The Horizontal Episema over the Clivis
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I see no reason why you could not use the melodic readings from the Graduale novum for a piece like the introit Reminiscere and follow Mocquereau's rhythmic interpretation, if you chose.


    Nor do I. My objection was not to introducing new melodic readings into the Vatican melodies, but to taking a small part of the rhythm of the manuscript tradition and mixing it with a technique that is otherwise incompatible.

    The example of the Bach editions, however, is not exactly analogous. A better example would asking how one ought to give the most historically informed performance of Bach's "Es ist genug" using the score of Berg's violin concerto. The resulting discussion would read like a missing chapter from The Glass Bead Game.

    But for the sake of argument, let's take the Schirmer Bach edition as an example. Let's say a particular note is marked with an editorial mordent that is absent from Bach's autograph. Here are some valid questions:

    -What did Schweitzer mean by this mordent?
    -Would Bach have played or expected a mordent on this note?

    But it is absurd to ask "What did Bach mean when he wrote this mordent that Schweitzer put there?" or to conclude "If Schweitzer didn't mark a mordent, that means Bach didn't want any ornamentation there." One could either follow the edition as it is (which would be lovely, if not always exactly aligned with period performance practice), or one could try to perform according to Bach's intent.

    Now imagine Schweitzer had gone through and replaced 80% of Bach's eighth notes with quarter notes. Wouldn't the discussion of how to perform the mordent on a single note become even more ridiculous?
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  • Incantu wrote: " it remains that the Graduale Novum is (to my knowledge) the best complete resource, i.e. containing both pitch and rhythmic information, for performing chant according to the 9th and 10th century tradition."

    I agree.
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  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    There’s much discussion above of the influence on chant performance of liturgical practice, academic enquiry and place. Some of those commenting and lurking won’t have read Charles Coles’ article, so it’s worth saying that one of the advantages of doing so is that it includes observations on how a particular place is accommodating the tension between the first two.
  • I have not received the issue in question. Perhaps I did not pay my dues. I'll check. I'm most interested in reading it.
  • The site only displays the last few entries in this discussion, and I am frustrated, because I want to ask Incantu certain questions about his interpretation of note values.

    I will however respond to one of his statements. He wrote: "Nor do I [see any reason not use the melodic readings from the Graduale novum... and follow Mocquereau's rhythmic interpretation]. My objection was not to introducing new melodic readings into the Vatican melodies, but to taking a small part of the rhythm of the manuscript tradition and mixing it with a technique that is otherwise incompatible."

    I do not share his objection.

    I agree with Incantu that adherence to a more-or-less equalist interpretation is a practical necessity for church choirs. I once encountered a pamphlet by Robert M. Fowells, called Chant Made Simple. I thought it ought to have been called, Chant Made Extinct because it advocated an approach to rehearsal and performance requiring more time and effort than any church choir, professional or volunteer, could possibly invest. (The choir was to learn to sing the chant by rote, imitating the director's singing, with all its rhythmic nuance, before being given the score.) Such an approach might work with a professional group preparing a performance to illustrate the Cardine-mediated-through-Whomever interpretation, but would never work in a church where chant is sung regularly.

    Because I believe that there is an ictus that falls on every second or third note in chant, whether we acknowledge it or not, and whether or not we follow an equalist interpretation, because it is impossible to pronounce more than three syllables or to sing more than three notes without placing some degree of stress on more than one of them. Like Pothier, I equate the ictus with a stress (sometimes intense and sometimes slight). I believe, further, that acknowledging and marking the ictus facilitates conducting and performance.

    I see no reason why church choirs should adhere to the melodic readings in the Vatican edition where they are unsatisfactory. But whether they are singing from the Vatican edition (in the majority of cases where its melodic readings are satisfactory) of from the Graduale novum, I see no reason why they should not make the ictus in syllabic passages coincide with the verbal accents and place it on the notes of melismata that semiology identifies as the most important. I like the way chant sounds when they do. I am not offended if they underline some such notes by stress alone and others by greater-than-ideal lengthening. I think that's better than not underlining them at all. The "all or nothing at all" approach strikes me as unnecessarily arbitrary. In this I stand in good company--that of Cardine and Claire. (I am not imputing infallibility to these two; but I think their position on question of chant performance deserves respectful consideration. Perhaps Incantu has thoroughly considered their position and still rejects it. OK.)

