Alternatim Mass in Practice
  • I have heard that Alternatim Mass settings were banned at some point in the last one hundred years; a brief scan of Papal legislation on church music brought no clear reference. I realize that there may be a difference between legislation for the Traditional Rite and the Novus Ordo. I am interested in knowing how current legislation affects Alternatim Mass settings for both the Traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo.

    John Nisbet
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 314
    Enlighten me here -- what exactly is an alternatim Mass? I know in the Novus Ordo it seems to be "anything goes" so, whatever it is, I doubt you could find legislation banning the practice. There is a parish here in the Archdiocese of Boston which has sung the psalm antiphonally for the past twenty years or so. (Half the church sings the first verse, the other half sings the second verse, and so on. It's beautiful, actually!) And, of course, the regrettable but widespread practice of singing a "refrain-style" Gloria at the Novus Ordo Mass would seem to indicate that it is acceptable to divide the singing of that text between cantor/choir and congregation
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    My understanding is that alternatim practice relates to the "organ Mass" style. Think of Couperin. In these Mass settings, the choir sings a Kyrie, the organ plays "a Kyrie," the choir sings another, organ "Christe," choir "Christe." etc. These short organ interludes in fact replace phrases of the liturgy. While I don't know their legal status, there are some recordings of these out there. (One of singers keeps promising to lend me hers.)

    Looking forward to knowing more.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think what you are referring to is organ vs. choir alternatim? In which case that would represent an alteration (shortening) of the liturgical texts. I don't know of any SPECIFIC legislation, but common sense would tell me that we shouldn't shorten the text at an Ordinary Form Mass.

    At the Extraordinary Form, I don't believe there would be a problem since the priest recites the text anyway. Although I'd tend to save it for the Low Mass, since the idea of the High Mass is to have the whole of the Mass sung, preferably by the congregation.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    The practice of alternatim, which organists will know from the famous Couperin Masses, Messe pour les parroises andMesse pour les couvents, (or, as Marilyn Mason of the University of Michigan affectionately calls them, "The Mass for the boys and the Mass for the girls,") involves alternating verses of the plainchants for the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.) with short pieces for the organ (called versets or couplets). In French practice, and according to liturgical documents for the Parisian churches from the time of Couperin, certain versets had to contain the plainchant melody, typically played in the pedals on a strong reed stop. Others were of various styles, fugues, duos, and lyric aria-like forms taken from the opera.

    The practice continued in France for a long time, though the musical styles used changed with the times. There are some rather entertaining recordings of some office hymns and the like, done in alternatim style, recorded by Pierre Cochereau at Notre Dame.

    My hunch is that the practice fell out of favor, and while the curial documents (beginning with Tra le sollecitudini) appear to remain silent on the subject, I suspect that the use of alternatim in an EF Mass would be more in the realm of novelty than in keeping with the wider practice of the Church. In my opinion it would be entirely out of keeping with the NO.

    (My master's thesis was an overview of the use of the alternatim organ practice in France from the mid 1600's to 1700).
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    On the subject of alternatim, I came across some alternatim settings of the Kyrie and Agnus edited by Richard Proulx and available from WLP. The chants are those advocated in Jubilate Deo coupled with choral polyphony, mostly incorporating the original chant tune. These would be a fantastic way to add a more festive quality (perhaps during the Easter season, or for solemnities -- even your weekly solemn choir Mass) while maintaining unity within the season or liturgical year.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    I'll have to check my Papal Leg book, but my understanding is that Trent barred the practice in some way. So, e.g., the Masses of Isaac that were alternatim couldn't be sung. By the way, I have an extra copy of that thick book in hardback. Write me if you want it and I'll delete these words after I get your email.
  • That's interesting: is there a difference in the alternatim approach of Isaac, that allowed the French school of Alternatim to emerge some few hundred years later? I'd be interested in hearing what you find in your text, re: Trent!
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    In going through my notes from my master's thesis, I came across one of the articles I used as the basis for my research, in this case the entry for "Organ Mass" taken from the Grove Dictionary of Music. According to the article, the first papal document to refer to alternatim practice in detail was the Caeremoniale episcoporum of Pope Clement VIII (1600). Alternatim had been in use in one form or another for about 200 years before. The practice was banned by Pius X in his Motu proprio of 1903.

    Perhaps what Jeffrey is referring to is the ban on the practice of troping, which was banned by the Council of Trent.

    I'll continue reviewing my notes and add to this as time permits.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    very good. I'm sure you are right.
  • It was the Motu Proprio of Pope Pius X that I had surmised contained what I was looking for, though I did not see these details on first scan:

    III. The liturgical text
    8. As the texts that may be rendered in music, and the order in which they are to be rendered, are determined for every liturgical function, it is not lawful to confuse this order or to change the prescribed texts for others selected at will, or to omit them either entirely or even in part, unless when the rubrics allow that some versicles of the text be supplied with the organ, while these versicles are simply recited in the choir. However, it is permissible, according to the custom of the Roman Church, to sing a motet to the Blessed Sacrament after the Benedictus in a solemn Mass. It is also permitted, after the Offertory prescribed for the mass has been sung, to execute during the time that remains a brief motet to words approved by the Church.

    9. The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen.

    VI. Organ and instruments

    16. As the singing should always have the principal place, the organ or other instruments should merely sustain and never oppress it.

    17. It is not permitted to have the chant preceded by long preludes or to interrupt it with intermezzo pieces.


    III, 8 seems to indicate that the organ can take versicles of the text, though not entirely clear: under what circumstances- is this Alternatim singing of the Mass Ordinary? III, 9 would seem to preclude Alternatim practice, as would VI, 17. Alternatim singing of the Ordinary of the Mass is not mentioned by name, and thus, it seems uncertain if this practice is expressly forbidden by this Motu Proprio. Clarification welcome!
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,464
    For a further discussion of this, you could turn to the book "Organists and Organ Playing in Nineteenth-Century France and Belgium", by Orpha Ochse. The chapter on "The Organ and Liturgy" has some useful stuff. Also "The Language of the French Classical Organ" by Fenner Douglas.
    I played the deGrigny "Veni Creator" awhile ago and wanted to find out how to do the alternatim - do you start with the organ or the chant? Do the organ versets replace the chant verses, or do they just alternate? From asking a bunch of people who know much more than I do, there seemed to be historically no one set pattern, and it may have changed through time and from place to place.
    As far as the practice being banned, I don't know, but the practice still goes on in France today, at Notre dame in P. and other churches. There is a recent publication of Cocherau's versets on the Magnificat at N.D.
    The Proulx setting as mentioned above by the venerable incantu are really great and work beautifully in the liturgy, especially if the congregation knows the chants they are based on (the polyphonic parts are by Byrd and several other fairly good composers.)
  • Maureen
    Posts: 674
    This may be a stupid comment, but...

    Given that the EF Kyrie is something like 9 lines long (3 Lords, 3 Christs, 3 Lords), whereas the OF Kyrie is only 3 lines long, wouldn't an alternatim Kyrie that would leave stuff out for the EF be more than long enough for the OF?