Meaning of Single letter italicized in word or one note, two syllables
  • Hello everyone,

    I am new to this forum but have found the information on this site useful for some time. I have had the grace and pleasure of enjoying Latin and Gregorian Chant for a good portion of my life.

    However, I have come across a couple hymns in the Liber Usualis that I have questions on.

    A few of the words in these hymns have a single italicized letter. Most appear at the end of a word, but there are others that occur in the middle...
    i.e. p885 - Veni Creator
    Verse 3 - "Digitus", the letter "i" in "gi" is italicized
    Verse 4 - "Infunde", the letter "e" is italicized
    Verse 6 - "Teque", the letter "e" is italicized
    Verse 7 - "Qui", the letter "i" is italicized
    p. 1260 - Ave Maria stella
    Verse 4 - first "te", the letter "e" is italicized
    p.1864 - O quam glorifica
    Verse 2 - "Ange-lorum", the letter "e" is italicized

    I have also noticed that some of these words have more than one syllable for a single note.
    i.e. p866 - Jam Christus
    Verse 1 - "astra" the last letter "a" is italicized
    Verse 9 - "qui" the letter "i" is italicized (but only one syllable)
    p.876 - Beata nobis
    Verse 7 - "qui" the letter "i" is italicized (no note)

    Can anyone explain this principle to me and perhaps cite references that I can look up?

  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Yes, these are elisions
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    They are the bane of the office hymns.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    For example, to sing "digitus" in the Veni Creator, you either have to add an extra note for the extra syllable, or sing both syllables on one note. I believe most printed sources assume the latter.
  • Dan F.Dan F.
    Posts: 205
    I was puzzled too when learning Veni Creator in Jubilate Deo. The verses didn't fit the tune as written. I interpretted the italic syllable as necesitating an extra note (apparently correct). When I first saw your post I went to check my interpretation of the JD Veni Creator with the modern notation in The Adoremus Hymnal. But the text has been editted such that the irregularities disappear! For example "digitus paternae dexterae" (9 syllables) becomes "dextrae dei tu digitus" (8 syllables) in the hymnal to fit better. I know at some point the latin was revised to eliminate errors that had crept in over time. Does anybody know which is the original text, JD or Adoremus?
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    Reading Classical Latin poetry one encounters elisions quite often. Quoting my high school text of Vergil, the definition of elision in Latin is "Whenever a word ends with a vowel, diphthong, or 'm', and the following words begin with a vowel or 'h', the first vowel or diphthong is regularly elided". One famous example is line 3 of the Aeneid, which reads "litora multum ille et terris jactatus et alto", but is read as "litora mult' ill' et terris jactatus et alto".

    Perhaps a Latin scholar could comment on the continuation of Classical usage into Christian poetry.
  • fromCA
    Posts: 5
    I believe the technical term for these is "hypermetric syllables" and the Liber Preface cites two common ways of "taking them" --- but most people just treat them as one "note"
  • Thanks Everyone, for the input...

    I have continued my personal research on this and have found that in the book “A New School of Gregorian Chant” ( p.105(pdf119), section 113, the following explanation is made:

    “Accessory syllables in the hymns. If a syllable occurs in any line in excess of the regular number of the meter (such syllables are printed in italics in the Vatican Antiphonale) it may be passed over in singing, according to a decision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of 14. May, 1915. Under the rules of the Antiphonale, we may however sing the note on the pitch of the note following,”…

    “or on the pitch of the preceding note, if there is no hyphen,” …

    “If a neum of two or more notes precedes or follows such an ‘accessory syllable’, it is often broken up” …

    “… when only the first verse is set, then the accessory syllables which may occur do not receive their own special note, lest confusion arise in the other verses; they must, however, be sung on the pitch of the following note when preceded by a hyphen, otherwise on the pitch of the preceding note.”

    Examples are given in the book to help with the understanding…

    This would seem to go a long way in explaining the rules of use in Chant concerning elisions or hypermetric syllables as several of you mentioned.

    Following up on fromCA's information, I finally found the reference in the Liber (p.127) which states:
    “Hypermetric Syllables in the Hymns.”
    “According to a decree of the S. C. of Rites, dated May 14th 1915, hypermetric or redundant syllables in the Hymns may be elided, if this method of interpretation be considered easier or more fitting. Two methods are therefore allowed: either (a) the pronunciation of the hypermetric syllable, by giving it the separate note allotted to it in the notation, according to the rules indicated in the official edition of the Roman Antiphonary. or (b) the suppression of the hypermetric syllable by elision, thus keeping the ordinary melodic formula. Hypermetric syllables are printed in italics in our editions.”

    Both “A New School of Gregorian Chant” and the Liber make reference to the "Antiphonale" for the ruling on this. Now I just need to find a copy of the Antiphonale (with introductions and headings in English, since I am still learning Latin) so I can make a direct reference…
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    The first syllable of "Adoro te" comes to mind.