Introduction to Mensuralism
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    I have added to YouTube a video titled Introduction to Mensuralism.  To make my point even more strongly, I probably should have recorded the first and last examples with the metronome (or at least sung them without any rubato at all), but what's done is done!
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    This was also posted at Corpus Christi Watershed: https://www.ccwatershed.org/2023/06/28/mensuralism/
    Thanked by 1OMagnumMysterium
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    It’s all very interesting, but for 95% of those who sing the chant this really seems like an intellectual exercise. Most people just hear the notes (pitches alone) sung in succession and not the nuances of the nuances. With all schools of chant, It all boils down to interpretive style. Having more than one person sing the ‘nuances of the nuances’ together requires a massive amount of time and energy. Most scholas barely have enough time (and expertise) to sing the pitches correctly together much less all the little nuances that go with these details.

    If you are chanting by yourself, I think you can practice this art successfully if you take upon yourself learning the rules and the idioms.

    Do you sing with a Schola? If so, do you employ these nuances? If so, how many hours do you practice together for one liturgy? How many liturgies do you sing in one week? How many people are in your schola? Can we hear a recording of your schola employing the chant with all of these nuances?

    Personally, all of the examples in your video have two elements that for me are distracting. The use of vibrato and inflections that employ more extreme dynamics from neume to neume. Are the extreme dynamics part and partial of mensuarlism?
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    Having more than one person sing the ‘nuances of the nuances’ together requires a massive amount of time and energy.
    Which is a practical argument against semiology. If you think I'm promoting a "nuances of nuances" approach, you've misunderstood. Mensuralism is fundamentally about a simple 1:2 proportion with a steady beat, not a limitless range of agogic nuances.

    I have men's and women's scholas, both of which know and use both the Solesmes method and proportional rhythm, currently with half a dozen members each. We have three Sung Masses a week on average, but one of those is typically a solo cantor. Men's schola rehearses an hour and a half weekly and sings about 100 Masses a year; women rehearse a half hour and sing once a month. There are also 20-minute warm-ups before Mass. That gives us roughly an hour of rehearsal per Mass.

    Here is a recent practice recording from the women's schola (unlisted):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYrZgHeTlaI
    Explore my channel for others. That is only their second rehearsal on those chants, so there is still a ways to go. If you're listening for nuances of nuances, you'll be disappointed. I don't hear extreme dynamics or distracting vibrato. Do you?

    Someone else has criticized my recordings for lack of dynamics, so it is interesting that you say the opposite, but you are the first to say that I sing with too much vibrato.
  • If you're referring to me as the one who commented about lack of dynamics, that was meant more as an inquiry than a criticism. That was regarding some of your earlier recordings which (at least to my ears) had less dynamics. I can definitely hear the dynamics in the video above. Part of that could also be better quality recording, you being more familiar with the chant, or the ease of doing dynamics when singing solo rather than a group. Just some theories.

    I find a lot of your arguments very convincing, but in my mind there seems to be a small disconnect. You have convinced me that the manuscripts copied in the Graduale Triplex do show a proportional rhythm, not just nuances of nuances, and your transcriptions of the rhythm seem more likely than any others I've seen. I also believe that there are manuscripts that show melodies different than the Vatican Edition, and for the sake of discussion, I could take it for granted that they are probably older (although a lot of things I can make my own judgements on, age of manuscripts in not really one of them). I also understand that aesthetics don't really have to do with your arguments, and to a certain point they are subjective.

    But I don't see the proof for why we need to follow the oldest sources possible (in all cases?). How far would you go, and why would you draw the line where you do? Would you advocate for the oldest (known) rhythm and rhythm, even if contrary to the way a certain chant has been done for nine hundred years? Some places the manuscripts show different texts, would you change those (if you were able to)? Would you change the Missal texts as well? Would you prefer Mass to be said the way it was before Trent rather than after?

