Slight Variation on Kyrie XIII (Stelliferi conditor orbis)
  • Here are two images: the original, and my modest variation. My changes are highlighted in red.

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    Yes, it's really just a transposition by one note of a few of the notes... I think it lends a slightly more penitential feel to the chant... any comments?
  • I've updated the first post, so maybe people will be able to read and understand and comment. :)
  • Well, it is interesting and not "illegal" but is it really, ummm, what's the word?, kosher, to rewrite chant in ways that we like?
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    Not to start a flame war or anything, but if one wants to write variations on the chant, there is a long tradition of that at the organ, in polyphonic choral music, and in other forms. I guess I am not seeing the point of changing the melody when it has been "good enough" all these centuries.

    However, I sympathize with you, XRef, because I am often tempted to alter the melodies of chants, especially if they seem insufficiently "minor-key" to me. This was the case especially before I began to free myself from the shackles of L'Estro Armonico and its consequences. When that occurs to me now, I remind myself that the melodies are PERFECTLY FINE the way they are, and that my (graduate-school music educated) tinkering won't really be an improvement, just an exercise in narcissism. Better to conform my opinion to the melody than attempt the reverse.

    But along those same lines, who among us has not heard a performance of a given work and thought, "I could do that way better," or "I would do that differently if it were me. . . " Know what I mean? I am speaking only of and for myself here, and most definitely not implying that you are doing this out of similar motives . . . just my own narcissistic observation.
  • It's not so much that I purposefully rewrote it as I sang those few wrongs notes the first few times I tried to chant it. When I heard an mp3 of it, I was surprised it sounded different.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Yes, when you come off the first podatus, keep that "mi" in mind. That's your reference tone for the beginning of "eleison."

    As for revisions, well... the first revision introduces the skip of a fourth (do > fa) which to me does not make the line easier to sing. It also produces an emphasis on "re" which doesn't allow the second half of the phrase to function as a kind of consequent, or answer, to the "kyrie." The original has the basic structure "re > mi > fa > re", which is a nice little wave of a minor third. It has tension and release, ebb and flow.

    Etc.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I agree with not changing chant melodies. But how about some differnt melodies between different chant books? I remember seeing slightly different melodies of Kyrie XI in Parish Chant book and Gregorian Missal? (I don't have the books with me now.) Did the monks make changes?
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    Considering the vastness of the source material and the logistical challenges of times past (i.e. no Internet, phone, copier, etc. or locomotion faster than the speed of horse), the uniformity among MSS is quite remarkable. However, variations are still found from one to another. Part of Solesmes' raison d'être is to discern which variation should be preferred.

    Disclaimer: I'm not an expert and I don't pretend to be. That's just a slightly-educated answer based on music study in other areas.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "Well, it is interesting and not "illegal" but is it really, ummm, what's the word?, kosher, to rewrite chant in ways that we like?"

    Come on, it's neums, not the words of Sacred Scripture! I will have to sing through the variations, but I really like the concept. Chant should not be a museum piece - I highly doubt it was seen as such throughout most of the period it was written, so why should we do so now?

    I'm reminded of how on Sunday the organist at my EF sang the Kyrie XI with the cantored parts as improvisation/variation, a technique he often uses. It was fantastic, as it gave interest to the even repetitions. So I would caution that any variation SHOULDN'T be made in familiar parts meant to be sung by the congregation. But surely there is no reason one cannot make the schola or cantor's role more interesting through some scholarly variation!
  • That makes sense to me Gavin.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Makes sense to me, too. I wonder how many young singers would jump at the opportunity to improvise jubili or even entire Graduals. In the tradition, of course, but it would be interesting to see what well-trained young singers in the tradition would come up with.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I wouldn't like a variation by youth or popular singers with guitars and drums though.
  • WGS
    Posts: 227
    The issue reminds me of the ubiquitous ba-a-ner-er variation of our National Anthem and the imaginative renditions of the same anthem by both amateur and professional soloists. Such variations are not illegal*, immoral or even fattening. Still, other than for a soloist, why be concerned with them? For a choir or congregation, they would just be confusing.

    * although maybe illegal. I understand there is an officially legislated key to be used for the National Anthem - maybe there's an official tune too.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    I'm not very concerned, just thinking of an, ahem, gradualist approach to the matter.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Yes, I should mention that this guy knows his stuff well enough. I wouldn't try to improvise anything without a thorough training. That's the two components of it - do it well, and don't do it when people expect the usual!

    The problem with what Cross Reference presents, IF it were done on a regular basis, is that some people in his parish or schola will know it one way and then be confused to go to another parish and hear the other. I think that's the value of the CMAA's approach - that one can walk in to any schola and decently join in on the chant.
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    Gavin, exactly. There are a couple of things in the PBC, for example, that were different than what I knew, but after thinking about it, I realized that if I did it my way, I would have to constantly be explaining why. If I follow the book, that's all I have to say.

    Now, I do think that it's a wonderful idea to say "We were improvising" the next time we sing the wrong interval on something (no offense intended).
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I think it will do more harm than good if we start singing variations of Gregorian chants. I already heard enough of musicians singing chants in 4/4 time with every note harmonized, I guess you can consider it a variation. Maybe I'm a worrier, but I hear a soprano singing a chant with ornaments in bel canto style. It will be worse than listening to a contemporary music for me. People will be really confused, and the chant might loose it's beauty, because people might hear more variations than the original music. I know many musicians like to improvise and do it differently, but when it comes to Sacred music, I think we have to think twice.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    greg - done it before (with organ music), I'll do it again!

    Mia - I think the burden is on you to explain why chant is so sacrosanct that one cannot change a single neum. Especially when variance in practice is a trademark of chant performance! I don't know enough about any of the different schools besides that not everyone sings chant like Solesmes!

    Again, the words are Holy and thus unalterable - the music is not. The Holy Spirit did NOT appear to St. Cecilia right after she invented the organ to dictate the entire 1974 Graduale with vertical episemas.
  • There are some interesting trains of thought touched on here, particularly by Gavin. Without actually advocating one or another approach to chant performance at mass, I suggest that there is a much richer heritage of chant performance than is currently appreciated or given its due by many who teach chant in the Church today. The 'Solesmes Method' is far from the last word in chant scholarship and, though the results of its application are undoubtedly of laudable artistry and beauty, it is properly understood as but one of many historical approaches, preferable to some, but without claim to representing chant as it was sung in its formative periods. I stand with Fr Columba Kelley of St Meinrad's Archabbey in thinking that counting groups of two & three and being hidebound by symbols which do not appear in the Carolingian manuscripts is to perpetuate an approach which does not, in fact, have theoretical justification. We cannot know how chant was performed in its formative periods - how the language glided off the tongue, how the chant was 'played with' by those who sang it - but, I think, we can infer with reason that chant as we normally sing it today compares to chant of very early times as Couperin played without ornaments or notes inegales, & cet, would compare to an historically informed performance. I suspect that the interpretations of Marcel Perez and the Ensemble Organum may be closer to what early singers sang than anything we might want to offer at the average mass (though, perhaps, at an 'unaverage' one) today. The Byzantine influence and the improvisatory aesthetic were, if we read correctly the meagre performance accounts that we have, quite real and alive. Then, there was the Renaissance, the Baroque... with some justification discredited as degenerate; but, there may be times when we might be edified by the experience of such chant, say, in the context of chant in alternation with choral or organ music of those periods... even at mass. None of this is to debunk Solesmes, but to put it into context. Even in many European monasteries there is, shall we say, disdain for French rhythmic theories; and, we would find their chant equally pleasing.
    Having said all this, it can be, as someone suggested above, very pleasing to be able to walk into any schola and know how the chant will be done - to fit right in because it is the same everywhere (is this not, in itself, a rather 'Carolingian' idea?).
    Still when we become hidebound we have lost the bit of improvisatory creativity that makes of anything a truly living and fertile tradition. There must always be a feel for the ludic. Though, as when 'improvising' with Couperin, one must know what one is doing.
    Jackson - Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    Please help us to understand what you mean by "more penitential feel ".
    Are you wanting to hear major or minor when a melody is modal?
    Perhaps Jeff O can provide a modal accompaniment to encourage the published pitches during rehearsal.
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    Here's to the brave soul who can use the word 'ludic' correctly in a sentence with a straight face. I suspect our Mr. Osborn may be a bit of a sequipedalian --


    not that there's anything wrong with that,
  • Thanks, Yurodivi - and, the word for which I was searching rather than 'fertile' is 'fecund'.
  • As for what evokes a more "pentitential" feel to the variation I mis-sung, I have to admit I'm not a "student of music", and I'm not able to talk about major or minor and modal melodies. :)

    That said (and if my explanation sounds like utter garbage, I apologize), the original chant uses the note B on two (sets of) occasions: in the climacus D-C-B-G (second set of Kyries, on the "e"), and then immediately thereafter in the clivis B-A. It is this second usage that strikes my ear as odd. The move from G to B to A seems less natural than from G to A and back to G (as in my variation).

    That climacus and the climacus in the first set of "Kyrie"s (F-E-C) and the "Christe" (G-F-E-C) skip a note (A in D-C-B-G, D in G-F-E-C), and after this descent it seems more natural to me to visit that skipped note rather then rise above it; this has the result of the clivis that follows ending on the same note that the climacus did (which again sounds better to my ear).

    The final difference is the clivus F-D (on the first "e" of "eleison") which becomes F-E in my variation. This has two purposes. First, it creates a parallel between the earlier F-E-C climacus (in the first "Kyrie" and the "Christe") with the ending F-E of "e" and the C of "le" in "e-le-i-son". Second, this F-E-C is a fourth below the previously explained C-B-G climacus, and it seems proper to me to keep those two sets of notes in parallel which were parallel before I changed things! ;)

    Furthermore, the sound of the note B in this setting strikes me as particularly mournful or sorrowful. (Do I know why? No.) For that reason, it seems to sound better when it is reached only in a descending manner (as in the climacus).

    That's my explanation. Does it hold water? Is it utterly uneducated?

    I have no problem singing the chant as it is written, I just wanted to share an "organic" variation. (The preceding explanation -- with the exception of the B just sounding more penitential -- did not exist when I made the errors, but it has become clear to me upon examination of the original and my variation.)
  • That bad, huh? :)
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    I don't think I would have a performance problem with the adjusted melodies. My only worry would be some one slipping this melody into a publication replacing the original. What "title" could this Kyrie be given to distinguish it? It would probably entail dropping the traditional incipit just to avoid confusion.

    Another path might be to find a book with these alterations already in it, i.e. a legitimate, historic variation that was passed over during the Gregorian codification. An example of a Proper melodic variation is the "Requiem aeternam" Introit. Compare its melody to the Ingresa in the Ambrosian Rite. It is very similar. (Sorry, I don't have files to post showing the difference.) The basic shape of the melody is very similar, but the variety of neums' lengths, and how they fall on the syllable is very interesting. To an untrained ear, these would be the same piece of music, even if performed back to back. I discovered this when I was at Our Lady of Walsingham. I wanted to put the Rite I text (Anglican Missal) to the Gregorian melody. It almost worked, but was just a bit uncomfortable. When I found the Ambrosian version, it was truly and epiphany! The Tudor-style English flowed very nicely!

    This is all to say that we shouldn't limit ourselves to just two editions of the Graduale Romanum if we really want to have a better understanding of chant, and more variety in performance practices - even in the current Liturgy.
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    Steve Collins asks:

    What "title" could this Kyrie be given to distinguish it?

    "Variations on the Kyrie XIII by [rearranger]"
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    A bit of a mouth-full, though!

    I'm still willing to bet that the variation exists in some very old Graduale or Kyriale.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Some people seem to be confused with different interpretation of perfoarmance practice and variations. When you play a piece of music for exmaple, Chopin, you can play it many different ways without making a 'variation,' of it. If I go to a concert to listen to a piece by Beethoven, I want a hear his original music, although different players might have a different interpretation. I'll pay to hear a different interpretation. If a performer is playing his own variation of Beethoven's music, he better specify that, because I might not want to pay for the ticket.

    Using Solesmes method or different method is nothing to do with singing the variation of chants. Also we are not talking about instrumental variation of organ music here. We are mixing too many different things here.
    If you are singing the variation of any original music, I think you have to somehow clarify that. Performars' creativity can be pursued in interpretating the original music in his artistic way without changing the notes. One thing I do not want to hear is changing chants into a variation of modern style, in singing. (I know there are chants variations of organ music in modern style, which I wouldn't mind listening.) Gregorian chants have survived many centuries. I'm sure there have been some slight changes here and there. But I believe they manage to keep their own beauty. I feel that these chants are very vulnarable in the hands of those 'creative artists,' since we don't have names of the composers and not many people are familiar with these chants yet. Sing them in different ways, but when you make variations of them, which is different from different performance practices, please make sure the listners are not confused as originals. (also, make sure we are talking about the musical term, 'variation,' which I believe is different from 'slight alteration of notes'.)

    Save the chants and keep them as chants,
    Mia
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    I believe the example is an alteration of notes, rather than a musical variation. One more thing occurred to me over the weekend: do these particular melodic changes (the original claim was a change in the "feel" of the chant) put the melody into a different mode? If so, then keep the incipit as is, and simply change the mode at the beginning of the 1st staff.