NEED HELP - Our Lady of Fontgombault Chant Accompaniment
  • Can any tell me what accompaniments to the chants are being used on the CD recordings of the monks at Our Lady of Fontgombault? Although, I generally prefer unaccompaniment plainsong chant, I find these to be beautifully done, tasteful, elegant as well as masterfully played.
  • I haven't heard them. I would certainly recommend "Nova Organi Harmonia", which is now a free download. It is strictly modal in style - not just superimposed M/m chords.
  • I have to agree--The Fontgombault recordings are the best chant accompaniments I have heard. They are very sparse compared to the NOH and just tend to reinforce the harmony implied in the movement of the melody. I usually improvise a harmonization based upon this model. I wonder if this is what the organist at Fontgombault might do as well?
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    In the Flor Peeters Method book, written as an explanation of the NOH, Peeters explains the different types of accompaniments and gives examples. He harmonizes the same piece in several different ways, including a way akin to Fontgombault, and then explains why the NOH chose the path they did. In essence, Peeters implies, there are certain things you can notate on paper, but others you just have to know how to do as an organist.

    Adam, I am not entirely sure I would call the NOH "not sparse" --- many times, there are but 2-3 notes sounding at the same time.
  • Jeff--I meant that the "chord changes" are more frequent in NOH in comparision to Fontgambault where there are often just one or two harmonic changes in each phrase. The harmonies in NOH themselves are sparse, but the frequency of harmonic change still seems pretty high--higher than I prefer.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    By the way, you can view two versions of Peeter's Method of Organ Accompaniment.

    Adam, ah....well, I see what you are saying, but I could also show you some NOH sections that go far too long without a chord change (I'll have to look for examples: I think those done by Jules Vyverman)

    For me, subtle chord changes keep the chant moving (of course it depends on each individual chant). I don't like chord changes that have blocky abruptness, without preserving common tones. This does NOT happen in the NOH. But I digress . . . .
  • jgirodjgirod
    Posts: 45
    The accompaniment used at Our lady Fontgombault is not published. The organist notes it as digits on the score to mean what chord is intended. It is based on Rev.P. Dom Cardine's practical work. May be you could ask the monks in Clear Creek, OK (founded by Fontgombault) if they have brought the method with them and if they are willing to explain it.

    Otherwise, for those who can read French and find this old book, there is:
    "Méthode Facile Et Complète Pour L'accompagnement Du Chant Grégorien Et Des Cantiques
    Aumon Et Biret, Abbés
    Petit Séminaire De Chavagne - 1926"
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  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I too found that it is a beautiful accompaniment, following the melody with sutlety and simplicity (I've mentioned it awhile ago.). (I hear a truly humble service of the organ to the singing chant.)
  • The Monks at Clear Creek monastery do indeed have the chant accompaniment from Our Lady of Fontgombault. It is pretty simple to understand. The chords are written underneath, along with some indications for inversions and intervals above the bass note. I know Fr. Bachmann, and have been able to receive copies of many of them from him. He has just been making copies of whatever I request and then mailing them to me. Even though I wish I could get the whole entire collection of manuscripts, I know it takes a lot of time for him to make those copies and get them mailed so I haven't asked for too many, only for the accompaniments for Mass VIII and Mass XI and Credo III. I think that if there began to be widespread interest them, Fr. Bachmann would have to undertake a project, perhaps with help from someone, to scan in all the pages, rather than keep copying them for others.
  • JennyH
    Posts: 106
    The NOH are probably the best, although the Solesmes Ferdinand Portier are also decent but I think they're under copyright. The problem with going that many notes without a chord change (c.f. Fontgombault) is all the dissonances that are created by doing this. However, such accompaniments are much easier to compose "on the fly."
  • Marcel Dupre, one of the greatest French organists of the 20th century, also published a book on chant accompaniment. I have a copy at home but not here - I am sure you can just find it under "Dupre" (accent aigu on the e - I can't seem to get it it to print here).
  • Dupré's Treatise can be downloaded from CCW, along with numerous other rare works:

    St. Jean de Lalande Web Library of Rare PDFs
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    (alt+0233 = é)
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  • kbjones
    Posts: 2
    Hello, all. I have seen that there is quite a lot of interest and people searching for the notation for the Fontgambault chants. I just wanted to pass on all I have discovered. I spoke with the monk who teaches the music at the monastery of Our Lady of the Clear Creek Abbey. I told him I was looking for the chant accompaniments for all of the propers and ordinary for the Solesmes chant that they brought over from Fontgambault. I even said that I was interested in undertaking a project to try to publish the manuscripts or to convert the figured bass into a playable notation or something, and he told me there exists already a resource which has done that and told me I should get that and see if it does not meet all my needs. He said it is called the Comitante Organo. I have looked it up and found Liber Cantualis Comitante Organo, and the Graduale Romanum Comitante Organo, in several volumes. It looks somewhat hard to get and expensive but it is out there.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,157
    In the US, Solesmes books are distributed by Paraclete Press, so it's possible to order through their web site.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668

    Yes, I have used the Liber Cantualis Comitante and Graduale Comitante both... excellent works.
    Thanked by 1JulieColl
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    I'm very fond of the Liber Cantualis Comitante Organo, too. I've always admired the accompaniment to the Schola Bellarmina chant CD's. There is a phenomenal video series on YouTube which teaches chant accompaniment. The forum discussion is here:
  • If you are interested i've found some days ago the registration of the Missa The Angelis of Fontgombault here:

    Unlikely the Kyrie and Gloria are not perfect in the registration; but are very very interesting!!!

  • The Solesmes Liber cantualis comitante is online:
    It includes seven Ordinaries and the Proper for the Requiem Mass. I believe the three volume set has the entire Graduale. Although I can't point to an example at the moment, I have encountered parallel fifths in them, which I why I went back to using Bragers, Rossini, The Westminster Hymnal, or writing my own.
  • Just noticed this is an eight-year-old thread that somebody commented on this morning. I guess I took the bait!
  • Well, since you already took the bait, now you have me curious, madorganist! You said you've moved back to other accompaniments because you had encountered parallel fifths in the Liber Cantualis Comitante.

    So here's the question: what's the problem with parallel fifths in chant accompaniment? We aren't talking about musical compositions of the "common practice period," nor need we worry too much about voice leading for a chant accompaniment. So other than a subjective preference, on what grounds should we reject parallel fifths in chant accompaniment?

    Personally, I don't even look for whether an accompaniment follows traditional rules of Classical composition. I see it as a different discipline altogether. I judge written accompaniments on how well they fulfill their purpose, namely, to support the singing of chant. The next criterion would be how well they handle the modal nature of chant. If I start to hear a bunch of IV-V7-I cadences, I toss it out. If I here a V7 in Mode I, I toss it out. Etc. (BTW, I have yet to find one that I've not tossed out... hence why I prefer accompanying straight from square notes!)

    The particular voicing, such as employing an occasional parallel fifth, has never concerned me, so I'm definitely curious to learn what problems you envision (or hear) with that kind of voicing in chant accompaniment.
  • While the chants themselves aren't from the common practice period, the accompaniments are. I would disagree that we shouldn't worry much about voice leading. I refer you to Potiron's Treatise on Gregorian Accompaniment, footnotes of pp. 5-7:
    I notice part-writing errors almost immediately, and my ear prefers accompaniments that conform with common practice rules, which is why I avoid those that don't.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen JonathanKK
  • Thanks. Fair enough. I've studied Potiron's Treatise in some depth. But I disagree that we should feel compelled to conform to common practice rules, precisely on the basis that Gregorian chant, in its modal complexities, is not relatable to that school. In my opinion, we should be seeking our accompaniment direction directly from the modes. But I fully respect your position on the matter. Many ears have been trained to expect common practice. But then, most ears are also trained to expect the Classical rather than plainchant. Would be a fun topic over a Scotch and cigar.
    Thanked by 2madorganist CHGiffen
  • "Voicing": the term has to do with how simultaneously sounding notes are spaced vertically; or which notes of a given vertical harmony are doubled; or how many total notes there are sounding at once.

    "Modal": for a chant melody, the having of a certain final, tenor, ambitus, and characteristic melodic formulas; in general here, the keeping to notes which are diatonic (Te-flat the only exception), the avoidance of certain harmonic emphases as being out of place, the favoring of certain chords, etc.

    The question has to do with what sort of perfection or goal one is trying to achieve.

    For the accompaniment of chant, what is this?

    In the case of improvised vs. written down accompaniments, the former has practical value, but the latter will necessarily approach more closely to the ideal form.

    [If you are going to say that improvisation is intrinsically better, you are not arguing about the music theory.]

    Thus, is the concern of the ideal accompaniment primarily to provide a timbral, blended progression of suitable background sounds?

    Such a focus, I am trying to say, as would be analogous to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, where much is made of which chord goes to which chord, but little of the individual notes of these chords, and how these happen to move, or how many of these happen to sound at once (do I miss the mark with this assessment of LOTR?).

    Or, is the concern of the ideal accompaniment primarily to work out a support to the chant within the limits of a set number of simultaneously sounding notes ("voices"), in such a way as to achieve that balance of perfections between the melody of each voice, the relationships between each of these melodies, and also the occurring and progressing harmonies, that we call good part-writing?

    To me the problem is, that if you admit parallel fifths (and whether you include in this admission parallel octaves, etc. or not makes no difference), there are then hardly any limiting factors on the part writing.

    It is too often said that "occasional" instances are permissible: but is there any consensus on what makes a good occasional instance, and what a bad?

    Whereas, the absolute avoidance of parallel fifths is a universally well known standard, and generally imposes a stricter set of rules, a higher hurdle, a more insoluble riddle.

    Such that success in the other areas necessary to the fitting accompaniment of chant (or the composing of pleasing music) is the more admirable while keeping of this standard than without.
  • Te is still part of the diatonic scale. There is no exception to the diatonic scale in the chant modes...
  • If we are to consider the avoidance of parallel fifths to be a universally well-known standard (again, I'd argue that this is only true of Common Practice, and therefore not really universal), I'd suggest we ought to dig into that a bit and consider the rationale behind the standard before we apply it with a broad brush to every style of musical writing. I believe we can distill the rationale as follows (though I freely admit that I'm not the compositional theory expert that many of you are, so feel free to correct me, or add to the list):

    1) Motion in parallel fifths necessarily makes it difficult to distinguish the movement of the individual voices

    2) Writing in parallel octaves essentially cuts an individual voice at that moment. By extension, parallel fifths (as the first overtone after the octave) gives a similar reduction in force of role of the parts concerned

    3) Parallel fifths can muddy the tonality of the key because of their primacy and strength as the fundamental harmonic interval

    Therefore, parallel motion (especially of octaves and fifths) is to be avoided, and contrary motion is to be preferred.

    Does this apply to chant accompaniment, always and everywhere? Must it be a law of all composition in order for a composition to be "good?"

    (At this juncture, I should note that my argument is not in *favor* of parallel motion; rather, against its strict and blanket proscription.)

    In considering Gregorian Chant accompaniment, we must first consider its purpose, namely: to support the singing of chant. Chant is, by its nature, a purely vocal music. Accompaniment is not proper to it, though it can be a great aid (especially for larger groups, lesser experienced singers, and congregations). We see, then, that the accompaniment of chant should function as a support to the singing, a means to an end.

    We know from the Church's teaching on art and music (especially from St. Pius X's Tra la sollecitudine) that we can judge the fitness of music for the Liturgy by the extent to which it possesses the three qualities of sanctity, goodness of form, and universality.

    In the discussion of chant accompaniment, we can ensure sanctity by excluding from our harmonies and voicings anything which overtly suggests the profane. As a rather extreme example, let us assume the following chord progression in an accompaniment: I - vi - IV. If I were to admit a common standard of jazz voicing, I might just throw in an bV7 between the vi and IV as a passing tritone substitution. But this would be a clear break from the sacred by admitting a distinctly and recognizably profane sound into the accompaniment. Instead, we follow St. Pius X's keen observation that "the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes." Therefore we work to ensure that our accompaniments fit the nature of Gregorian form by respecting the modes and the rhythmic structures, and by taking inspiration from the melodies. In fact, aside from avoiding admission of the profane, the quality of sanctity is almost guaranteed by the melodies for which we are writing accompaniment, if we stay true to them.

    As for Goodness of Form, when we consider "goodness" in a philosophical standpoint, we can define it as the extent to which something fulfills its purpose. If the purpose of chant accompaniment is to support the singing, it is good to the degree that it fulfills that goal (and I would add that part of this goal is to avoid any writing which would distract or detract from the vocal aspect, which is primary). In this sense, I do not see a valid argument for the abrogation of parallel motion.

    However, we might also consider goodness in the sense of how closely a thing comes to perfection. If anywhere, this is where we might consider whether an argument could be made against parallel motion in chant accompaniment. And yet, to do so, you must demonstrate that such motion is objectively contrary to the perfection of chant accompaniment per se (or, constructed as a positive statement: you must demonstrate that chant accompaniment is perfected by the omission of parallel motion). I have not yet seen such an argument, though I'm more than open to considering one.

    Further, we might consider historical context. The proscription of parallel fifths and octaves (and hidden consecutives), while it was certainly introduced and proliferated during the renaissance era, is--as a standard--a product of the common practice period (i.e. the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods of composition), and is proper to the work of those schools. But in previous compositional schools, especially Medieval and some of the Renaissance era, parallel fifths were employed. These schools are much more closely related to Gregorian chant than the Common Practice period. In context, then, it does not seem to make sense to strictly apply the rules of common practice to a vernacular to which they do not properly belong, unless as stated above, an objective argument can be made which demonstrates that chant accompaniment is positively perfected by the standard.

    The application of more rules does not, in itself, perfect anything. The rules themselves must supply the perfecting qualities. And in what consists the perfection of chant accompaniment? As I stated above, I'd argue that the perfection of chant accompaniment consists in the support of chanting within the existing framework of the Gregorian form, and the extent to which the accompaniment meets the criteria of sanctity, goodness of form, and universality as defined by St. Pius X.

    The standard or tendency to avoid parallel motion is a means, not an end in itself. When writing strict counterpoint or chorales, then this standard ought to be followed in order to perfect and fulfill the purpose of that kind of writing. But beyond this, I've not heard a convincing argument for the universal application of this standard as an axiomatic a priori law of composition which is in itself superior (or the ideal).

    In conclusion, I would posit that--rather than suggesting that parallel fifths are inherently bad, or that they are inherently good--we should focus on understanding the salient qualities of these intervals, and understand how those qualities could enhance or detract from a particular application of harmony. Parallel motion is neither good nor bad in itself. It has a quality which may desired in one instance, and not in another. Hence my personal preference to not expend energy or worry over the presence of a few parallels in chant accompaniment. I concern myself with how well it fulfills its end.
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 163
    I think this latter part of the thread - i.e. the new part of it - represents well the problem (I see it as one, in my mind) of accompaniment for chant. If it's not a problem, it is at the very least not the ideal and does not give one an accurate understanding of modality, in terms of training the ear for it. Accompanied (i.e. harmonized) chant certainly can be, when done well, beautiful - but accompanied chant is so, so different from plain chant, different in a way which I personally believe hinders one from understanding modality and chant.

    I might be able to go on, but I probably shouldn't. Suffice it to say, my "mantras" with regard to accompanied chant are:

    1) Accompanied chant is a concession to modern ears.
    2) Chant, when done well, needs no accompaniment.

    And most of all,

    3) Accompanied chant is beautiful, but it is not the same as simple, plain chant - it creates an entirely different atmosphere. Accompanied chant (if done well) is almost TOO beautiful. Haha.

    Funny thing I may as well relate, since Clear Creek was mentioned above in this thread. I recently spent ~10 months as a postulant there. One day, for our choir novitiate chant class (it was not Fr. Bachmann as the teacher, as he was gone that week - it was the head cantor), we listened to a bunch of recordings of the exact same chant. It was the Communion chant for Easter Sunday, I think. We listened to a large variety of chants - Solesmes before the method change, Solesmes after the method change, other men's monasteries' choirs, other women's choirs, etc. The purpose of the "exercise," if I remember correctly, was nothing other than to hear the different versions of chanting out there. But anyway, among these various recordings, all the ones we had were unaccompanied - except for the last one. The last one was Fontgombault's recording, and our whole novitiate (well, it was all of those not yet temporarily professed, which was 7 in number at the time) agreed that a change in "atmosphere" was AT ONCE detected with the accompaniment being added. That it was without a question beautiful, but almost too much so, if that is possible. Harmony definitely can add a certain "feel" to a single melody line.

    Anyway, none of this is to say that this difference in what I have termed "atmosphere" is bad, by any means. It's just to say that the difference in hearing accompanied (harmonized) chant instead of unaccompanied is a difference in how the ear hears it and even probably a difference in how the mind processes and reacts to the music. The only way I can think of to express some of what I'm trying to say is this: I was brought up with good musical training since I was 6 (started piano lessons, learned good music theory, ear training, etc), and have a Bachelor of Arts in Music. When I first became interested in chant, I wasn't very aware of harmonized chant. And until recently (I think shortly before entering Clear Creek over a year ago), I had never heard Credo I with harmony - I never had my parish choir sing accompanied chant. Then, when I got to Clear Creek, they use a "major" tonality for it - and it was something absolutely, completely different than I had ever imagined Credo I! I mean, mode III and move IV had never struck me as "major" (even though I hate classifying modes as "major" and "minor", because modes ought to be understood apart from modern harmony, since they predate it) until hearing it accompanied. That is just a small example. Credos I and V just will never be the same for me again...haha.

    Long story short...I think the ideal is for people to be taught to understand chant/modality without reference to modern music - which would mean that, among other things, it would need to be unaccompanied/unharmonized. It changes the understanding of chant so much.

    P.S. - while I was there at Clear Creek, I had a discussion with Fr. Bachmann about accompanied chant. We spent a whole Sunday (i.e. longer than daily/normal) recreation with another poor monk who got thrown in with us, discussing it. I was arguing against accompanied chant, of course, and Fr. Bachmann was arguing for it. The other monk (who is a choir monk) was kind of playing both sides. At the very end, right before we had to go in for None, Fr. Bachmann slipped in the comment - "just so you know, I have always felt the same way about accompanied chant!" or something like that. Which I thought was funny, because it meant he was just playing devil's advocate the whole time...and because he is obviously the one almost always accompanying the chant. Good example of obedience and detachment from preferences. :) Mostly, the accompanied chant at Clear Creek consists of the Ordinary of the Mass, all of Vespers, and some Benediction chants. Propers are always a cappella.
  • Charles has hit on a point which--I suspect--resonates with all of us, regardless of our compositional persuasion; to wit: Gregorian Chant is first, foremost, and properly a vocal music. Discussion of accompaniment theory and composition is secondary to the importance of the vocal art of chant.

    And yet, part of me considers how Holy Mother Church has always embraced a spirit of organic growth...

    Many of us who are practitioners in the field know that accompaniment is a very useful tool, and it does have the ability to enhance the chant under certain circumstances. My own conclusions are as follows:

    >Chant is first and foremost a vocal form of music. In a perfect ideal setting, it can always be sung to perfection without accompaniment; it is the very simplicity of plainsong which supplies its depth and clarity, giving a glimpse (of sorts) into the hereafter, where perfect simplicity is perfect love and perfect truth

    >Yet, in the practical parish setting (where trained clerical choirs are not often available), it is frequently a challenge to employ exclusively purely vocal music

    >Therefore, in an effort to bolster the confidence of the schola and to encourage appropriate and measured congregational participation (e.g. in alternatim with the schola for the ordinary), accompaniment is a useful tool

    >Additionally, as an organic development from plainsong (with due regard to the modal character of chant), accompaniment of chant can also add an element of luster and solemnity on particularly important feasts

    Accompaniment is a tool, and an important one. But it, too, is a means, not an end.
  • I am amazed how my seemingly little and innocent question has given birth to so much. I am also surprised that the evolution from unaccompanied plainsong into organum with its chordal accompaniment hasn't been touched upon, LOL, and so possibly leading into western thought and hearing of accompaniment in general.

    And finally, just to reflect upon the famous Canon Winfred Douglas, if a plainsong is to be accompanied, it should be done so with the least and sparsest of accompaniment and registration.

    I greatly thank everyone here for their wonderful words, insights and knowledge! God bless you all.

  • Accompaniment: a crutch for the schola, and way to manipulate the congregation?

    That's very utilitarian.

    Under which circumstances, any singer with a sense for authenticity would actually be disheartened by such.

    Keep in mind that accompaniment can at times provide a nice yardstick for how off-key the insecure singers have gotten, or dismay and disorient an unconfident congregation.

    Also, though it sounds tongue in cheek, the presence of accompaniment will always prevent either from being able to sing a capella.

    The accompaniment of chant needs to be fitting in itself, or it is not in the end justifiable.
  • Lots of good points contributed across many different posts, and very interesting to read through. I'm typically hesitant to have organ accompaniment on the chant, but I certainly don't apply that universally. I think there's a time and a place where it can be appropriate. Pedagogically, I want singers to be self-reliant - to force themselves to have a better understanding of intervals rather than merely following the instrument. I also find that chant tends not to be as responsive as I would like when there is accompaniment. On the other hand, there are times where accompaniment can certainly be very useful or even simply provide a different texture which lends a nice contrast to a cappella chant when used judiciously. One concern that is almost universally borne out for me is that too often (in my experience at least) the organist tries to be primary rather than merely provide accompaniment.

  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 163
    @32ContraBombarde - Basically, I agree with you. My long post pretty much was my complaining about the fact that an ideal is hardly met. Needless to say, I complain about a lot of things... :) Or perhaps more appropriate is :(

    While always making the caveat that it would be better to be able to do chant without accompaniment, and that those studying chant should learn it without reference to modern tonality, I agree that there are times when it is better, based on the circumstances, to use accompaniment. But as I think has already been mentioned by other posters, and I think a Solesmes monk during the 19th century renewal of chant has said this (along with many, many others, I'm sure), that when chant is to be accompanied at all, the accompaniment must be as simple, sparse, and in all ways subservient to the voice.
  • Excuse me for resurrecting this thread, but I need some practical advice.

    When one "needs" to accompany chant ordinaries, how does one wean a choir off of including the melody in the accompaniment? I want to move to more modal accompaniment, but I want to develop the organ as a distinct voice, not merely a mule or camel.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 690
    Perhaps it would help to know whether the choir 'needs' the melody in order to follow it (ie the organist plays the note a moment before the choir will pick it up, especially at the beginning of new phrases or when there is a large interval); or whether the choir 'needs' the melody because they are shy and are afraid of their voices sticking out and being heard? One is a bit more of a musical-training issue, the other is a bit more of a courage and responsibility issue. But I'd bet both can be bettered by singing with NO accompaniment regularly (at least in rehearsals).

    I've had the opposite problem, where I tend to train with no accompaniment (because I can't play for myself, and it helps me train accuracy in intonation). But then when I sing WITH the unfamiliar accompaniment I find it distracting. When our schola very rarely has an organist join (such as for Easter), we often mess up quite a bit more for lack of familiarity with the sound of the organ, or a change in how we hear ourselves and each other.
  • Catherine,

    That's a very perceptive distinction you make. When I don't have the melody at the top of the right hand, singing struggles. I'm not sure which of your scenarios that covers.