Gradual as meditation (Mahrt article?)
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    In Jeffrey's recent post about the Graduale Romanum, he makes reference to the notion that a primary purpose of the Gradual is to foster meditation on the scriptures.

    I know I've heard this before, and I'd like to read more about this. I'm pretty sure I've read a piece somewhere by Dr. Mahrt that discusses this very thing, but I can't seem to find it… my searches through the archives of Sacred Music notwithstanding.

    I'd appreciate any help in locating such an article!
  • Volume 133.1 (Spring 2006) is a good place to start. See p. 5 - "Gregorian Chant as a Paradigm of Sacred Music."
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    Oh, fantastic… and I had already downloaded that issue! Thanks, Jenny!
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    My apologies to anyone/everyone if my questions on things like this tend to get annoying. That said…

    So, I re-read that excellent article… thanks again, Jenny, for the reference. Some follow-up questions:

    (1) If part of the purpose of a melismatic chant (i.e., the Gradual and the Alleluia) is to help the listener contemplate the reading that preceded it (and to prepare the listener for the reading that follows), does that mean the psalm text itself is somewhat less important? That is, couldn't somebody argue that the more declamatory, recitative-style approach to the psalm — in the Responsorial Psalm — gives greater emphasis to its own text, and therefore elevates the Psalm as Scripture, and therefore is to be preferred?

    (2) Dr. Mahrt indicates that the "contemplative" functions of the Gradual and Alleluia are heightened when the readings themselves are sung… that is, the dramatic arc of the sung readings (with the different cadences distinguishing the prophesy, the epistle, and the Gospel) is made that much more dramatic with the melismatic chants. If that's the case, would these chants therefore seem somewhat out-of-place does if the readings are spoken, rather than sung (and if so, then the Responsorial Psalm is to be preferred)?

    (3) I'm still a bit befuddled by preferred modern practice in singing these particular chants (at least the Gradual). In an Ordinary Form Mass, should the Gradual ideally be sung from the steps, or from the choir loft? If from the steps, isn't it logistically awkward to move a schola from a loft to the steps then back again? Or are there just too many individual variations in church architecture to make a recommendation one way or the other?

    Thanks as always.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    (Okay, my curiosity is a bit insatiable here.)

    On note #19 (p. 10) in that article, Dr. Mahrt states…
    The intimate relation between musical style and liturgical function suggests that these psalm tones are not suitable for the responsorial psalm of the Mass, a topic I will return to in a later article.
    I would love to find that "later article," if indeed it is to be found!
  • Maureen
    Posts: 646
    If you are "contemplating" or "meditating", presumably you are indeed engaging with the text. You're supposed to be engaging not just with the Graduale, either, but also reflecting back on the first reading and then synthesizing your understanding of the psalm text with that (and the upcoming Gospel).

    Meanwhile... I don't know if it's insufficient teaching or what, but most post-Vatican II Catholics think of the psalms as just nice Biblical songs that we have to sing, sort of like Christian rock except older. They aren't very important to the readings, and they aren't very specific, and you can cut out or add verses and responses however you like without it meaning anything. Very seldom do they come into the homily. They don't think of them as having much relation to Christ.

    Whereas the medieval folks were aware that the Psalms were super-important, constantly portrayed David harping and singing them, thought of them as the Temple and Christ's supreme road to prayer, prayed them at home, and of course, used them as the first reading and music textbook for any kids who got any kind of education. They were often included in the priest's vernacular homily, as an important key to the readings as a whole.

    Hmmmmm. Which group is engaging the text of the Psalms? Hmmmmm. :)

    Personally, I'm fine with stuff either way if people were just more aware of the truth about the Psalms. But having melismas isn't a bad thing.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    Thanks, Maureen!
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 779
    NO ONE knows where this article is? I'm almost certain that I have read it (in an issue since 2006!), an article by Dr. Mahrt entirely about why the Gradual is preferred to the responsorial psalm. Or perhaps that was a lecture that he gave at the Colloquium 07 or 08? (But if that was so, I still think it was reproduced in Sacred Music since then!)

    Help please! Anyone? :-/
  • Ruth Lapeyre
    Posts: 334
    I'm heading over to the seminary this morning and I will check the back copies of Sacred Music just to see what is in there from 2006 forward. If I find anything there I will be sure to let you know.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 779
    I FOUND IT!

    It's in Volume 137, No. 2, which for some reason doesn't seem to be online; Summer 2010. "The Gradual and the Responsorial Psalm."
  • mahrt
    Posts: 504
    Mark,

    To answer your questions: 1) I think that the gradual gives the psalm text greater emphasis; to chant the psalm on a psalm tone delivers the text quite quickly; if you are following it in a missalette, you can get most of it, but if not, it goes by a little too quickly; to chant it in a gradual slows down the pronunciation of the text, allowing a deeper absorption of the text. I have heard from members of our congregation that they love the gradual, because it allows them to savor the text. 2) Yes, there is a slight disproportion between the gradual and alleluia and the lessons which follow them when the lessons are not sung. Yet, the disproportion between the lessons and the responsorial psalm is greater: the psalm tone is designed for the recitation of the entire psalter in the course of a week by an entire community, and so it must deliver the text as efficiently as possible; the community will be quite familiar with all the psalms and this efficient delivery is not detrimental to the meaning of the text. The psalm tone is not so appropriate when it is just a few verses of the psalm sung by a cantor; I have always advocated the singing of the verses of the responsorial psalm to more elaborate melodies, more like graduals. 3) the gradual has not been sung from the steps for probably a thousand years; when it was sung from the steps (of the ambo) it was sung by a soloist; this was rather soon replaced by the singing of it by a choir, and so was probably sung from wherever the choir sang from for the whole Mass. If the choir is in the loft, then they would sing it from the loft. You could still have the gradual sung by a cantor, and from somewhere near the ambo, though rather few ambos have enough steps today to make the old way very significant.

    A couple other of my articles you might be interested in:
    "The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, Part III: The Service of Readings," Sacred Music, 103, no. 2 (1976), 3–17.
    "The Gradual and the Responsorial Psalm," Sacred Music, 137, no. 2 (2010), 20-32.
    both should be online on or web site.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 504
    I see that 137, no. 2 is not on line yet. If you would send me your e-mail, I can send you a pdf of it.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 504
    send your e-mail to mahrt@stanford.edu
  • mahrt
    Posts: 504
    I touch on the subject also in "Active participation and Listening to Gregorian Chant," Sacred Music, 138, no. 1 (2011), 19-31.
  • Ruth Lapeyre
    Posts: 334
    See also Vol. 138 No. 1 "Active Participation and Listening to Gregorian Chant" by Dr. Mahrt

    Vol. 137 No. 3 Monsignor Wadsworth's article "Towards the Future -- Singing the Mass" and Dr. Mahrt's editorial from the same volume "The Place of Hymns"

    Michael Lawrence mentions the meditative aspect of Gregorian Chant in his article "Propers or 'Other Suitable Songs'" from vol. 133 No. 4

    One of the more interesting things I found today was in a commentary by Jeffrey Tucker entitled "The Proper Place of the Mass Propers" It is a quote from Annibale Bugnini's Consilium in response to a direct question about the importance of the Propers in the New Mass. Wow! If you can access Vol. 136 No. 2 be sure to read it.

    I have never set down and just gone through these magazine's before. Fortunately Sacred Heart has had a subscription since 2000 I think. What a marvelous resource... my personal subscription will be in the mail by tomorrow evening.