and it's best to keep them out of your mind. The Greek names ARE part of the church system, but are not what the Greeks meant.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • mahrt
    Posts: 516
    If you consider the essence of the mode those few notes which surround the final, then it is easy to see how a transposition of the final a fifth away does not affect the identity of the mode. The essence of modes 1 and 2 is a whole step above and below the final and a minor third above. This transposes easily to a, though it must be admitted that there is something beautiful about the major third below the a final, which comes to be a characteristic stopping point in so many mode 2 pieces on a. This was not available below the final D, because B-flat was not part of the gamut and was therefore not a theoretically available pitch.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen