Gregorian settings of long prose texts
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 343
    I've been thinking about contemporary settings of the Ordinary of the Mass and their weaknesses, in contrast to the Gregorian repertoire. It seems to me that even in the better arrangements, the Gloria is often the weakest part. This isn't surprising: it's challenging to create a memorable setting of a long prose text. The responsorial glorias that are so popular are defended as a means of encouraging congregational participation, but I wonder if they don't also function as a sort of compositional cheating--a means of making an otherwise forgettable setting memorable through a repeated refrain.

    So how do the Gregorian settings of long prose texts (Glorias, Credos, Te Deums, etc.) succeed at being so memorable? In many settings there are evidently short formula patterns applied repeatedly to the phrases; something like a psalm tone formula, but more complex. When you scrutinize these, the complexity is surprising. I had it in my head that the familiar Gloria VIII is just a series of three melodic patterns reiterated again and again without much variation, but when I sat down and examined it, I see small variations being introduced throughout and two patterns being combined within single phrases. Gloria VIII is of course very straightforward compared to some others: the variation and combination is more interesting in, e.g., Gloria X, Gloria I, Gloria II...

    Does anyone know of any scholarly analyses of the Gregorian prose hymns worth reading? I'd be interested in hearing any of your thoughts on the subject beyond my own shallow observations.
  • Robert, there are a number of good scholarly writings on chant but I don't have your particular topic's bibliography at hand. I'm sure that someone has done some work, though. I would consult Richard Crocker's important overview of chant first (An Introduction to Gregorian Chant). I did a quick search in on RILM and JSTOR and came up empty. This might take some digging or it might be a fabulous area for publication! I do know that you are discovering that chant composers were indeed the top composers of their day. I remind my students of this every time I teach Music History I. What seems to us "primitive" music is actually full of invention and wonderful musical unity. I am sometimes stunned by how well crafted Credo III is.

  • Jscola30
    Posts: 116
    "I am sometimes stunned by how well crafted Credo III is." Me too, I especially like the pauses on the 4 Marks of the Church.