Hymnodic Distinctions
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,357
    Every now and then (and recently) there is a discussion that touches on metrical hymnody. Someone says that metrical hymnody is X.
    No, no, someone else says- some of it X, but then there's some of it that's actually not X.
    Well, says the original poster, I only meant hymns like A, B, and C. Of course, hymns like M, N, and O are a whole other thing.

    This conversation is repeated, it seems, about once a month.
    So....

    I propose that when we talk about hymnody, especially to make blanket statements (about, for example, it's place in Liturgy) that we actually say what we mean.
    Others can help with the taxonomy, but for starters I think we can specify two categories:

    1. Gregorian Hymnody
    2. Everything else.

    Gregorian hymnody probably has some distinction... sequences, for example. Office Hymns.
    Other people can fill this out.


    Everything else....
    The biggest subset is the thing MOST people are talking about when they say they don't want hymns at Mass. So let's just call it what it is: Protestant-style Hymnody.
    "A Mighty Fortress," "Old 100th," "The Church's One Foundation" that sort of thing.
    Some of this is theologically compatible with Catholic teaching, some is not.
    O the stuff that is, many would say it's not as good as propers at Mass, but way better than syrupy folk songs. You can decide.
    Subsets of Protestant-style hymnody might be something like:
    -German hymns
    -English hymns
    -Carols (usually French or English)
    -Early American
    etc....

    The next big subset is Catholic devotional hymns. Most of these are Marian.
    O Sanctissima
    Salve Regina
    etc.
    There are likely subsets here, but I'm not sure what they might be. Perhaps "Marian" and "not Marian" is a good split. I don't know.


    Anyway- this is not comprehensive at all. IT might even be totally wrong.
    But I think we ought to at least try to say what we mean when we're talking about things.


    Anyone want to fill in the pieces here and help us put together a taxonomy of hymnody?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,217
    I agree with your taxonomy, Adam.

    My only disagreement with your entire analysis is this: some posters never say anything good about any hymns.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    Adam

    I am one of the people who has a love-hate relationship with the use of hymns. Notice that I make the obvious distinction in the words "use of"! This is because there is a common misunderstanding in our rantings about hymnody here on this forum. I think I can speak for all of us to some degree or another... That is, none of us dislike hymns. It is simply that hymns are not and should not be the primary music within the RC liturgy (Mass) especially when they replace the preference of the Antiphons.

    For heavens sake, I compose new hymns regularly... even those nasty metrical ones! So, I don't understand what the beef is all about!

    Here's MY beef. It's about replacing the text of the actual rite with related or even unrelated texts written by third parties. That includes my own comps. I wrote a hymn recently in conjunction with a person on this forum ;-) for use on the Epiphany. We will probably sing it as a Communion Chorale, after the Communion Antiphon has been chanted. That is how I see hymns or motets being appropriate. Of course polyphonic motets are probably better, because they can and often do utilize the text of the rite and can elevate the mind, heart and soul to ponder ever more deeply upon the very words of the days Mass.

    Dig?
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    And, I'd like to hear further as to how you define "Gregorian" hymnody, sufficient to justify its reservation from the category of "Everything else."

    Only those hymns extant at or before the 7th Century A.D.?
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Are the METERED and METRICAL hymns the same?
    Gregorian hymns are syllabic, but not metered. Are there any modern hymns like that? (Here I mean hymns that are not of the Church's texts, but those of individuals.)
    Just curious.
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    Good point, miacoyne. Yet another issue to be considered in whether "hymns" (howsoever they may be defined) have any place within the liturgy.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,357
    1. I'm not talking about whether hymns are any good, when or how they should be used, or what their role is. I'd like us first to find a language to classify hymnody and create a taxonomy that is at least somewhat useful. This would facilitate those other conversations, because then instead of saying "hymns are X (good/bad/wonderful/not Catholic/whatever)" we could say something more useful, like "Protestant Hymns in the German style are X" or "This is a new hymn tune written in the style of Gregorian Hymnody" or "I'm looking for an arrangement of Picardy that feels more like a Gregorian Hymn than like a German chorale."

    2. I have no answers for the questions being posed. Is there a difference between metered and metrical? Are there meaningful distinctions between different types of Gregorian hymns? Are we talking about style, or actual origin? Is it worthwhile to seperate Protestant Hymnody into national styles, era-based styles, denominational style? Should non-strophic "songs" (Praise and Worship) be called "hymns"?
    I DON'T KNOW! What I DO know is that these are questions worth asking APART from the value/quality judgments inherent in most discussions on style.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    Adam

    I think you could categorize in different ways.

    One obvious way is Catholic and non-Catholic. Of course you would have to investigate origins.
    Then there is metrical and prosaic. You would have to analyze the body of Gregorian Hymns to begin to evaluate where they fall. Under metered texts you can classify by specific meter as do most hymnals.
    Then you have Hymn Tunes irrespective of text. You could start the Dewey decimal system of hymn categorization. I tell you what would be really cool. The complete chronology of hymnody which would show the progression of hymn and song writing in various geographies of the world.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I meant the style, because as a musician of Roman Catholic church, I'd like to find out what the Church's desires the most for the liturgy.

    On November 22, 2003, the anniversary of Pius X’s Motu Proprio, Pope John Paul II said, “With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the general rule that St Pius X formulated in these words: 'The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.’” On June 24, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in similar terms: “An authentic renewal of sacred music can only happen in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

    I'm just wondering whether there are any modern composers write 'hymns' in the style of Gregorian melody. (I'd love to know.)
  • Maureen
    Posts: 655
    Christmas and other kinds of carols were a Catholic devotional hymn category several centuries before Protestantism existed. I'll grant you that we don't have music for most of the Old English/Middle English carols for which we have lyrics, but that's not history's problem. :)

    Re: composers, I guess there's that guy in the Liber, unless he wrote all his verses to old tunes. Probably some of the more experimental early music groups, too.
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    May I suggest a distinction more fundamental than "Gregorian hymnody" and "Everything else": i.e. the propers vice "Everything else"?

    In this analysis, we might dare to give a pride of place to the chant settings of the propers, but we could relax into other settings of the propers so long as they were deemed true to the text and its spirit and the tradition of the Church.

    All else would be considered "hymnody," upon which would be imposed the burden of justifying its presence at the presence at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    Miacoyne

    One would have to study the rudiments of composing Gregorian Chant probably from books that espoused the analysis of GC music theory. Dr Mahrt or others might be able to enlighten us on this matter, but I would wager it is a remote knowledge to most. I believe the old Cecilean Journal may have touched on the theory of composing chant and polyphony following Gregorian rules, but I have only glanced at a few. JO has them posted somewhere on Chabanel or CMAA ... I can't remember.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Any discussion of hymnody needs to be framed around the separation of music and text. There are thus several important umbrellas:

    Latin vs. Vernacular
    Catholic theology vs. non-Catholic theology
    Musical Style

    Sample species level categories could be:

    Latin Catholic hymns set in a variety of musical styles from Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony to modern and even post-modern "sacred" styles;
    Vernacular Catholic hymns set with chorale-style harmonizations;
    Vernacular non-Catholic hymns set with chorale-style harmonizations;
    Vernacular Catholic hymns set in variety of "sacro-pop" styles with which we are all familiar;
    Vernacular non-Catholic hymns set in a rock idiom

    "Metered vs. unmetered text" falls somewhere in the middle of the classification, because music can either support or thwart textual meters. Texts with meters are useful because they allow for musical portability. If I set an English, CM, theologically correct text to William Billings's anthem, "Africa," wouldn't it have a place alongside other pieces of "polyphony"? It is a hymn, but the music is not "hymn-like," in a colloquial sense.

    Another possible intermediate category is liturgical function, but as the Billings example demonstrates, sometimes function is fluid as well.

    I dislike the notion of "Protestant-style" hymnody, because it doesn't denote anything about musical style.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,357
    rob - missing point.
    Propers are already not included in "hymnody" (except perhaps Sequences, which are sometimes Proper).

    Propers when and where proper. Yes, of course.

