Scholarly articles - polyphonic vs. chant ordinary
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 113
    Greetings, everyone. As I indicated in my title, I am looking for scholarly articles discussing the benefits and/or negatives of both polyphonic Mass ordinaries and chant ordinaries. If anyone has suggestions for how I can find such articles via the Internet, that would be great - I would really appreciate it.

    Although I am not exactly looking for an animated discussion about it on this thread, I would like to give a very brief summary of why I am asking. I strongly believe polyphony is very beautiful music, but have come to very much dislike its use in the Mass in place of the regular chant settings in the gradual. I think there are 2 main reasons why I have come to this preference. First, I spent 15 months in a traditional monastery and lost my taste for anything but chant; and second, I might just be a modernist or something, but I seem to be in agreement with what is perhaps admittedly a more modern idea - the idea that it is better for the congregation to at least have the option and be encouraged (notice I say “to have an option and be encouraged” and NOT “to be pressured, because singing = active participation”) to sing the Mass Ordinary (one of the chant settings in the gradual, all of which I believe are superior to any polyphonic setting), which is impossible with a polyphonic setting.

    Those are my personal struggles at the moment on this topic, and am looking for these scholarly articles to try to allow my opinions to be as informed as possible and to be open to changing my opinions and/or adapting to situations in which I do (and will) find myself. I am aware that there are probably many traditional Catholics who have written about this topic in the past 50-100 years. I am not looking for arguments about why chant and/or polyphony are superior to anything else, contemporary or not - I need no convincing for that! I am especially interested about specific reasons why popes and others were not in favor of polyphony replacing chants at the time polyphony was developing - I.e. especially in the 12th - 14th or 15th century.

    I have heard it argued that the polyphonic mass ordinary is a sort of crown jewel of the sacred music of the Roman Rite; I would disagree vehemently and give that distinction to Gregorian chant!

    Anyway, thank you all in advance for helping me out finding articles, both for and against polyphonic ordinaries. I am interested both in today’s context, for the discussion on the role of the congregation being able to have an option to sing the chants, but also in the context of the development of the practice of polyphony replacing chants, and those in favor of it and those against it as it was developing.
  • I join in your interest, Charles. Ever since having begun to attend and serve EF Masses on a weekly basis I also sometimes experience similar sentiments, and sometimes find myself singing the Gloria and Credo.

    While I have no scholarly article to offer, perhaps you will permit me to share the practice at the church where I serve EF.
    On most Sundays, the propers are chanted by the Schola of some of the Brothers of the Oratory, some seminarians, and some volunteers. They also sing a chant setting of the Gloria and Credo.
    The other movements (Kyrie, Sanctus/Benedictus, Agnus) are sung by a polyphonic choir.

    On feasts the whole ordinary is polyphonic.

    As a side note, I believe that Rheinberger was awarded the Order of St. Gregory for his Mass in E Flat Major, Op. 109 "Cantus Missae".
    Thanked by 1madorganist
  • A few comments:
    You might want to start with a search for articles that quote the following:
    The usage of entrusting to the choir alone the entire singing of the whole Proper and of the whole Ordinary, to the complete exclusion of the people's participation in the singing, is to be deprecated. (Vatican II, Musicam sacram, 16c)
    As one who serves a TLM parish where those kinds of Masses are the norm on holy days of obligation and when a first-class feast falls on a Sunday, I am thankful that we are not bound by the conciliar legislation. Gregorian chant, with congregational participation in the Ordinary, is usual for most of our High Masses throughout the year. Most of our people appreciate the beauty and value of polyphony in the liturgy, not only motets, but also Masses, and they do not feel excluded or shortchanged on those occasions where congregation singing is limited to a processional hymn, the responses, and a closing antiphon or hymn. We have a handful of parishioners who think we should have ONLY Gregorian chant sung by the schola - no congregational singing, no polyphony, no women's voices, little or no organ. I find it telling that these same people never come to the monthly Masses where we have just that - the whole Mass sung in Gregorian chant by the men's schola alone with little use of the organ.

    Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., (not sure whether he's still active on this forum) has argued - compellingly, in my opinion - that when Church documents mention the treasury of sacred music, they are referring exclusively to chant.

    The legend about Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass saving polyphony at the Council of Trent is now generally regarded as apocryphal. Just as the Masses of Mozart and Schubert were likely not what St. Pius X had in mind when he banned "theatrical" orchestral Masses, the sublime creations of Palestrina and Victoria were likely not what the 16th-century authorities had in mind when they condemned polyphony.

    It is vitally important to bear in mind that nobody was familiar was authentic Gregorian chant in the 16th through 18th centuries. A corrupted version of the chant was then in use everywhere, shorn of its rhythmic variety and sung very slowly. Those who wished to ban polyphony supported the exclusive use of a style of chant that was later to be banned universally with the publication of the 1908 Gradual. Someone on this forum pointed out that the more elaborate "Medicaean" chant Kyries took longer to sing than some of the orchestral Kyries (anybody have a link to that discussion?).

    I think it is also mistaken to associate the notion of congregational participation exclusively with the post-Vatican II era. Even well before the Liturgical Movement, we have some writers who mention enthusiastic congregational singing in certain places going back many centuries. And of course, active, exterior participation was promoted by pre-Vatican II Popes from Pius X to Pius XII.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 113
    Casavant, you bring up another point that, to my admittedly extreme view/preference, seems a little off, on which I may as well make a comment as well: the idea of mostly chant ordinaries with more or less congregational participation, but polyphonic ordinaries on first class feasts. For such parishes who do this, what is the precise rationale behind taking away the congregation’s normal way of participating in the Mass on a big feast day? For me, even though polyphony is beautiful, when I am in the congregation being used to singing along with a chant Mass setting, and then on a big feast day, I suddenly can’t chant any part of the Mass Ordinary, thus quite radically changing my mode of usual participation in the liturgy at those parts, it is rather unsettling. I understand that I am arguing from a largely selfish point of view, and that one in my position should just bear it and realize it is not all about me, but I would still like to understand the arguments against my position better. One reason I understand is given for this is that it is a solemn feast day, and we need something external to signify this and polyphony is seen as a special elaboration that fits this description, that adds to the solemnity. My personal reply to this is that there are particular chant Mass settings that are recommended for solemnities/first class feasts, and that the external celebration of a Missa solemnis (I.e. with deacon and subdeacon) is adequate in terms of visible/sensible added solemnity.

    On the same note, it is also rather jarring (to me at least) - again, no matter how beautiful polyphony itself is - to go from a “usual” chanted Sanctus, completed usually before the hanc igitur followed by silence through the consecration until the completion of the Canon, to (what can be) complete non-silence on a big feast day when the first part of the Sanctus takes all the way to the Consecration (usually making the priest wait) and the Benedictus will take most of the way, if not all, to the end of the Canon.

    Madorganist, thank you for the tidbits of information. That is an interesting argument from Fr. Anthony Ruff! I am aware of the corruption of chant post-Trent; in fact, from my understanding (if I have it right at all...which perhaps I do not), it is precisely the development of polyphony which contributed to the near abandonment, and finally the alteration where it still existed, of chant, due to the preoccupation with the tonal system and its possibilities and its accompanying rhythmical differences with chant. If I am not mistaken, Palestrina himself was asked to undertake a project of “editing” chant books, and promptly cut out everything he thought went against the new principles of music and rhythm which had developed. He was a master polyphonic composer, but apparently knew little to nothing about chant as its own type of music, being unable to look at it except through the lens of modern harmony and modern (at the time) rhythmic developments.

    I am also aware of the pre-Vatican II popes promoting rightly understood active participation and external congregational participation where possible; my reference to it being “modern” took that in mind, seeing as before the 20th century, congregational participation was basically zero for centuries, probably going back to the first millennium. If I am understanding that correctly, that is.

    Thank you both for the comments; still looking for article recommendations if anyone knows of them!
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 113
    As a quick addition, what is more directly provoking these questions and struggles for me is the fact that I moved (temporarily) 7 weeks ago near a TLM (FSSP) parish where nearly every Sunday is a polyphonic Ordinary, thus rarely using the gradual’s ordinary chant settings. Except for the Credo, that is - always Credo III, so far. And when the choir can’t get through the Agnus Dei in the pre-Mass rehearsal (which has happened 3 times so far), the Missa de Angelis Agnus Dei (Mass VIII). So, for me in my own circumstances, definitely an overload of polyphony; had never experienced that on a regular basis before now!
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 924
    what is the precise rationale behind taking away the congregation’s normal way of participating in the Mass on a big feast day?

    Is that the congregation's way of participating?
    I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm all about getting to chant along with the Ordinary, but I don't feel like I'm not "participating" or that I have been short changed if I'm hearing beautiful music, or if I'm at a Low Mass. Not once, at a Low Mass, have I felt that I wasn't "participating."
    If the polyphonic Ordinary you mention is needlessly and obviously lengthy, I suppose I could see wondering why they had to choose one that is so long, but not necessarily wondering why I am not singing along.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • I've never been particularly moved by the "congregational singing" argument on its own. By that logic, we shouldn't have any sort of organ music, since the congregation itself could do something in its place. I've been to a couple of parishes where the recessional hymn was nonexistent and replaced wholly by a longer organ postlude - is that to be opposed solely on the grounds that the congregation should sing? To go down that rabbit hole alone is to be no better than those who insisted we must throw out the chant so that the people may sing everything as well - albeit in a more familiar idiom to them.

    That being said, I would never entrust the entire Ordinary to the choir. But, at least on more festal occasions, giving them the Gloria and the Agnus at least (which tend to be the more elaborate choral settings) would provide some degree of additional splendour.

    In which ways do you believe the chant Ordinaries to be superior to everything else? At the risk of seeming too much like a Modernist, music has progressed since the Medieval era, perhaps not always for the better, but always forward in some way, and always out of a steadfast desire to improve. Renaissance polyphony, with its paraphrase, if not literal rendition, of a chant c.f., is about as close as you can get to the Gregorian style in the choral idiom--but it certainly offers something new; at the very least, distinct yet equally appropriate and well-crafted. This says nothing about the various composers guided almost exclusively by chant, of the Durufle cloth. Are they to be excluded as well? This seems too narrow-minded to me, and does a disservice to those composers genuinely guided by the Gregorian idiom while seeking to create something distinctly theirs.
  • Charles, your point about Solemn Mass doesn't make much of a difference for us since every Sunday we do have a Solemn Mass with a Priest, Deacon, and Subdeacon.

    I also do seem to notice that even the chant Ordinaries, being large in number, are rarely known by congregations, even the EF congregation to which I belong.

    On another note, when I had SMCS come to the parish in Oakville where I work (where chant is rare, and polyphony never), I had the choir sing the Gloria from Missa O Quam Gloriosum by Victoria. The response I got from many attendees is that it was the best choir that they had ever heard. Certainly not to brag, but it's telling that I received that response rather than the expected "give us more to sing" response. I think the dressed-up nature of the music certainly aided the sense of solemnity. I like to think of it as a case of Easter Sunday clothing for Church as opposed to throughout the year (in some homes): you wear a suit for Easter Sunday but you can wear other, not-so-formal clothes on other Sundays. (I don't actually agree with this and strive my best to wear a suit to Sunday Mass whenever I'm not serving, especially in the EF.)

    We have a polyphonic Sanctus/Benedictus every Sunday as well, however I'd tend to agree more with you on this one. I do think the Canon requires some continuity.

    That being said, one of my teachers brought up a good point to me. (She is a well-known and well-respected musician in the city.) Her claim was that it is harder for one to hold the sentiment of joyfully and triumphantly praising Our Lord silently as the choir sings, versus the policy in the Diocese of Hamilton (mentioned in another thread) where there is no explicit instruction that the choir alone cannot sing the Gloria but the Kyrie must be sung by everyone. (This is also the practice at the EF church I serve at/attend, without the regulation.) Likewise the hypothesis is that it is easier to meditatively plead for God's mercy and meditate on His forgiveness silently rather than outwardly.
  • Our friend Jared Ostermann has written an scholarly dissertation on the topic of choral vs. congregational settings of the mass ordinary, as well as an articles in Sacred Music (Spring and Summer 2015, to which William Mahrt wrote a response). There is also this lively discussion on the Forum.
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 129
    I don't believe that it has to be an either / or. There are ways of doing both chant and polyphony in the same piece. Here is a Kyrie:

    Here is a Gloria:

    Here is a Credo:

    One could do the same with the Sanctus, perhaps by having the choir repeat the Hosanna in a polyphonic setting. One of the verses of the Agnus Dei could be done the same way. The same could be done at the Great Amen to make it "Greater."

    A little imagination could go a long way to reconciling both.
  • What is the precise rationale behind taking away the congregation’s normal way of participating in the Mass on a big feast day? . . . One reason I understand is given for this is that it is a solemn feast day, and we need something external to signify this and polyphony is seen as a special elaboration that fits this description, that adds to the solemnity. My personal reply to this is that there are particular chant Mass settings that are recommended for solemnities/first class feasts.
    We get very little congregational participation when we sing Mass III, IV, or IX, to the point that when we sing those Masses, I no longer post the number on the hymn board or use an organ registration suitable for accompanying the congregation. I have received no complaints from people who miss congregational singing on feasts, nor have our priests, at least not to my knowledge. As I mentioned above, we have a handful of parishioners who are opposed to polyphony, but they are also opposed to congregational singing. Clearly, this is a listening preference, not a participation preference. I don't hesitate to remind them that we do have a Low Mass without music too, which might be a more agreeable option if they find the polyphonic or congregational singing distracting.
  • I second the call for a partial chant Agnus, particularly for those Ordinaries that set "miserere nobis" (x2) and "dona nobis pacem" to the same music. Two "miserere"s in chant and then sing "dona nobis" to the polyphony.

    For through-composed settings, it's more trouble than it's worth.
  • >> In which ways do you believe the chant Ordinaries to be superior to everything else?

    apart from the fact that the Church has stated it? :-)

    Many a time visitors have commented that upon hearing Kyriale VIII and Creed III for the first time in years / decades, all their memories came flooding back - and it's not impossible that they will return home and resume the practice of the Faith of their youth. IMO, any time that happens, it's huge.

    We use the Kyriales maybe 85% of the time, polyphonic Ordinary for a big feast, say Pentecost, or Easter Day. The comments I've heard afterwards seem to say that the grand music fits the grand occasion.
  • The Church has stated that chant is the purest sacred music there is. That doesn't mean there isn't room for musical improvement, elaboration, or addition - or no sacred composer would've stood the test of time against the good old Kyriale.
  • I don't think anyone is saying there is no room for new composition; but we're told that chant is indeed superior, and other compositions rate more highly the more they conform to it.

    just thinking... some of those good old Kyriales date back to tenth century. I can't name any sacred composer who has stood the test of time against that :-)
  • @CCooze - if you read my (second) post, you will see that the reference in my post to the congregation’s normal way of participating was a to a response that a poster made about the practice at his parish. And so I made/illustrated my point based on that response.

    @Schonbergian - you took my argument further than I actually argued. My claim about congregational (exterior) participation was not a blanket statement along the lines of, “the congregation should sing anything and everything possible, including non-liturgical texts such as hymns and therefore there should never be any organ music.” So your point about processional and/or recessional hymns being replaced by organ music is neither what I am claiming nor even talking about. My general point is that it is better for the congregation to have the option, and be encouraged, to sing/be taught the parts of the Mass which are proper to them (according to recent documents, at least), and to the chants given for them in the gradual, than for those chants to be discarded in favor of polyphony. I am referring to the Ordinary of the Mass, not to the Propers, which have historically been, even longer than the Ordinary has been, entrusted to the choir alone, nor to non-liturgical music done in other periods before, during, or after Mass.

    With regard to my claim about how chant is objectively, as sacred music, superior to polyphony, mmeladirectress basically said it for me: the Church has proclaimed it to be the highest fulfillment of the 3 qualities required for sacred music (1903 document, Pius X). Polyphony is the next highest fulfillment, as it most resembles the spirit of these 3 qualities found in Gregorian chant, without actually being chant itself.

    @rich_enough - thank you for the article references! I will read them when I can.

    @madorganist - I see what you are saying. I guess I am claiming that, while I would never force anyone to sing, and/or claim that they aren’t participating in a way pleasing to God, the ideal is for the congregation to be taught to prefer and love the Ordinary chants above above everything else, and to sing them!

    @mmeladirectress - to add to your comments, actually it is my understanding that that some manuscripts go back to the 10th century indeed, but many (perhaps most? Not exactly sure) chants themselves existed in some form or another long before they were written down.

    Overall, I do not intend to claim that polyphony is evil or sinful or something like that; merely that it is objectively inferior to chant, and that I personally find it disappointing that sometimes even the less obscure chant ordinaries (i.e. I, IX, XI, XVII) go unknown or perhaps just vaguely familiar, or perhaps even deliberately passed over as “not as interesting” as polyphony which could replace them.

    Yes, I admit I am a “purist” and “idealist” who needs to learn to get in touch with reality, insofar as the average person probably cannot be persuaded to truly love and prefer Gregorian chant above anything else as the music proper to, composed most perfectly and specifically for, the Roman Rite, because harmony, to our modern ears, is too difficult to become truly detached from. I am sure that over the years, especially if I remain “in the world,” I will learn to adapt to these circumstances and learn to appreciate the real beauty that does exist in the non-ideal, but not without doing whatever I can do according to my future state in life to teach people to prefer the ideal, and learn it, to the very depths of their heart!
  • Charles - Even if you don't find my prose helpful, you may find the footnotes and bibliography of my dissertation helpful. I think I found just about everything written on the topic of the shift from chant to polyphonic ordinary. However, I was surprised to find that relatively little has been written on the topic. Particularly, about WHY the choral ordinary supplanted chant so universally, or what the reaction/impetus on the ground was as polyphonic ordinaries started to appear. Some points of interest in no particular order:

    1 - the general official resistance from the church to polyphony (see Hayburn) seems to have had less to do with text comprehension, and more to do with the fact that the chant melodies themselves were obscured by being lengthened into various types of cantus firmus.

    2 - the first polyphonic experiments (e.g. Winchester troper, Magnus Liber Organi) were, as we would logically expect, done with Proper texts, especially the Alleluia verse and the gradual. The most melismatic, virtuosic chants are thus the first to be developed polyphonically.

    3 - The first complete (extant) Mass Ordinary, the Machaut Mass, seems to be a very special, unique case, and lacks clear predecessors or successors in the immediate historical vicinity. In other words, the polyphonic Ordinary did not "arrive" and proliferate starting at a particular date. Even after the Machaut Mass, it was not a big deal. In fact, well into the 15th century, the concept of a "choral Mass" was very fluid, and could describe a collection of propers, OR ordinary, OR a mix of the two, OR a complete setting of all propers and the ordinary for a particular day (the forerunner of the polyphonic Requiem Mass genre). So, why did the 5-movement choral Mass Ordinary eventually gain such total dominance? There is not a clear answer for this question, which is interesting since the choral ordinary is such a monumental repertoire. One thing I did find called into question by modern scholars was a Romanticized picture of an inevitable, evolutionary progression which reached a pinnacle in the standardized 5-movement choral ordinary. Many Catholic music directors who are proponents of excellent sacred music seem to me to share this Romantic perspective on the Ordinary. Any criticism of the choral ordinary is seen as an attack on the pinnacle, the crown jewel of the church's musical treasury. I would suggest this is not an historically accurate or particularly helpful attitude.

    4 - from a practical perspective, having a core repertoire of congregational gregorian chant ordinaries is a wonderful goal. If we reach this goal, we ensure the consistent quality of the ordinary in our liturgies. We also ensure that gregorian chant has pride of place in the liturgy, and that people are familiar with it. Then, even if we have polyphonic propers, chant is not marginalized. HOWEVER, if we focus on choral ordinaries, we either ignore the church's injunction not to entrust the entire proper and ordinary to the choir, or we must jettison both the chant ordinary AND the chant proper repertoire (at least, at our choral Masses).

    Although I've said it till I'm blue in the face, I'll say it again: To me, the Novus Ordo ideal is clear: Excellent congregational ordinaries, including chant ordinaries. Choral propers (whether chant or polyphonic). I have to say, though, that I have only seen that ideal consistently achieved in one parish in my life: the Rochuskirche in Vienna.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,917
    merely that it is objectively inferior to chant, and that I personally find it disappointing that sometimes even the less obscure chant ordinaries (i.e. I, IX, XI, XVII) go unknown or perhaps just vaguely familiar, or perhaps even deliberately passed over as “not as interesting” as polyphony which could replace them.

    Having directed and sung in choirs both EF and OF (largely singing polyphony), then being responsible for directing a small Chant-only choir for several years, I can tell you that at least for me, the "all-Chant" experience was a revelation. It worked exceptionally well--and convinced me that Chant IS the superior realization of "music for worship."