    This is why I struggle with some of your ideas. It's because I struggle to see the end goal you are presenting. Historical knowledge is great, but it seems like you are trying for much more than that. The questions above were not hypothetical, and I'm not criticizing, but rather, I really want to know what you're advocating for and understand your stance better.
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    I don't consider my objective fundamentally different than that of St. Pius X, "It is important that these melodies should be performed in the manner that they were originally conceived as works of art," the preface to the Vatican edition, "to restore any [traditions] which might have been forgotten in the course of the ages," the editors of the Graduale Novum, or the Solesmes monks who were already working on a critical edition before the Council. There are dozens of text discrepancies between the Gradual and Missal already, and even if we recite the text to a psalm tone or recto tono, we are obligated to adhere to the text of the Gradual when it conflicts with the Missal. The Graduale Novum incorporates even more textual variants, rarely amounting to more than a word or two here and there. Both the scriptural texts and the chants have been altered since what was published under St. Pius V. Some of your questions are above my pay grade and would need to be directed to the Dicastery for Divine Worship, but my understanding is that it's lawful to sing from ancient manuscripts even when they differ from the Vatican edition. If an ecclesiastical authority were to say the Graduale Novum is forbidden, then we can work with the Triplex instead.
    I also understand that aesthetics don't really have to do with your arguments, and to a certain point they are subjective.
    Exactly! My concern is with making something available that's not only historically faithful but also user-friendly for modern singers. What people do with it interpretively and artistically is up to them. If people find my recordings unmusical, nothing would make me much happier than for someone to take my edition and produce a really stunning rendition of the chant. But they aren't! It seems like every other month, I see yet another cantor or schola announcing a project to record all the Sunday propers according to the Solesmes method or some variation of it (ok, maybe this is a slight exaggeration!). Why? Isn't there plenty of that already? Different priorities, I suppose, but I would rather hear recordings in a style that hasn't been recorded hundreds of times already.

    I'm simply uninterested in trying to replicate anything from before the oldest extant notated sources. That involves far more conjecture than I'm comfortable with, and I'll leave it to others. If the aim is to approach chant in the manner it was originally conceived as a work of art, I think deferring to the oldest sources is generally the safest way to accomplish that to the best of our ability, and yes, I would prefer it to how a chant may have been sung for the last 900 years, give or take, if the old sources show rhythmic differentiation and the later ones don't.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    Perhaps you could write out in modern notation the rhythmic differences for, say, the first two lines of the chant so we can better understand what you’re talking about. As per the dynamics, I think if I opened your file in a wave (audio) editor it would be more clear to you what I’m talking about.
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
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  • Hmmm.

    I suppose my disagreement is about what is a valid tradition. The way I think about it, throughout history there are good developments to the liturgy, and bad developments, maybe some neutral too (and by development I just mean changes). It is our job to choose the most reverent and edifying customs and forms of prayer, the liturgy, and music (working within the current legislation).

    It seems to me that many of the late medieval changes to the chant, especially to the melody, were good and legitimate development. To take a section of the quote from your website's page of antiquarianism, many of them seem to be "new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation."

    For example, the melodic alterations which avoid tritones (including hidden tritones which may not be direct). I have tried not to be prejudice against the melodic restitutions from the Graduale Novum, but many of them seem like a step backwards, and they are, at least chronologically. Some of the "incorrect" melodies in the Vatican Edition seem less like the monks forgot the right melody, and fell into the habit of doing it wrong, but rather adopted a pitch that sounded better, and was easier to sing. Maybe it was some of both, but the melodies of the Vatican Edition seem like a valid tradition to me, which do not require correcting.

    Also, like you pointed out for the rhythm of semiologists, nobody can agree on all the melodic restitution either. When I was researching for the Ave Maria Offertory verses (which I'll get to below), I compared Karl Ott's original Offertoriale, the Offertoriale Triplex, Gregor and Taube, your old version on youtube, and your new version. They all had differences in melody, some quite drastic.

    I do think there are lost traditions that need to be revived. First of all the Offertory verses, which are beautiful, neglected, and the first option for filling that time. Also, the Communion verses, which is a lesser matter, and already has been brought back to some extent. Sung Vespers on Sundays. The Pre 55 Holy Week. The saying (or singing) of the Divine Office in common. The whole Latin Mass (everywhere that it is not already done). And probably other things as well that I don't even know about.

    But I think the late Medieval chant is a valid tradition. When Pius X called for a restoration of the chant (because it had become unedifying and lost much of its beauty and reverence), according to the oldest manuscripts, and the valid tradition of all the centuries, it was restored in a way which primarily reflected the late medieval (equalist) tradition. And now it is the official edition. I think that is a good thing. When done well, the Vatican Edition is very beautiful, reverent, and edifying. It also expresses the sentiments proper for each part of the liturgy and the liturgical year. It is calming and conducive to meditation, which I think is exactly the sort of chant we need in this age of the world. I think it is a "new pattern(s) introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation"


    If people find my recordings unmusical, nothing would make me much happier than for someone to take my edition and produce a really stunning rendition of the chant. But they aren't!