    Beyond that... there is this huge body of texts and tunes people call hymns. Clearly they are not all the same. So how do we differentiation.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I have a question: what exactly is a carol, vs a hymn? I somewhat know when I see a carol, but beyond intuition...
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thank you Francis. I'll be keep searching. After I started to sing Gregorian chant, I'm fascinated with non-metered hymns. You write beautiful music, and I'm wondering whether there are reasons (maybe difficulties) that not many modern composers write 'hymns' in the style of Gregorian melody. I only mentioned about 'texts of the Church and individuals' to clarify what I meant by
    'hymns' because Gloria and Sanctus are hymns, and we know that there are modern music written in Gregorian chant style to those. So do Jeff O and Adam Bartlett for the Propers. But not 'other hymns.'
    ( by the way, do you know Five Mystical songs by Vaughn Williams, especially "Love bade me welcome"? I don't know whether you can call it a hymn but It's a beautiful song to listen to at home.)

    Adam,

    Hymn: A song of praise...In early Christian era, the term hymn was applied to all songs to praise of the Lord. (Harvard concise dictionary of Music)

    Hymnody

    1. The singing of hymns.
    2. The composing or writing of hymns.
    3. The hymns of a particular period or church.


    I'm not sure you can say Propers are not included in hymns or hymnody in general terms. Even if some people make a distinction here, others don't seemed to.

    DougS,

    Would you explain or describe what 'post-modern "sacred" styles' is? (I believe you are talking about purely musical style?)
    Also you have mentioned that "Protestant-style" hymnody doesn't denote anything about musical style. I believe "Protestant-style' here means 'German chorale style.'

    Chorale: A hymn tune of the German Protestant church. Martin Luther (1483-1546), an accomplished musician himself, considered the chorale a pillar of his reform movement and played a very active part in building a suitable repertory of texts and melodies. In conformity with his principle of congregational participation, he favored vernacular texts and simple, tuneful melodies. ...
    (Harvard Concise dictionary of Music)
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,217
    Not to add more fat to the fire, but most ancient Latin hymns are metrical. LM was not invented by Watts, but by Ambrose.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Kathy,

    That's precisely why I think metered text is an intermediate-level classification. There are metrical hymn texts that sit comfortably within multiple musical eras.

    Mia,

    A "post-modern" setting of a Latin hymn might be Penderecki's "Stabat Mater." Secondly, I agree wholeheartedly that "German chorale style" is a better designation than "Protestant-style" and that most people mean "German chorale style" when they think of "Protestant" music. It is wrong if we conflate the two. There is a lot of Protestant music that isn't in a chorale style. There is also plenty of Catholic music in German chorale style.

    I would add that I find it interesting that the commentary is already vacillating between music and text, which shows why it is important to keep discussions of the two separate from time to time.
  • The rules for early counterpoint composition are based upon the rules for composing chant.

    Here's the logic involved using Markov Chains. http://web.media.mit.edu/~mary/palestrina.html
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    The book that I would like to get my hands on is the Fux "Gradus Ad Parnassum

    I believe this is THE book on rules. Does anyone have a digital copy?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,349
    A translated, edited version is offered for sale with samples online at Google Books.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,357
    Fux's Gradus is available in two parts, cheaply:
    The Study of Counterpoint (covering the sections on species counterpoint)
    http://www.amazon.com/Study-Counterpoint-Johann-Joseph-Parnassum/dp/0393002772
    and
    The Study of Fugue (including the sections about Fugue writing, plus the same subject from a few other writers)
    http://www.amazon.com/Study-Fugue-Alfred-Mann/dp/0486254399


    To my knowledge, those two books contain the only decently translated English version of Gradus.
    I have not GRADUated all the way to the fugue book yet, but I can tell you the species counterpoint lessons are excellent.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Where can one find the rules used by chant composers?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,217
    Rules?
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    JO? TR? Dr M?

    (I purchased the Gradus last night. I will let you know my results after studying.)
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Kathy, read Noel's post above. Apparently there were some! I'm curious...
  • The Fux's is a dialogue between teacher and student and the intervals that are permitted are listed and an explanation of the modes. Since this evolved out of chant as did modern notation, the earliest forms of polyphony follow the melodic rules of composition of chant, and then as melodies are overlaid on the cantus melody in counterpoint then the harmonic rules of these intervals are explained.
  • This, from WIKI "how to write counterpoint":

    Students of species counterpoint usually practice writing counterpoint in all the modes except Locrian (that is, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Aeolian). The following rules apply to melodic writing in each species, for each part:

    1. The final must be approached by step. If the final is approached from below, the leading tone must be raised, except in the case of the Phrygian mode. Thus, in the Dorian mode on D, a C♯ is necessary at the cadence.

