Solesmes sometimes defies their own editions (and theories)
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    BEFORE I even type a word, I want you all to know that I love the Solesmes rhythmic markings, and I use them every day.

    I always keep my ears open for when Solesmes doesn't follow the markings in their own editions. For instance, listen to the beginning of Kyrie III, or certain quilismas they add in Gloria II, or the second "sanctus" of Sanctus II.
    (You can hear all these HERE).

    Dom Gregory Murray once wrote a long article about Credo I, EXCORIATING Solesmes for not marking certain accents as long ... but if he had only listened to their recording of Credo I, they ACTUALLY MAKE ALL THOSE SYLLABLES LONG ANYWAY!

    Let's face it: the longer you do chant, you begin to realize that the Solesmes rhythmic symbols are basically suggestions, rather than hard and fast, numerical "tempo" marks!


    In any event, those of you who have read my article in Sacred Music realize that many of the Solesmes rhythmic "holds" (morae vocis) are in direct opposition to where the Vatican Edition wanted them. There can be absolutely no doubt about this after one reads This official letter to Cardinal Martinelli, 1910, written by Pius X, leaving aside the other legislation on this subject. Here I am not speaking about EVERY SINGLE rhythmic mark, but only the hundreds that are in direct opposition to the Vaticana rhythm. In the 1950's, I think it was, the Vatican (finally!) officially "sanctioned" these rhythmic markings, by saying that they are "tolerated."


    What I find exceedingly interesting are those times that Solesmes actually follows the Pothier/Vaticana markings INSTEAD OF their own markings . . . like here (the second and third notes)

    SCORE ••• MP3.
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 343
    I have heard a story that when a young Eugene Cardine first arrived at Solesmes in the late 1920s, he was scandalized that the choir (directed by Dom Gajard with Dom Mocquereau still carefully supervising over his shoulder) did not sing according to the Solesmes Method. Or at least they were not applying the rules with any consistency.

    I'm sure that much of this has to do with the near impossibility of re-training a community to sing chant differently than they are used to. Dom Saulnier and Fr. Columba Kelly have written some interesting pieces arguing that the Solesmes style over time displays more continuity than rupture, to borrow a popular expression. See in particular Fr. Kelly's "The Solesmes Method Then And Now" in the June 2008 issue of Pastoral Music.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    When I attended a concert of Gregorian chant and Medieval polyphony at Notre Dame de Paris in June, I noticed that their choir was using some sort of reconstructed Medieval Latin pronunciation, which seems to be de rigueur among American early music ensembles, and which I, having the benefit of a standardized ecclesiastical pronunciation, choose not to use with my church choirs. After the concert, as others were being escorted out of the cathedral, I was introduced to the director by the organist from la Sainte Trinite (Messiaen's own church), whom I had met earlier in the week. I was allowed to ask one question, so I asked (in my best French), "Why is it you use a Latin pronunciation that resembles French: for technical reasons, historical accuracy, or merely an aesthetic choice?" The answer, which was delivered with much chagrin, best translates to "Because my singers simply don't listen to me."

    This weekend I am conducting the first concert of a new community chamber chorus, and I can only imagine what my church choir members who might attend will think when they hear the chant incipits for the polyphonic Mass we're performing. It will seem strange and different to them, as if I'm not following the "rules" that they have been learning over the past two years. Truth be told, these few short chants are not being sung the way I would like, and I'm not at a point with this new ensemble 1) to explain all the scholarship that I have researched myself and 2) to change something that the singer in question obviously has experience with (although perhaps not at a high level or in an ecclesiastical setting) and which gives him a feeling of pride in performing. The end result, in other words, is not necessarily an example of the distilled vision of the individual director, much less an entire stylistic school of thought.

    It's abundantly clear listening to the Solesmes recordings that these are not singers who have been trained in traditional classical vocal technique. I know chant has been around longer than bel canto, but looking at Palestrina motets, or even Machaut's Mass, one can assume a level of virtuosity on the part of their first interpreters that cannot be expected of individual members of even the finest chant scholae today. Since the age of recordings, we find singers imitating vocal habits of singers like those at Solesmes attributing them to "the style," when it's very possible the directors would have wanted something different if they had been working with a group of professional performers. I cannot encourage my singers to scoop from below the pitch or to put a percussive accent on long syllables in Latin, for instance. We can do better than that, because we are not a monastic community and we have different goals. Which brings me to another point...

    In many ways, Solesmes is a monastic community like any other. We, as church musicians, sometimes lose sight of that, and think that every person at Solesmes does nothing but study chant, practice chant, and talk about chant all day. As the saying goes, when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When I mention to someone, for instance, that I am a fan of Paul Bowles, those who recognize the name will usually say "The author?" to which I replay "No, the composer." Of course they are one in the same, but don't we often think to ourselves, perhaps without realizing it "Solesmes equals chant, therefore chant equals Solesmes." I can't help but think of the scholar teachers, Mocquereau, Gajard, Cardine et al., writing with the hopes that someone would benefit from their labors and eventually be able to exceed what they themselves were able to accomplish. Isn't that what any parent wants for their children?
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    What a conicidence- only last night at choir rehearsal, I was mildly excoriating the bass section for giving a subvocal ' boost to consonants during a rehearsal of the Liszt 'Ave maris stella' , and too much 'y' in the ejus and alleluia and too much long 'a' on the gloriae, etc. I know they think I am nitpicking, but it makes all the difference in the sound when the pronunciation is correct. Incantu, I say 'up with nitpicking'
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Oh, I nitpick. But not in a dress rehearsal with a new groups that needs to build confidence. And I have had people leave one of my ensembles because they didn't want to sing solfege, even though I transcribed the music and wrote the syllables in as lyrics making it ostensibly easier than singing text and requiring no previous training in theory or sight-singing. What I'm saying is just because a director knows something or desires something doesn't mean that it will be evident in the end result. A lot can happen, as they say, betwixt cup and lip.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 671
    It does take time to learn to do things differently. I would say that it's harder than learning to do something the first time. The better you'd learned it, the harder it will be to change again. Switching pronunciations, or performing other actions that go against ingrained instincts, is not just hard to do but hard to remember.

    So it's not always that choir members aren't listening, or that they're purposely rebelling. Sometimes they literally just can't get it into their heads -- or at least, not yet.
  • Lawrence
    Posts: 123
    The longer I have been chanting, the more I've departed from certain aspects of the Solesmes method, though usually on a case by case basis, and not in general principle. The ultimate question is: what does the music demand? In a situation where there is doubt, I don't consult the Solesmes manuals, I consult common sense musicianship. It saves time, and it's usually much more convincing.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Solesmes gives the basic structure for the rhythm, and I think there are plenty room of flexibility for each director's interpretations, once s/he masters the method. I found by experience that trying to copy the recent Solesmes gruop which has a bit different interpretation from strict Solesmes was not a good idea.
    Ictus is not strictly a rhythm, it's a pulse, I believe, and there can be difference on which note gets horizontal episema and dotted punctum and how long they should be. (also arsis and thesis) An experienced chant director can make them sound beautiful together, not randonm, once he learned how to apply Solesmes and experienced it for many years. There are room for different interpretations in performing any kind of music, although when we learn music we have to learn to count the rhythm and feel the pulse.
  • I see that the pope had an audience with the abbot of Solesmes today. Would have been cool to be a fly on the wall. Maybe the pope was making the case for the Vatican stresses.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592

    Haha! I'm sure he was......except that they officially gave the editorship of the Vaticana over to Solesmes around 1918 !!