    Mocquereau's notion of an immaterial ictus, unrelated to stress, is his own invention, and it is an invention that I have found distinctly unhelpful. I have heard choirs misplace verbal accents because of it. I walked away from it thirty years ago and have never looked back.

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,383
    The site only displays the last few entries in this discussion

    This is because there are only 50 entries per page, and you are only seeing the second page when you click on this thread. To see the first "page" of 50 entries, click on the "1" at the bottom of this page.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Mocquereau's notion of an immaterial ictus, unrelated to stress, is his own invention, and it is an invention that I have found distinctly unhelpful. I have heard choirs misplace verbal accents because of it. I walked away from it thirty years ago and have never looked back.


    I do not begrudge those who find Mocquereau's ictus organizationally helpful, but I agree it does not always appear in the wisest places musically. My opinion has been countered by the argument that he was making his ictus choices based on information in the manuscripts. From my basic experiences studying the neumes, I find this to be quite unlikely. Would I find support on this?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Such an approach might work with a professional group preparing a performance to illustrate the Cardine-mediated-through-Whomever interpretation, but would never work in a church where chant is sung regularly.


    If restoring the earliest known practice of chant performance is impractical in a parish setting, it is because of a lack of a performing edition and pedagogical materials. I'm working on putting together some of those myself, although I sincerely hope someone else will beat me to it. In the meantime, I have successfully performed the proper communion chant every Sunday with a choir that had no previous experience with sacred music, polyphony, etc. We could have done more than one chant per week if the clergy allowed us, and probably could have done all five propers if the melismatic chants that belong to a soloist were actually sung by an individual instead of the whole ensemble.

    I have written a little post over at the chant blog of euouae.com (where it is a little easier to insert images) to illustrate what I mean about the clivis.
  • Incantu, I'm confused about your position on the possibility of a church choir's employing "the earliest known practice of chant performance."

    Earlier in this discussion you wrote, "It's nearly impossible to sing all the Gregorian propers every week with the Novum. One would have to have a director who has large amounts of chant committed to memory in order to begin to approach this repertoire. (Being able to read an individual chant is not sufficient). And the amount of rehearsal time it takes to perfect a single chant would be prohibitive for most choirs."

    There you seemed to be saying what I meant when I wrote, "I once encountered a pamphlet by Robert M. Fowells, called Chant Made Simple. I thought it ought to have been called, Chant Made Extinct because it advocated an approach to rehearsal and performance requiring more time and effort than any church choir, professional or volunteer, could possibly invest. (The choir was to learn to sing the chant by rote, imitating the director's singing, with all its rhythmic nuance, before being given the score.) Such an approach might work with a professional group preparing a performance to illustrate the Cardine-mediated-through-Whomever interpretation, but would never work in a church where chant is sung regularly."

    In your most recent posting you seem to be saying otherwise. Do you mean that church choirs could employ "the earliest known practice of chant performance" if an adequate performance edition were available?

    What do you think of the LAGAL edition (which somehow shows the "trois valeurs")? I have not seen it; but I know that Cardine condemned it.

    How can any performance edition enable a choir to handle indeterminate values (not at a few points in a piece but throughout)? Can any group of singers do so otherwise than by imitation and memorization (as Fowells suggests)?

  • Incantu: I'm also do not understand what you had in mind when you wrote: "Is an eighth note long, or is it short? It depends on whether you're counting quarters or sixteenths. In the Solesmes method, all notes not marked with a dot or episema (or in the case of the salicus, the vertical episema or ictus) have the same value. You can call that value "long" or you can call that value "short." It's all relative."

    Did you mean that within a multi-note neume the duration of a "long" was twice the duration of a "short," or were you just invoking eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and quarter notes in a loose analogy?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Did you mean that within a multi-note neume the duration of a "long" was twice the duration of a "short," or were you just invoking eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and quarter notes in a loose analogy?