    This may not be exactly what you had in mind, but to a point I have done it. When you posted your article on Offertory verses a few weeks ago, I liked it, I agreed with it, and the more I thought about it the better it seemed.

    At the end of your article you said "Whatever you do, make music with them!" and I have.(although not at Mass, because I do not have any say in the music we sing, and the directors don't want to do Offertory verses)

    I spent about a week comparing different transcriptions of the Offertory verses for the antiphon Ave Maria. After lots of singing and consideration, I put together one which uses the official edition for the antiphon, followed by verses in a similar style. Rather than trying to guess who had found the "most accurate" melodic line for the verses, I chose the parts which I thought sounded best, were most intuitive, easy to sing, and appropriate to the text. I also marked each melismatic mora vocis for ease of reading.

    I'll fully admit that my recording in not very good, but that is not because of the music, it's because of my own lack of skill, and the very cheap microphone. The faults I am most aware of are some slight wobbliness of pitch, slight unevenness of notes (probably because I'm used to singing with a schola which adds ambiguous "rhythmic nuance"), and unintentional vibrato when I'm running out of breath (most notably the very end). And I intentionally did not repercuss in certain places where one following the Liber's rules would.

  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    Guys

    This is all very interesting, and I imagine it could become quite a rabbit hole exploring all these different ways of singing the chant. From my limited perspective of singing the chant, for about 20 years, it seems that if a schola is singing a particular rendition of said chant, and it is done in a prayerful and unified effort, then it is pleasing to God as long as it is what the church intended.

    I will admit that this is a very simplistic view of semiology. Had we’ve been living in an age, when the war on the Faith and the liturgy was not so drastic and the situation dire, I think I would’ve spent more time studying these things.

    God bless you in your efforts, and God help us in the remainder of those who aspire to sing the chant in the beauty of holiness.
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    But I think the late Medieval chant is a valid tradition.
    I don't disagree. My problem is when people take it and claim it's the original version. As for "meeting the changes of circumstances and situation," the only general changes in circumstance were the introduction of organum and ignorance of the authentic traditional rhythm, which was lost and forgotten. Could we not make an argument that the Medicaean editions were a good and legitimate development, traditional, reverent, prayerful, beautiful, edifying, etc.? And they were in use much longer than the Liber Usualis! But there the alterations were deliberate. Is that the distinction you make concerning what constitutes a "valid tradition"? If, centuries earlier, a reciting tone was changed from ti to do, or a note was altered to avoid a tritone, how is that essentially different from truncating a melisma or making it coincide with syllabic stress? What determines whether a tradition—or innovation—is valid or invalid? Maybe it simply comes down to what a particular Pope wants at a particular time period (and I intend no sarcasm with this remark). Maybe it depends on reception by the faithful at large. Maybe! But maybe antiquity also has something to do with it. Today's gradual includes the so-called Johannine Comma. If the verse is a fourth-century addition, as many scholars believe, does that necessarily mean it's not canonical scripture? Again, above my pay grade. In chant, the preface to the Vatican edition also mentions the right of later centuries to contribute to the patrimony of the Church, but surely that doesn't mean entirely neglecting/rejecting the rhythmic indications of the oldest sources.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    But maybe antiquity also has something to do with it.

    You see, the tree is always “the tree”. The root never disappears. It does not morph into something new. It only feeds new expressions of what it alone embodies.

    Think of it this way. Jesus birthed his church. The angels and saints sang the praise of God. More angels and saints took the praise of those before, and embellished it, and added to it. Each of these was a fitting expression of the praise of God, granted, it came from its own time.

    Harking back to what was done before is an admiral disposition. Moving forward in time in the development of tradition is a beautiful and wonderful growth. But the tradition itself and it’s essence does not change.

    The way we sang yesterday is not necessarily the way we sing today. But at its core it is the evolving tradition that never loses the truth. It never loses the “root element”. The branches may be new, but they are still connected to the root, and very recognizable as such.

    This is why there are new composers from age to age. Each new thing contributes to what has gone on before.

    “Sing to the Lord, a new song. Sing to the Lord all the Earth.”