    2. Permitted melodic intervals are the perfect fourth, fifth, and octave, as well as the major and minor second, major and minor third, and ascending minor sixth. When the ascending minor sixth is used it must be immediately followed by motion downwards.

    3. If writing two skips in the same direction—something which must be done only rarely—the second must be smaller than the first, and the interval between the first and the third note may not be dissonant.

    4. If writing a skip in one direction, it is best to proceed after the skip with motion in the other direction.

    5. The interval of a tritone in three notes is to be avoided (for example, an ascending melodic motion F - A - B natural), as is the interval of a seventh in three notes.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Noel, maybe I am misunderstanding but it sounds to me like you are making very wide logical and historical leaps. Let's start from the beginning.

    Certain chants can make a good cantus firmus for polyphonic settings. Some of these chants were therefore used as the basis of actual polyphonic compositions during the Renaissance. Fux, writing over 100 years after the end of the Renaissance, inductively distilled information from a circumscribed set of these Renaissance compositions. Taking this set as his models, he retrospectively developed rules for writing "good" polyphonic compositions. The book is a classic example of descriptive music theory transforming into prescriptive compositional tools.

    I can't remember, but he may also advise about what makes a "good" cantus firmus, but the reader cannot assume that these were the "rules" used to compose chant. If I'm not mistaken, the section on counterpoint begins with "given" melodies (i.e., the cantus firmus), which may or not be chants anyway.

    I think it is too big of a leap to suggest that the Fux addresses "rules of composition of chant," because to my knowledge, there were no prescriptive "rules" for writing the large corpus of Gregorian melodies. Guiding concepts maybe, but not rules. If there were a treatise from the dark ages, maybe that would (ironically) shed new light on the subject.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    I think we should contact Solemnes and see how they compose chant. Does anyone here have connections with them?
  • Given cantus firmus of the time were chants and derived from chants, since that WAS the melodic style in early 16th century counterpoint.

    The "rules" of composition are not written, usually, when the music is being written but rather drawn up from examples of respected music of a period.

    When Fux wrote this he has basing his instruction on how melodies were properly written up until people began adding counter melodies to them, so it would seem logical that he was not advocating abandoning how melodies of the time were written, but rather advocating ways of adding other melodies to the existing form.

    Now, before you think I am just guessing at that, when I first came across this I had just studied what intervals were permitted in the writing of chant and when I read these it struck me immediately that they nicely outline how chant is written. It is obvious that #1 applies except for the raising of the pitch and I would hazard by the obstinate behavior of some singers to always sharpen minor chord endings to major, that this was probably already a common practice in later times in chant.

    #2 definitely applies and if minor sixths were to appear in a chant, I would think that this rule would apply as well.

    #4 seems right in line and #5 is interesting as well.

    I have to run and play an SDA wedding rehearsal than off to a funeral home to play for a friend's stepfathers funeral, otherwise I would have time to look over some chants and confirm.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    In other words, Noel, pretty much what I said.

    There is a big conceptual difference between "the rules for composing chant" and "how chant was composed."
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Anybody who has really steeped themselves in chant should be able to write a moderately convincing neo-Gregorian chant. Start by improvising chant-like melodies without words (as an initial exercise), and then try your hand with words. If you're going to have any success, I would think it would require not thinking about it too much.

    It's completely possible to write a fugue using "Bach" rules and have it sound nothing like Bach. And it's also possible to write one disregarding the rules and have it be moderately convincing to the untrained ear.

    (For the record, I do not currently include myself in the category of being able to do either of the things I mentioned - at least not with fluid ease!)
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Good points, Skirp.
  • I'm obviously not communicating well or am merely totally wrong, so I withdraw the suggestion that one might view the rules for composition on melodies by Fux and use them to understand the rules the composers of chant worked under.

    I know that if I wrote parallel fifths when harmony class was studying Bach Chorales I was wrong. So possibly I'm wrong when I say that the Bach followed rules of harmony when he composed the chorales. If he didn't, then why are there no parallel fifths in Bach chorales?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,349
    I"m told that the rules were developed after the fact to describe what composers did.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Chronak - that is true.