    No composer before the 20th century ever wrote a string of eighth notes in a row and expected them to have the same duration. And if you don't buy that, then we do not inhabit the same musical universe.

    So what does one mean when one says a quarter note has "twice the duration" of an eighth? Which quarter note? and which eighth? One can say, however, that two eighth notes (each of indeterminate length) can take the place of a single quarter note in the same context. That's not the same as saying a quarter note is twice as long as an individual eighth.

    For the sake of argument, however, let's say that in the Solesmes method an undotted note has more or less half the value of a dotted note. Whether you call these two values "short" and "long," "double-short" and "short," or "long" and "double-long" doesn't matter any more than it matters if you write a given piece in 4/8, 4/4, or 4/2.

    In the manuscripts of St. Gall, there is the same relationship between the short virga (whether or not it is marked with a c) and the long virga (whether or not it is marked with an episema), between the individual notes of the short clivis and the individual notes of the clivis with episema, etc. If you were to apply ictus theory to a multi-note neume, then you would find the ordinary salicus would be counted as 1 2 12, the short clivis as 1 2, the clivis with episema as 12 12, etc. (But how long is each one and two?).

    In my transcriptions, I have indicated longs with large note heads and shorts with cue-sized note heads. As far as I'm concerned, the identification of longs and shorts (except for the occasional error in transcription) is pretty much not up for debate any more than the rhythm of Mozart's "Non piu andrai." (What's the relationship between the dotted eighth and the sixteenth? You'll have to ask Mozart). My observation of longs and shorts can be supported through evidence, and you will find that Murray, Turco, Agustoni, Vellard, et al (including this guy, who is currently trying to record the whole gradual) all observe longs and shorts in the same places. The interpretation of the shorts and longs I will leave up to the individual director, although they do not seem to vary wildly, and I will admit that my own performances approach a 2:1 ratio (where one 1 is not necessarily the same length as another 1).
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Do you mean that church choirs could employ "the earliest known practice of chant performance" if an adequate performance edition were available?


    Absolutely! If we had a good performing edition of the chants, they would be no more challenging than singing a psalm tone or an Anglican chant (which, by the way, are both fairly difficult to do well).

    With all due respect to Fowells, Chant Made Simple is an excellent introduction to the various graphic forms of the St. Gall family of manuscripts, but it is woefully inadequate as a teaching aid for chant performance. Let's ignore for the moment that it uses melodies from the Graduale Triplex, or that the author frequently falls into such "truthiness" traps as suggesting a group of three notes symbolizes the Trinity, or that a large number of short notes suggests that a certain chant should be sung "lightly" (should a mostly syllabic chant be sung... heavily?!). The real problem is that the readings rely almost exclusively on the St. Gall notation (making no distinction between the idiosyncrasies of the various scribes!) and do not consider the generally more rhythmically precise Laon notation.

    I suspect the same problem exists in the Lagal Gradual, as it absolutely does in the various chants I've seen in Fluxus notation (although the fault is not in the notation itself). A deeper study of the St. Gall notation, as well as careful comparison with Laon, reveals that the St. Gall scribe generally means what he says, but he very often does not say what he means. In other words, the graphic evidence in an individual chant is not enough for a satisfactory performance. Therefore, no matter how it's transcribed (and I find the Lagal notation difficult to read at sight without a micrometer), any literal transcription of the St. Gall neumes is going be insufficient. For my transcriptions I have not merely translated the various graphic forms into modern notation, but I have done what I think no editor so far has done, viz realizing the implied meaning of scribes through context (e.g. where he intends a long clivis but does not write an episema). How can I be so sure about these deductions? Well, read my book. In the meantime, I will say that I have as much confidence in my readings as I do in any urtext edition of Bach, Kirkpatrick's editions of Ives, etc. And they certainly haven't prevented anyone from performing those works.

  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Absolutely! If we had a good performing edition of the chants, they would be no more challenging than singing a psalm tone or an Anglican chant (which, by the way, are both fairly difficult to do well).


    A more complex example than you might think, Incantu. There isn't a "right" way to sing Anglican chant: just a living musical-liturgical tradition in various places, with no attempt to step out of that context to reconstruct the performance practice of a particular previous stage and place in the development.
  • Incantu,

    I would welcome the opportunity to read your book if I knew its title and/or your name.

    And as for the relationship of longs to shorts-- you have answered my questions about where you stand. Thank you.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I'm fully aware of the complexity of the example. You can throw an Anglican chant together in five minutes, or you can spend four half-hour rehearsals on it, depending on the desired result. Plenty of church choirs do both. A performing edition of 9th and 10th century chant would present a fairly similar challenge.
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  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    ... or you can run through it before Evensong then sing the service as you do in that place, because that's what happens in a living performance tradition. I can imagine an Anglican director of music with an interest in historical performance styles letting that inform her development of the choir's psalm-chanting (much as Charles Cole wrestles with the integration of Gregorian scholarship with his responsibilities at the Oratory), but that's a different proposition to beginning such a work from scratch. You'll see the difference, I hope, as I'm aware of the necessary qualifications: that Anglican Chant is much, much younger than Gregorian; that the representation of pitch in the sources is unambiguous; and that it didn't suffer the apparent break in performance tradition that Solesmes felt it had to deal with. I hope the analogy is informative, though.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,383
    No composer before the 20th century ever wrote a string of eighth notes in a row and expected them to have the same duration.
    That seems such a sweeping statement that I have a difficult time believing this would have been universally true. Perhaps you mean it to apply to certain kinds of music or additionally certain musical eras or genres.

    For example, I'm not at all convinced that J.S. Bach expected the strings of eighth notes in, say, the first movement of Cantata BWV 56 were, at least locally, to be of significantly (i.e. perceptibly) different duration. Another perhaps better example is the bass "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth" and "The people that walked in darkness" from Handel's Messiah. Of course, in both these examples, we are talking Baroque vocal music, accompanied. Purely instrumental music might well provide even more counterexamples to the above claim.

    At least ... I have my doubts.
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  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Just for a lark, I searched for recordings of BWV 56 and For behold on Youtube, and the first result for each of them features a performance with perceptibly uneven eighths. (If you don't believe me, ask a string player to play with strictly even eighths and compare).

    To be completely honest, I did mean "a melody" (vocal or otherwise) and not an ostinato accompaniment. For the most part in these two recordings each pair of eighths is equal to the next, but the first eighth of each group is noticeably longer (in duration and intensity) than the second. Actually, in the Handel they start out fairly even and then become increasing uneven within the first measures (which, in a sense, is another level of unevenness!). Then they slow down considerably before 30 seconds has passed.

    But let's not get derailed by this. There's certainly more difference between the short clivis and the long clivis than there is between their individual members.
  • Incantu -
    It didn't seem to me that in either of your examples that the eighths were being played in any sort of inequality of duration. What was noticable, it seemed to me, was a very deliberate phrasing with slightly exagerated slurs, which one might anticipate in baroque affekt. Perhaps I'm just not hearing what you heard?

    As for the 'string of eighth notes' at issue, I doubt that anyone would suggest that every note in the string would be performed identically in terms of rhythmic accent and motivic definition... unless a composer had specifically required absolute equality for purposes expressive of his creative musical genie.

    One might suggest that our 'string of eighth notes' could be performed in as many ways as the mathematical permutation of their number would allow - without variation of durations. (I don't count a staccato eighth as less than a tenuto one: the note defines the time-measured space.)
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,353
    It's interesting to me how influenced by the existence of metronomes (specifically) and modern (that is, post-enlightenment) conceptions of time and duration (generally) is our sense of rhythm here.

    Back in my teaching days I was once at a World Music Drumming seminar, where all the music is learned by listen-and-repeat, nothing is shown written down. One of the patterns had a three note phrase.
    Attendee: Is that a triplet, or a dotted-quarter--dotted-quarter--eighth?
    Will Schmid: Yeah, man. Right on.
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  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Attendee: Is that a triplet, or a dotted-quarter--dotted-quarter--eighth?
    Will Schmid: Yeah, man. Right on.


    The ability to notate rhythm is a blessing and a curse.
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  • Agreed about metronomes, Adam.
    I often think about the acapella vocal music many of us are trying to restore... are metronomes and equal temperament tuning anachronisms?
    I heard of an (organist, and one not friendly to singers) choir director in my diocese who made the choir sing chant to a metronome. Yikes. The singers detested chant as a result.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,353
    are metronomes and equal temperament tuning anachronisms?


    of course they are
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  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,383
    To be completely honest, I did mean "a melody" (vocal or otherwise) and not an ostinato accompaniment

    Perhaps I should not have chosen Baroque works. Let's concentrate squarely on the Renaissance and, in particular, on Palestrina. Many of his works have melismatic vocal lines of consecutive eighths; for example, "Sicut cervus" has numerous such passages, almost none of which would seem (to me) to be places where Palestrina himself would have expected much, if any, tempo variations.

    We do not know exactly what performance practice of the period was, and hence contemporary practice, even when historically informed, may or may not accurately reflect the composer's concept and intentions. There are numerous recordings of "Sicut cervus" available, and I suppose one of the best might be the one included here. I invite everyone to examine this or other recordings for the possible absence or presence of tempo variations in the performance of various series of eighths.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsw1kdLqfec
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Fascinating. The early music conversation happened in the performance world twenty years ago (at least). Reading this thread you'd think (a) it never happened and (b) no one ever thought about its relevance to the work of a liturgical musician. [Sunday night exasperation - sorry].
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I think this particular performance is very much influenced by 19th century chant practice, and the idea that sacred music is supposed to be soft, slow, and even.

    I doubt a group of four soloists, trained in medieval hexachord theory, singing from partbooks without barlines, without a conductor beating anything other than the tactus, in a reverberant acoustic, etc. would have performed the piece in this way in Palestrina's time.

    Singers of Palestrina's time were so accustomed to improvising embellishments that by 1600 Caccini started to catalog these "divisions" and write them explicitly in his Nuove Musiche. I can't believe singers of the calibre Palestrina no doubt worked with would have given the kind of bloodless, even-keeled performance one hears from practitioners of the slick modern style such as those heard in this recording (or those of the Tallis Scholars).
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,383
    I doubt a group of four soloists, trained in medieval hexachord theory, singing from partbooks without barlines, without a conductor beating anything other than the tactus, in a reverberant acoustic, etc. would have performed the piece in this way in Palestrina's time.
    And I doubt that 12 or 16 or 24 singers in Palestrina's time, singing from partbooks, without a conductor beating anything other than the tactus, would have enjoyed the freedom that four soloists - madrigalists, if you please - would have or would have been able to take the liberties of ornamentation in singing such a sacred motet.

    I am well acquainted with various styles of Renaissance and Baroque ornamentation and embellisment, but I seriously doubt that "Sicut cervus" sung by a choir with more than two on a part would have been expected to engage in such felicitous adornment. I do appreciate that soloists might be expected to make such alterations as a matter of due course (and I have done exactly this in my years of singing with the early music vocal ensemble Zephyrus), but to take the soloistic performance practice of Renaissance madrigalists and thrust it uniformly upon supposed choral practice in a sweeping generalization just seems too wide a stretch for me.

    Your scholarship and search for the truth is wonderful and very much appreciated, especially by me, but here I do think that your generalization from one particular form of vocal practice to an absolute statement that pushes that form of practice upon all pre-20th century composers' expectations borders on the preposterous.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I'm not saying that Palestrina's singers would have sung Sicut cervus like it was Moro, lasso. But I do think they had the same technique. And that technique probably would have prevented them from rendering the staggeringly beautiful, highly idiomatic vocal lines as some sort of metronomic automaton. Especially since the modern metronome wasn't invented until the early 19th century.

    As for my comment about "no composer before the 20th century," I will admit that it bordered on the polemical, but certainly not preposterous. This conversation, however, definitely borders on being off topic, so lest I detract from my original argument, this will be the last I say on the matter.

    For more on the subjects of musical notation and performance practice for music before Beethoven, I recommend reading The End of Early Music by Bruce Haynes, which although he doesn't address Gregorian chant explicitly has greatly influenced my views about the "received tradition," masterpiece worship, authenticity, prescriptive v. descriptive scores, etc.