    When being a PIP, I notice that musicians generally tend towards "mo' music" as THE way to enhance worship. This ranges from simply adding music (interludes) through adding voices (polyphony), to adding lots of (superfluous and sometimes horrific) accompaniment to Chant, to adding orchestral instruments. Now and then it makes we want to turn around and yell "SILENCIO!!!" as did Col. Potter, memorably.

    Often all that "enhancement" can drown out the still, small, voice which was heard by the prophets.
  • A superb illustration of chant and polyphony at the same mass is to be experienced in the hearing of Paul McCreesh's CD, Missa Cantata, in which the mass for Christmas Day as done at Sarum in the late XVth century is revisited. In this performance the chant proper, readings, etc. are beautifully contrasted with John Shepard's polyphonic ordinary, the Missa Cantata. The juxtaposition of these genres is powerful testimony to the profound dramatic potential of chant and polyphony in the same mass. Of equal dramatic power is the calculated entrance of boy choristers at certain points in the chants. Their octave-higher voices at certain moments of both chant and polyphony add a potent emotional and didactic element to the continuum of ritual drama. Our late mediaeval brethren must have known what they were doing in the careful, calculated, juxtaposition of these elements.

    Another interesting aspect of this realisation is that the Latin is pronounced as it would have been pronounced in pre-Great Vowel Shift England.

    Everyone should have a copy of this CD - though I think that it can still be heard on youtube.

    I must say that Jared's observations are acute, perspicatious, and near indisputable.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Chaswjd
  • Dr. Ostermann, Illustrious Sir, I am so glad to have tonight discovered your dissertation "A Necessary or Integral Part: The Choral Ordinary and Proper in the Roman Catholic Mass after the Second Vatican Council." THANK YOU!!! Even just now reading the first 30 pages (Introduction) was very educational and clarified a lot of the questions that have been forming in my mind over the past few years, as a chorister in my local parish and as a father of an aspiring church musician, and as a long-time lover of the vast and beautiful repertoire of Catholic music. No doubt I will read the rest of your dissertation, though I must finally put it down for tonight so I can get back to my crude auto-didactism on the violin and viola da gamba.
  • The first complete (extant) Mass Ordinary, the Machaut Mass, seems to be a very special, unique case, and lacks clear predecessors or successors in the immediate historical vicinity.

    Uh ... pretty sure the Tournai Mass came before it.
  • Jared is correct -

    The Messe de Notre Dame remains the first mass cycle composed as a unified whole by one given composer, Guillaume de Machaut, musician and poet. Earlier cycles* are each compilations of individual works written in several styles by several anonymous composers over a period of some years. In this they are like the individual chants of the Gregorian repertory which are grouped arbitrarily into the various mass cycles that appear in LU and GR.

    *e.g., Toulouse, Tournai, Sorbonne, et al.
  • @JaredOstermann - thank you, I will take a look at your work, with particular interest in the footnotes/bibliography. It is good to hear your observation that these questions seem not to be very specifically/often addressed. I am aware of the Hayburn book, at least, though my copy of it is currently on loan and I myself haven’t looked at it almost at all since college when I used it for my sacred music course.

    @dad29 - Thank you for your comment/observation. Sometimes I struggle with wondering whether I am just trying to force my preference for the authentic chants of the Mass to be sung before anything else is even considered, or whether there is also some of level of sensibility that is in some way preferred or at least encouraged by the Church throughout the ages, whether it was ever the actual prevailing practice or not. I tend to agree with you 100% with regards to wanting to fight against what seems to be a “the more music the better” attitude - which, as I mentioned in another comment in this thread, I even tend to want to fight on feast days, which would be one occasion on which music tends to be multiplied or made “more elaborate.” I also wonder whether I incorrectly quote this part of Tra le Sollecitudini (esp. since just a paragraph or 2 later he mentions polyphony “side by side with Gregorian chant in more solemn functions”...) but with regards to this, I like to quote the part which says, “an ecclesiastical function loses none of its solemnity when accompanied by [Gregorian chant] alone.” To me, the Mass itself with its texts sung to their proper chants according to the day, along with differences in rubrics depending on the ranking of each liturgical day, suffice to “solemnize” the Mass; for me, a liturgy is not solemnized simply by adding polyphony and/or replacing chant, and/or (perhaps even worse...) harmonizing/accompanying the chants, and/or adding interludes on the organ. But I am trying to be open to others’ preferences, so long as they are well-meaning and still in accord with basic principles of liturgical music and liturgy itself.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 514
    I have read the comments on polyphonic vs. chant ordinary with great interest and would like to comment on several issues. First of all, please look for the forthcoming summer issue of Sacred Music, where Jared Ostermann makes his case for polyphonic propers, to which I make brief reference in the editorial.