    Noel, I don't know of any specific examples off the top of my head, but have on several occasions heard stories from my theory professors about many occasions of Bach breaking his own "rules." One music-school-urban-myth tells of a student trying to take the easy way out of his 18th-century counterpoint final project by going to the library and copying down an obscure Bach fugue and handing it in as his own. The instructor then returns the exam with a grade of C-, but not because of having discovered the student's plagarism. The instructor littered the paper with corrections to all sorts of things that break the "rules," writing in large letters "Bach would have never done this!" In fact, at one time I remember seeing a copy of one of Bach's fugues marked in a similar manner.

    The "rules" are great for initially teaching a style and getting the music student to absorb it, but once it's truly absorbed, they must be mostly jettisoned in order to live the style to the fullest. [In fact, that statement also applied to how I feel about Solesmes method - but I don't want the thread to go there... :) ]
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    Bach did not follow the general norms, as I prefer to call them (instead of rules), for composing chant. He developed a heightened chromatic polyphonic style that also stretched harmonic resolution and anticipation to the maximum that few have even attempted to mimic or absorb. He was able to pass through two key centers at one time in separate voices and then return to the 'footing' of the established key center. He sometimes did this by leaning toward major seconds and ninths as one of the tools in his arsenal.

    Chant is highly modal in construction, and it is easy to 'brand' it's style, especially in the composers who utilized it in counterpoint. It Is not that different to learn the rules by osmosis or compare specimens of various manuscripts. The oddities of different eras of composition are tell tale signs as they correspond with the style of their day.

    So, in that regard it is not that important which came first... the chicken or the egg - the rules or the composers of the music who formed the rules.

    As a composer of polyphony, especially of the vocal type, I am always keen to the shape of melody and harmony of ages gone by, but intellect and the human soul guided by the Holy Spirit reveal ever new sounds and sonorities that emerge from our own new epoch in which God has placed us.

    Unfortunately, most experimentation that was practiced in the musical institutions I attended was not grounded in the fundamentals of melodic and harmonic science. In fact, many dismissed fundamentals outright all for the sake of experimentation and that creativity would have it's own end. A big disconnect in that much of the music is now just fragmented concepts in the history books. Music that found no purpose, wasted efforts, creativity gone amuck.

    The same occured with the precepts of liturgy. The chant was thrown to the wind and frenzy ruled. Now there is a desire for structure, for rules, for the continuity we forsook. (Cont'd)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    So, I would put this thinking forward to the classification of hymnodic distinctions. It is quite a web. I am not sure it is able to be unraveled or if it is even necessary. But this I do know. The RC liturgy has claimed chant and polyphony as her 'native' forms. So let's continue to make it so.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,357
    The "rules," particularly in regards to species counterpoint, are not rules for composition, but rules for training. Fux was not concerned with describing theoretical practices, or in circumscribing the behavior or future composers- he was interested in presenting a logical, step-by-step process of training a student to think about music polyphonically.
    And, by the way- I've worked my self all the way through the species counterpoint section of Gradus ("The Study of Counterpoint" book). The process works. You can choose to "break" rules or not, you can follow your own sense of aesthetics and style- but the process of working through species counterpoint rules teaches you to think contrapuntally.
    I highly recommend the Fux book.



    Now, um... could we get back on track?
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Francis, I don't disagree with anything you say, but I wasn't talking about Bach with regard to chant, just as an example with the whole discussion of "rules." You always have the most interesting perspective on things. Far different from how I would approach them, but I usually agree! (That's a compliment.)

    Adam, Fux is like calculus, which I have never used since high school, but I would like to think all that time and effort helped me to learn how to think, even if I remember nothing of what I learned.

    And yes, now back to your regular programming.... Hymnodic Distinctions... already in progress.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,930
    Adam

    Forgive our wanderings. Sometimes they bring us to places no one of us would have thought of before.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,357
    Not all who wander are lost.
  • I sure am...I notice that Fux's lessons on how to write melodies correspond with what I had just studied concerning chant melodies and now it appears that I have, among others, a conceptual problem. ;<)