How to Read Vatican Edition
  • A good friend and my former senior-in-rank introduced me to the Vatican rhythm of singing last year, which is a whole way simpler than reading the Solesmes rhythm. When we decided that our schola would be singing Vatican from then on, we've run to some mistakes, especially failing to identify the morae vocis (something which took me time to find them xD). What other important rules and principles should I take note when learning how to read Vatican? And what are the key differences between the Vatican and the Solesmes method?

    *addendum: are there other schools of rhythm, asides from the two mentioned above?
  • GerardH
    Posts: 417
    @theCebuano_Child03, where two or three church musicians are gathered, there are four or five opinions on chant rhythm in their midst.

    There is a current and lengthy discussion on the forum about other schools of rhythm, and many more like it have been had and will be had.
  • smvanroodesmvanroode
    Posts: 969
    Our schola uses neither schools of rhythm, but instead interprets the adiastematic neumes from modern editions of Gregorian Chant (Graduale Novum, Anton Stingl, Liber Gradualis by Alberto Turco).

    Singing according to a certain rhythm means making decisions. Not only about which school to follow, but also – in our case – which manuscript to follow (because, while chant has spread surprisingly uniform across Europe, there are certainly differences between areas and ages).

    But above all, singing Gregorian Chant should be joyful. You can't go wrong when there's a sincere desire to sing God's words. Don't be afraid to do what feels good, whatever others may think of it. There's no one true way to sing Gregorian Chant, let alone that it set in stone.
  • If you are trying to sing the Vatican Edition in a simple way, the basic things you need to pay attention to are the barlines, the morae vocis, and the note (or two notes) before qualismas. If you are struggling with the morae vocis, I would suggest having your schola mark them out ahead of time to make your lives easier.

    Dr. Charles Weaver has suggested the Dom Pothier, who was the main author of the Vatican Edition, intended a more complex rhythm involving lengthening the ends of words, which is certainly possible, but regardless, I find the simpler approach to be easy and beautiful.

    Jeff Ostrowski talks a lot about this simple interpretation of the Vatican Edition on his website, and gives an explanation of how it is sung here.

    But above all, singing Gregorian Chant should be joyful. You can't go wrong when there's a sincere desire to sing God's words. Don't be afraid to do what feels good, whatever others may think of it. There's no one true way to sing Gregorian Chant, let alone that it set in stone.


    This is true. And even if it is a long endeavor, I would suggest helping your schola to learn Latin, at least enough that they can understand what they are singing in the Propers as they are singing it. Maybe spend a bit of time at each practice just understanding the texts.

    As for schools of rhythm, these are the ones which come to mind at the moment:

    - Proportional (mensural) rhythm according to manuscripts
    - Simple reading of Vatican Edition
    - Nuanced rhythm reading of manuscripts
    - "Classic" Solesmes method, following ideas of Dom Mocquereau & Dom Gajard
    - Singing chant according to natural speech rhythm
    - Mensural editions used after the Council of Trent until the 1908 Vatican edition. Obviously there was a lot of variation between editions throughout this time, but here is a great recording of one such edition.
    - More creative interpretations, such as those by Marcel Pérès.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,001
    I don't wish to merely parrot the Master as the Padawan which I am, but I think that Dr. Weaver is supported by Pothier's recordings! The mora vocis naturally coming at the end of words varies. (Of course, you could mean something else, OMM.)

    On that note, I wish that the Chœur de chambre de Namur had recorded the proper from a gradual which would have been known at the time. This album is amazing, but we don't have the full experience as it were.

    Also, for my part, something which has come out of the linked discussion is singing more freely. That is, following a fairly straightforward view of the Solesmes editions can lead to very beautiful and prayerful chant, but so can following what naturally happens and what gets passed down as a result.

    Re: the Vaticana, we particularly emphasized the virga in our class… and I think that this was passed on to Mocquereau and particularly Gajard as well, particularly if something like the first note of a climacus. Interestingly, Pothier's recordings don't do what we expect at the quilisma, but I understood that this is what's passed on to Mocquereau (IOW, it's not his invention), who apparently kept to this more strongly.
  • What these last two posts are referring to is that I believe that if we were to sing the Vatican Edition rhythm according to the method of Dom Pothier, the result would be a little more complex than just paying attention to the spaces in the melismas. Indeed, it's quite easy to lose sight of Pothier's rather beautiful theorizing (based purely on rhetoric) amid endless arguments about the meaning of the the rhythmic signs.