    Jared is quite right that the judgment about the use of the music should be principally about its liturgical function. This will be an individual judgment concerning the practice of a particular church or congregation, and the choice will differ widely from congregation to congregation, depending on history, ability, receptivity and any other factors.

    I would add that the principal music and the paradigm of liturgical function is Gregorian chant. The Ordinary of the Mass can be sung in chant by the congregation, since there are settings of varying difficulty and since they are repeated from Sunday to Sunday, so that the congregation can become familiar with them. Moreover, these movements are the liturgical action in themselves, and generally not the accompaniment of other actions, such as processions as in the case of the introit, or readings in the case of the gradual; it is thus most appropriate for them to be sung by the congregation. The Proper of the Mass in full Gregorian chant must be sung by a choir, since to learn five relatively difficult chants for each Sunday is impossible for a congregation and even difficult for a choir. It is an over-simplification that chant was not sung during the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries; the Medicean versions were far from the only ones employed. Theodore Karp has published an extensive study of the post-Tridentine Mass Proper (2 vols, 2005), showing a wide cultivation of the singing of chant. Most of these books show a much greater continuity with the traditional chants than do the Medicean versions. Madorganist is correct that the history of congregational singing is extensive; I recall an account given by Jungmann (Mass of the Roman Rite) of an attempt to suppress the congregational singing of the Credo, which resulted widespread objection from the congregation.

    Concerning the use of the polyphonic ordinary, I would refer to the exchange between Jared and me in Sacred Music for Spring and Summer 2015 (which can be accessed on Historically, the polyphonic ordinary had a very strong place in the liturgy over many centuries. We must recognize, however, that this was mainly in cathedrals and courtly chapels; the performance of chant was certainly very much more frequent than polyphony. The polyphonic ordinary seems to have developed in the fourteenth century; there is a substantial repertory of individual Mass movements from this period. Machaut’s Mass is simply one of this kind, individual movements of his assembled for a liturgical purpose: a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin for Saturdays. It was only in the fifteenth century that the cyclic ordinary was developed, in which the five movements of the ordinary are all in the same mode and upon the same musical material. The subsequent history of the polyphonic ordinary includes some of the greatest monuments of Western musical history, far more extensive than propers, Magnificats, hymns, etc. Its continued use for many centuries is a witness to its liturgical suitability, though far from the only witness pro or con. The council’s mention of the treasure of sacred music, which is to be fostered, does include polyphonic music, it says so explicitly. The majority of this music is the Ordinary of the Mass. This strongly suggests its employment in the liturgy.

    Concerning Musicam sacram deprecating the exclusion of the congregation in the singing of the whole ordinary and proper: I would argue that when the choir sings the five movements of the ordinary and the five propers, the congregation is not entirely excluded in the singing. They make all the responses and sing together the Lord’s Prayer. In a sense the Lord’s Prayer has been made a part of the ordinary of the Mass by being prescribed for singing by the whole congregation. This may seem a sophistical argument and not in accord with Musicam sacram, but my point goes further. On the basis of the practice I have developed with my own choir, the congregation sings the ordinary, six different cycles, nearly fifty Sundays a year; on high feast days, the choir sings an entire polyphonic ordinary. The fact that the congregation has regularly been singing these texts in Latin means that they are intimately familiar with them and can identify with their being sung polyphonically. This does not deprive them of participation but enriches it. Members of the congregation have confirmed this.

    The exclusive use of a choral ordinary is a different matter. Jared concedes its use at a place like St. Agnes in St. Paul, where the orchestral masses are sung every Sunday and Holy Day, except Advent and Lent, and in the summer. Musicam Sacram does authorize choirs that have their own special repertories, which must be sung “according to their own traditions norms.” Before the council, a choral ordinary was often sung in parish churches, and the chant propers were simply sung to psalm tones. In this case the choral ordinary had nearly crowded out the proper.