    Blessed be the heart of Jesus and Mary.
    Thanked by 1bhcordova
  • Well, I certainly won't claim the equalist chant is the original form of chant. I just claim that when done correctly, it is beautiful, prayerful, edifying, and not lacking in anything necessary for the chant of the liturgy. As more of a personal opinion, I would add that It seems to me the most appropriate form of chant for the Mass (as we celebrate it at our FSSP parish), and more fitting to the style that we celebrate Mass than mensuralism would be. I also prefer the equalist chant aesthetically, and it seems to me more conducive to meditation and pious thoughts (for both the listener and singer). And it's still the official edition, having also been the official edition in 1962 (which are the rubrics we generally follow), and pre 1955 (which we have occasionally done).

    I certainly believe that the aediastemic manuscripts (at least the ones I've taken the time to examine myself) show proportional rhythm. I am also willing to take the word of those who say those manuscripts are older (manuscript age is beyond my paygrade). I also agree that the very original form of the chant was quite different than the Vatican Edition, and we could probably get closer to the original with many many years (perhaps generations) of studying, for better or for worse, although some of it may still just be lost to history.

    I really have no idea how the Medicaean editions sounded, but I suppose I would accept them, as long as they were sung in a reverent and edifying way. I'm really quite ignorant about them though. But now that we have a new official edition, I don't see any reason to use the Medicaean editions. However, if the Medicaean editions were suitable for the Mass, and reverent and edifying (when sung correctly) then I would say they are a valid tradition. People make recordings of all sorts of rhythms, but never the Medicaean, so it's hard for me to know.

    Unlike the "pure" Vatican Edition, the Liber Usualis, with all its extra lengthenings, is definitely not the same tradition as the late medieval chant. However, it seems to me that it is becoming its own legitimate tradition (much to my dismay actually).

    But there the alterations were deliberate. Is that the distinction you make concerning what constitutes a "valid tradition"?

    I wouldn't make the distinction based on whether changes are intentional or not, I would make the distinction based on the effect of the change. What did the change do? If it causes irreverence, distraction, unnecessary difficulty for the singers, it is bad. If it causes devotion, beauty, recollection, it is good. I wouldn't necessarily condemn the tampering with the melismas in the Medicaean editions (although I certainly wouldn't be the one to suggest something like that), but I would see if the result is beautiful and edifying.

    In chant, the preface to the Vatican edition also mentions the right of later centuries to contribute to the patrimony of the Church, but surely that doesn't mean entirely neglecting/rejecting the rhythmic indications of the oldest sources.

    I wouldn't imagine it would mean that either, although it is a bit of a predicament. It's really hard to include two things that are so different, and the two rhythmic systems are fundamentally different. You can really only have one rhythm at a time (practically speaking), so painting with broad strokes, it seems necessary to neglect one tradition or the other. On the other side of the coin, your works don't seem to take much from later centuries (as far as I can tell). My best compromise is to use the official edition for those things which have an official edition, and at least reference the manuscripts for putting together arrangements of Offertory Verses, and perhaps other ad libitum chants or pieces to fill in the extra time. I really haven't been able to come up with any better solution than to just trust Dom Pothier's discretion (and I realize that might not satisfy you).

    I have no problem with people studying the manuscipts and making "more critical" editions. I also have no problem with people singing those editions at Mass (as long as they are still making beautiful and reverent music). I also think it good to spread knowledge about the true rhythm of the oldest manuscripts, and all the different aspects of chant, by making articles and videos to teach people.

    But if you are trying to get everyone to adopt proprtional rhythm, while the official edition still remains that of 1908, then I think you are misguided. I can't tell if that's what you are trying to do or not. If a new official edition is promulgated (which uses proportional rhythm), then you might have a right to tell people to use proportional rhythm. But now, I think all you can do is demand that people acknowledge it, not that they use it. I think it is kind of stupid that right now everybody is allowed to use whatever method of singing the chant they want, but that's how it is anyway.

    Also, if many of your arguments and frustrations are just against people who are hypocritical and try to bend the evidence of the manuscripts to show what they want it to when they should know better, then I do sympathize with you. I hate seeing hypocrisy even when it favors my side of the argument.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    If it causes irreverence, distraction, unnecessary difficulty for the singers, it is bad. If it causes devotion, beauty, recollection, it is good. I wouldn't necessarily condemn the tampering with the melismas in the Medicaean editions (although I certainly wouldn't be the one to suggest something like that), but I would see if the result is beautiful and edifying.
    this

    If the heart is pure and sinless, it will glorify God in the chant, no matter the school
    Thanked by 1OMagnumMysterium
  • Well, Francis, I think singers could have pure and sinless hearts, and still make ugly music (not on purpose, just through lack of skill, or other difficulties). And I'm sure their effort would be pleasing to God, but I would still consider it bad music and lacking (since the music is also for the spiritual benefit of the people).

    But I suppose pure and sinless hearts making ugly music (while still trying their best) is better than ugly hearts making perfectly artistic music.

    And I think you are right that all schools can glorify God if done well and with the right intention. (although that doesn't completely preclude legitimate preference for one school over another, especially if one is more fitting to certain circumstances)
    Thanked by 1francis
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    I would see if the result is beautiful and edifying.
    I'm generally not a fan of non-congregational singing in octaves, but this doesn't strike me as ugly or unedifying:
    https://soundcloud.com/seanconnolly/offertorium-ascendit-deus
    nor does this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWlwr_GvBMw
    Yet those are the styles of chant the Vatican edition was intended to supplant.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • I really like the first one, although is that actually chant? I think it is extremely beautiful and edifying (though much to short to fill the whole Offertory time)

    The second one is okay. It seems rather slow and a bit difficult to make out the words, but I tend to also think that about some of the polyphony we do. I wouldn't call the second recording ugly per say, but just a bit dull, and less likely to inspire those who hear it to high and pious thoughts than a different version of the chant might. But if that form of chant was the norm, I'm not sure it would necessarily be a horrible thing, it would just be more solemn than what we are used to today.

    But my personal opinion is that the Vatican Edition is an improvement over the second recording. That first one is great though. I would almost be inclined to use that first style of chant side by side with the Vatican Edition. Maybe as an as libitum chant. I'm sure something great could be put together if you combined the Vatican Edition, the ancient Offertory verses, that first chant, and some good musical knowledge and sense.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    is that actually chant?
    LOL! Does it not sound "chant-like" enough for you?
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  • well, it said #choral, so I was hesitant, but now I see.
    Is that one of the Medicaean editions? If so, I like the Medicaean editions when done at a reasonable (musical) tempo.
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    Yes, 1871 edition published by Pustet.
    Thanked by 1OMagnumMysterium
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    I have not heard pure hearts create ugly music (yet) but I suppose it is entirely possible. The little error created by the pure in heart is by far unnoticeable in the shekinah that is manifested.

    I have found very few professional musicians in my lifetime career that (in my limited discernment) have the purity of mind, heart and soul that “worship in spirit and in truth.” In general, there always seem to be far too much ego that clouds the lens to be able to see God, if you know what I mean. They are way too concerned with being seen and heard by men rather than God alone.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,767
    And the amateur musicians, Francis? I'm not exactly sure who has the right to claim a pure heart if not the infants that occasionally join in from the back pews, but the esthetic judgment must be in the ear of the beholder.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    Well, I, unfortunately am not in the class of the amateur… so pray hard for me and my colleagues. We have to struggle our way along mixing our religion with a career… (can be a quagmire and a danger to our souls) But the amateurs who surround me are astounding... Simple, whole-heartedly devoted and yes, pure. God, make me like one of them.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,942
    "I have found very few professional musicians in my lifetime career that (in my limited discernment) have the purity of mind, heart and soul that “worship in spirit and in truth.” In general, there always seem to be far too much ego that clouds the lens to be able to see God, if you know what I mean. They are way too concerned with being seen and heard by men rather than God alone."

    Unfortunately, that very argument is adjacent to common arguments (hardly always in bad faith) I've encountered used to promote "the music the people like" instead of sacred music (and also for pastors to refuse paying section leaders and communities even having a paid music director* - I vividly remember announcing a replacement music director search and after Mass having someone passionately object to the very concept of paid musicians having anything to do with liturgical music.)

    * I did this is a temporary role of facilitating the music ministry after the previous director left. I, while trained in music, was not a professional musician and had another profession, and was purely volunteer as a liturgical musician even to the point of returning stipends to the collection.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • CantorCole
    Posts: 29
    @FSSPmusic

    Do you know where I can find more examples of chants according Medicaean edition? It appears there is a clear three-fold note-length distinction, at least according to that sound cloud example. It is fascinating to listen to.
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 209
    Here's a recording from a Pontifical Mass in Vienna:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5KZjrTVf-0

    You might explore that channel to see if there are any others.
  • CantorCole
    Posts: 29
    @FSSPmusic

    Thanks!