    You don't have to follow me down that rabbit hole, but I think it's pretty interesting. In addition to Pothier's recordings linked to by Matthew, there is also a book by Pothier and another book by his secretary Dom David describing their approach, which has usually been referred to as accentualism. Pothier at one point gives very specific instructions on how to sing each note of a communion antiphon, which I recorded here, trying as best I can to follow his instructions:

    https://youtu.be/aOOjLM7XWHs?si=wwhOkazlMGvGzjxf

    If I were to summarize this way of singing (Pothier's approach to the Vatican) as succinctly as possible, I would say that there are a few basic rules, any of which I would be happy to unpack or expand on:

    1. Syllabic chants should follow the rhythmic organization of the speech rhythm. Namely, the tonic accent is the organizing principle of the Latin word, and it usually likes to be sung on a high pitch. The accented syllable is not generally lengthened. Instead, there is a slight lengthening on the final syllable of each word, which serves to distinguish between the words. This lengthening is called (after Guido) the mora ultimae vocis or "lengthening of the last sound."

    2. The point of distinction actually belongs to a hierarchy of distinctions in the manner of grammar or punctuation, so that we add a bit of length at the ends of words, more length at the ends of groups of words, and more length still at the ends of sentences. This corresponds roughly to the different sizes of barline in the Vatican Edition, but should also apply to other words or other points of punctuation. Dom David gives an example from the creed: unam— sanctam— Catholicam— much in the way it is sung in the Mocquereau method. Above all, this hierarchy of different lengths is free of mathematical precision. It is designedly non-mensural and even non-measurable.

    3. When there are multiple notes on a syllable, the organization of the rhythm is by neumes (that is, by individual figures like a pes, clivis, torculus, or porrectus), and one generally accents the beginning of each neume by singing the first note louder. That is, set the neumes/figures off with the vocal attack. This is also described in the Vatican Edition preface. Similar to the hierarchical distinctions described above, neumes also group into larger structures. These are generally set off from each other by space in the Vatican Edition. Again, the original intent with these spaces is decidedly not just to sing them double length, but to have a more flexible and organic kind of grouping.

    Anyway, that is how I would summarize what I know of Pothier. It's a very cool method, and I wish it weren't always discussed solely in opposition to Mocquereau. I really like both as writers, and they have a lot of interesting similarities.

    At the colloquium this year (my first time going!), I believe I will be leading a breakout session on a few of these different rhythmic methods, including Pothier's method.

  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Dr Weaver

    that really is quite beautiful, musical and really does wander away from mechanical. I would love to be able to do this but it just seems so impractical to do this with a group. Doing it solo is really stunning. I think because 9/10 of the schola are strictly amateurs and can barely even get the pitches. The other reason is because our schola is also a subset of the SATB choir which does a very heavy repertoire of polyphony up to eight parts every week. It really comes down to a matter of time and priorities.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,386
    Thank you Dr Weaver, that made far more sense to me than any previous exposition I have read.

    There is another layer of difficulty in the parishes I know, which is the accompaniment of chant. If you give the average parish organist NOH or similar the singers are stuck with that. Personally, I would always wish to chant unaccompanied so that my mistakes are covered by my bogus confidence.
  • @francis

    Thank you! I get your point completely, and I think what you say about practicality relates in a really interesting way to the history of how things proceeded in the wake of Pius X's motu proprio.

    Pothier's method was developed among monks who were mostly not musicians but who had from the beginning a deep commitment to the revitalization of the liturgy through Gregorian chant. They were liturgists and historians who read deeply in the historical sources and determined that the current editions of plainchant were obscuring a rather rich melodic tradition that had been disrupted by the Council of Trent and its aftermath. So Guéranger and Pothier and the rest developed a way of singing based entirely on rhetoric and text.

    The reason I get excited about this is that there is a whole thread running through Western music history of how music can relate to speech rhythm, especially in opera: Monteverdi, Lully, Mussorgsky, Debussy. It's a tantalizing idea, to say the least. Then it seems that in the late nineteenth century, a central point in research into this idea is in the heart of the Catholic Church and is applying it to the oldest notated music we have in the West. This is what Patrick has elsewhere called the "nuance" theory of chant. Now obviously not everyone agrees with whether this actually has anything to do with historically informed reconstructions of the "original rhythm." Pothier and Mocquereau both thought it did.

    Coming back around to my point (I promise!), this method was designed for people who spend a significant percentage of their waking hours singing psalmody in Latin. The results are so apparent when one goes to Solesmes: the monks who sing their now are not really following Mocquereau or Cardine, but they still have that elusive sense of timelessness that I find so captivating. Dom Hala told me he believes this came straight from Dom Guéranger. I was only able to go to Solesmes once a couple of years ago, but I found the chanting absolutely beautiful in this regard; I will never forget it.

    When Pius X promulgated the Vatican Edition, everyone had to figure out how to incorporate this in different places with different received traditions and different linguistic backgrounds. And different publishers wanted to publish accompaniments, etc. And the situation now is only compounded by how we expect every little parish everywhere to have competent music-making, which according to the letter of the Church's documents ought to privilege Gregorian chant over other kinds of music.

    It is in this situation that just reading the Gregorian melodies with equalism, or making rhythmic choices on the fly, is a perfectly reasonable approach for a parish musician. After all, certain amount of rhetorical spacing tends to just occur naturally, especially with familiarity over the years and with some attention to the meaning and the liturgical context.

    I know plenty of people here are not so interested in Mocquereau, but as I have tried to say elsewhere, the Mocquereau method considered in light of what has been happening at Solesmes since the beginning is also an interesting hybrid of (a) continuing/simplifying/quantifying Pothier's rhetorical rhythm (counting, dots to show the mora vocis, clear directions on how to sing a phrase with arsis and thesis) and (b) the beginnings of semiology (printing a selection of St. Gall signs like the episema, specific rhythmic treatments of the quilisma and salicus).

    A lot of the discussions on the rhythm of chant online, including here, focus on (b). This is reasonable because we are living in a moment of great interest in historically informed performance throughout the field of classical music. As to my own opinion, I think what I am most attracted to in recordings of Fontgombault etc. is what they do with (a), which is something also shared by recordings in some other musical traditions.

    @smvanroode hits the nail on the head above:
    But above all, singing Gregorian Chant should be joyful. You can't go wrong when there's a sincere desire to sing God's words. Don't be afraid to do what feels good, whatever others may think of it. There's no one true way to sing Gregorian Chant, let alone that it set in stone.


    I couldn't agree more. I only would add that because a lot of people have written about this question from within the heart of the Church, that there is a lot of value to be gained in reading and studying their work.
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    I think where I (and maybe others) get overwhelmed is when a battle ensues to find the “correct or authentic” interpretation. Your explanation makes a big difference in how the chant camps are perceived. Thanks again for your contribution to the highest art.

    Did you see my hybrid chant notation? If so, I would be interested in your frank thoughts and opinions.
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  • davido
    Posts: 889
    Dr Weaver, what do you think is the connection between the tradition of Geuranger/Pothier and the musical concepts of phrasing, dynamics, and rubato such as might be discussed in the orchestral world?

    I once sang a role in Little Women by Mark Adamo. It is a modern work with much of the dialogue written in speech patterns with angular melodies and constantly shifting meter. After the performances, our conductor (who was a rehearsal conductor at the MET) shared that he had advised Adamo that if he revised the work, he should just put the dialogue in common meter, as all the speech rhythm effects which he wished to convey by means of the crazy, shifting meter, would be realized simply by artistic, sensitive performances by opera singers.

    I often wonder if some of the questions on chant are really musical problems approached through non-musical solutions?
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  • @davido

    That's a really interesting idea. Mocquereau, unlike both Guéranger and Pothier, came out of that very orchestral world and the whole French conservatory system, since he was a cellist. When he came to apply his thinking to chant, he wanted to bring some of the conventions of modern music along with him, like the idea that the notes all have a basically equal length, which can be modified by signs you place around the note, varying from doubling (like the dot for the mora vocis) to slight nuances of weight or time, much like the articulation signs you might see in modern music. Pothier, on the other hand, seemed to want a lot more of the nuance and indefiniteness to be in the notation itself, the neume groups, with the individual notes having no fixed value. A similar dichotomy exists between the more manuscript-driven approaches of nuance vs. proportional note values.

    I think it's easy amidst the endless debate over rhythm to fall into a way of chanting that is meant to prove a musicological point, rather than being a genuinely musical performance, and this is ultimately unpersuasive. Mechanical and didactic are not adjectives most of us would want to be applied to our chanting.
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  • In this thread, I brought up that communion antiphon Justus Dominus that Dom Pothier writes about with such detail. Today, the Wednesday of the second week of Lent, was the day for this antiphon, and I sang it this afternoon at the school Mass at my parish. I was singing from the Graduale Triplex, as I usually do on those occasions. It was interesting to note (I think I noticed this last year too but didn't dwell on it much) that there were essentially no rhythmic signs added in the Solesmes edition of this chant, and I have to imagine that this was a small homage from Dom Mocquereau to his great mentor and his big book.