    Jared’s new article concerns polyphonic propers. Here I have some reservations. When the Vatican documents give Gregorian chant “first place,” it is for chants, not just for texts, and these chants suit their liturgical function musically. To find any setting of the text is not the same as to employ the authentic Gregorian chant. It is true, the use of polyphonic music for the proper introduces the possibility of elegant, sophisticated, even beautiful music as a complement to the congregational ordinary in chant. I have performed polyphonic proper movements of the Notre Dame School, of Dufay, Isaac, Byrd, Palestrina, Lasso, and Gallus, and sometimes a complete cycle of polyphonic propers, e.g., from the Byrd Gradualia or the Isaac Choralis Constantinus. Yet when it comes to choosing which to sing, I often say, we can’t eliminate the chant introit Viri Galilaei on Ascension or the Pentecost communion Factus est repente. A strong argument for chant propers as opposed to polyphonic propers is that the style of each chant proper is distinguished by its liturgical purpose. The neumatic style of an introit projects a sense of purposeful motion, the melismatic style of a gradual elicits recollection, meditation This will not be true when propers are selected from the general repertory of available pieces, which were not always written as propers. Even the propers in the Byrd Gradualia do not distinguish liturgical function by style, since the same polyphonic composition serves as an offertory in one set and a gradual in another. Moreover, to find settings of the proper texts, one must rely mainly upon pieces which were not composed as propers. That being said, I would relish attending the Mass Jared describes, for it aims to integrate musical and liturgical purposes.
  • Thanks Dr. Mahrt, for this comment. Our running discussion of the polyphonic ordinary/proper has gone on for several years now, and if I may say so - I think it is a valuable discussion to be having, and to be sharing publicly. I hope it is interesting and helpful for others, too! You touch on a lot of interesting things in your comment here. Off the top of my head, two that stand out:

    1 - do you think a similar liturgical function exists and is lost when we move from a chant ordinary to a polyphonic ordinary (as is lost when we move from a chant proper to a polyphonic proper)? I think something of this sort was in the concerns of CharlesSA, the original poster on the thread.

    2 - do you think, that if a certain affect or style is liturgically present in the chant, it could be emulated and/or expanded on in a polyphonic setting? E.g. a melismatic chant could lead to a more melismatic polyphony, while a more syllabic chant could lead to a more austere polyphonic setting?

    One other thing I found in the Heinrich Isaac that is interesting is that the chant proper melody is present in most settings, not as a cantus firmus long-note, but as a shorter note value (e.g. half note instead of whole note) melody, in the soprano. Thus, depending on the tempo, it is quite possible that the chant melody would be recognizable as the most prominent polyphonic line, rather than obscured in long notes in an inner voice. I wonder if this closer relationship to the chant would mitigate some of your concerns.
  • Jared -
    You hit upon several factors that go into the choices of chant-polyphony marriages. Your idea of simple chant being complimented by simple polyphony, or complex by complex is spot on. I would suggest as a third option, namely, that a syllabic or mildly neumatic chant could be complimented by more complex polyphony, or vice versa. The contrast could in itself show off the nature and beauty of each. Whichever option one chooses should at least be informed by a conscious deliberation of the aesthetic which you have outlined. The nature of the celebration itself (and the precise music which one is considering) would serve to suggest the proper course.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • madorganist
    Posts: 703
    Apparently harmony was associated with solemn feast days at least as far back as the 14th century:
    However, We do not intend to forbid the occasional use – principally on solemn feasts at Mass and at Divine Office – of certain consonant intervals superposed upon the simple ecclesiastical chant, provided these harmonies are in the spirit and character of the melodies themselves, as for instance, the consonance of the octave, the fifth, the fourth, and others of this nature; but always on condition that the melodies themselves remain intact in the pure integrity of their form, and that no innovation take place against true musical discipline; for such consonances are pleasing to the ear and arouse devotion, and they prevent torpor among those who sing in honor of God. (John XXII, De vita et honestate clericorum, 1323, quoted in Hayburn, Papal Legislation on Sacred Music, 1979)
    Of course there are Gregorian Ordinaries designated for solemn feasts, but organum and polyphony were unknown until several centuries after the chant was first written down.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn