Liquescents in the Alleluia
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    With the advent of the Easter season, we are singing many Propers which have liquescents on the "lu" syallable of "alleluia". For example, last Sunday the introit "Quasimodo geniti infantes" has no less than 3 instances of the word in which the syllables "lu-ia" are sung to "fa-la-sol-fa-fa", and the "sol-fa" neums (a rhombus in each case) are liquescents.

    I seem to recall either Dr. Mahrt or Scott Turkington saying that in this case you sing the word as if it were "al-le-lu-ee-aa".

    Is this accurate? I'd also be interested in hearing from those of you who have been to Solesmes recently as to how they are interpreting liquescents these days.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    The oldest manuscripts are inconsistent in their use of liquescents. They are helpful reminders, but not really necessary for modern performers. This is one area in which the top scholars seem to agree: that if you pronounce the word correctly, the liquescent will take care of itself. I don't know of any scholars who advocate an interpretation other than simply pronouncing the syllable on the liquescent.

    In the case of "aleluia," I would say the liquescent is for the y consonant sound [j], which as you recall in the above quote, is just a very short ee [i] vowel. I find with my choir that being sure to pass with a vowel legato from oo [u] to ee [i] to ah [a] prevents an unwanted accent (caused my an explosion of breath pressure on the y consonant) on the final syllable.

    For more on liquescents, see Cardine's Gregorian Semiology, where there distinction between augmentation and diminution is made. However, these distinctions don't really apply to the square note notation in a Solesmes-method reading.
  • Greg, I'm used to doing what you are describing. And last summer at Solesmes that was what I heard done. Of course, Americans will have more of a tendency to spread the [i] (ee) vowel, so I advise singers to sing it through the filter/color/shape of the preceding [u] vowel, making sure their mouth is not too lateral. Its a little difficult to describe here, but very easy to model.

    The basic idea is that the vowels match, with the bright [i] not sticking out to the ear. It should have a softening effect, as incantu describes.


    I wonder if another practical reason is to organize diphthongs (and double consonants?) in a live acoustic, so as to help keep the text from getting muddy. That is what liquescents are about in general, text clarifying remedies.

    And I did hear a fairly liberal use of them in Solesmes, and also in Jouques (a lovely abbey in Provence). Happy lu-i-a-ing and I hope to see you in Pittsburgh?
  • Rehearsing our schola in the presence of Fr Kelly for St Basil's School of Gregorian Chant earlier this year, I took some pains to instruct a very clear and distinct y sound on the alleluia , and he interjected that one should 'already be on the ee on the liquescent. That there is a history for this is borne out by the ocassional appearance in English polyphony of 'allelu-i-a' so written and performed; for instance the alleluias in Byrd's Sacerdotes Domini, performed al-le-lu-ee-a.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Yes, the [i] needs to be completed before the next pitch / syllable! Sometimes the two pitches are in unison, but sometimes not.
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    Thanks to all. The avoidance of the explosive 'yah' on the final syllable is something that had not occurred to me.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    So this means -ee- is a diphthong to the previous vowel -u-? I was told that 'ia' (or 'ja' sounded as 'ya' ) is the last syllable of Allelu-ia, and it is referring to God's name, (Yaweh)?
  • The 'ia' is the diphthong, in this case also called a 'glide'.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    But what is confusing to me is that the liquescent is used for the diphthong, therefore, we are interpreting 'ui' as a diphthong not 'ia' in above explanations? Also, isn't 'i' in 'ia' actually a consonant which is like 'ja' (like 'i' in 'iesu' which is the same as 'jesu')?
  • joerg
    Posts: 73
    There are some hints in medieval writers how liquescents are to be performed, e.g. In Guido of Arezzo and in Bede. But these hints are hard to understand. So there is no generally accepted rule how to sing liquescents. I had the pleasure to sing under Göschl who has written his PhD thesis about liquescent neumes under the direction of Cardine himself. He did not treat liquescents any different from ordinary neumes. The only thing which is clear is that liquescents always appear in closed syllables, i.e. syllables ending with a consonant. Indeed the ancient grammarians tell us that intervocalic i is doubled. So al-le-lu-ia is actually pronounced al-le-lui-ia (or in English transliteration al-le-luy-yah) and therefore the third syllable can regularly have a liquescent.