The Solesmes method, Pothier, and Cardine: What's the difference?
  • I've read some now about supposed new semiological insights by Cardine on singing the chants, which are a development from the "accentualist" system of Pothier? I don't know much about Cardine, but i'm curious to know more. Is the Solesmes method still "better" or do Cardine's new insights have some weight? Are these two totally different schools about how to sing the chant? Someone please help me to know more about this.
  • A very complicated topic.

    A solid defense of classical Solesmes' approach to rhythm is here.
  • While I can't speak to the musicological or semiological aspects of this question, the classic Solesmes method seems very practical and the most of the scholas I know try to use it. Without reaching the finesse called for, we strive make a creditable (i.e, musical and prayerful) presentation of the Mass chants, always trying to improve.

    There was 1991 article by Peter Jeffery about the 'new Solesmes' method described in the Liber Hymnarius, available at:

    The concluding summary:
    "Thus the new Liber Hymnarius and Psalterium Monasticum, despite their innovative attempts to represent the medieval notation more faithfully, are nevertheless the beginning of what is still intended to be a performing edition rather than a truly critical edition. However, this performing edition is of considerable interest to musicologists for a number of reasons" [snip--the author gives 3 reasons]

    "Whether used for performances in church, concert hall, or classroom,
    this performing edition requires much more than most from the performers who use it. One could perhaps have learned the old Solesmes method merely by reading the preface to the Liber Usualis and listening to Solesmes' classic recordings-at any rate some people tried. But any serious attempt to perform from the new notation will require lengthy study of Cardine's writings, and probably at least some familiarity with the medieval manuscripts themselves. An edition that promotes greater interest in the primary sources should surely be welcomed."
  • If anyone has thoughts on comparative recordings, that would be interesting too.
  • Some time ago, I bought a CD called Chant Wars that was supposed to pit old Roman against Gregorian against I don't recall. I wanted to sit and listen etc. but somehow never did it. (Now I wonder where that CD is!)

    I think it was about 18 months ago that I sent out a pdf of a book on the rhythm controversy, something scanned by J Ostrowski. If anyone has that information, it would be good to post.
  • Permit me to recommend the following books for further reading:

    Beginning Studies in Gregorian Chant, by Cardine, trans. and ed. by William Tortolano

    Gregorian Semiology, by Cardine, trans. by Robert Fowells

    An Introduction to the Interpretation of Gregorian Chant,(Vol 1: Foundations), by Luigi Agustoni and Johannes Berchmans Goschl. Trans. by Columba Kelly, OSB.

    Gregorian Chant Intonations and the Role of Rhetoric, by Columba Kelly, OSB.

    These are all important works, and I have only begun to scratch the surface of their content. (I've a New Year's resolution to not only loose weight, but also truly study these works). Everything listed here is available through the Scholar Shop at St. Meinrad School of Theology.
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  • I have a hard time understanding why this has to be either-or. Cardine's work helps us understand the markings from old manuscripts, which give insight into how scholas might have been conducted (the markings indicate hand movements on the part of the leader), and he found that these markings indicated stresses, elongations, accelerations, and other rhythmic or tempo-related changes that helped the chant reflect the meaning of the text. Does this mean anyone who sings without awareness of these things is wrong? No...and I would think that it would be very difficult to try to make a parish schola chant according to the ancient markings, as you have to agree on each of them and remember to do them, let alone have all singers learn to read them. But is Cardine a somewhat evil force seeking to destroy chant in the Church? Also no. It may be a habit of our times that has us in an A versus B mode on this. The key message from Cardine is, to me anyway, that the text is supreme, and those chanting need to chant in a way that conveys the text, through phrasing and proper syllabic stress, even if the notes are rendered at fairly even lengths.
  • A beautiful recording that demonstrates use of the St Gall and/or Laon markings taught by Cardine is this one:

    The Alleluia from the Easter Sunday Mass is particularly gorgeous and movingly chanted.
  • marek
    Posts: 17
    Here are two samples of "semiological" approach to graduale "Christus factus est":
    1. Schola gregoriana pragensis (director David Eben - CD Adoratio crucis)
    2. Nova Schola Gregoriana (director Alberto Turco - CD In passione et morte DNJC)
    Jeffrey Tucker once pointed me to samples on FSSP site (if you click on link under CD “In coena Domini”, this same graduale will start to play sung by Schola of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary). According to Jeffrey’s words this is example of Mocquereau’s rhythm system (or Old Solesmes method, as he calls it) approach.
    I personally can’t find connection between the Singing of Schola of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary and Mocquereau’s Method.
    I don’t think that it is hard to sing after Cardine. If you lead Schola, it is commendable to study his “Gregorian Semiology”, but if you only want to join such a schola, or just sing, you only need to understand few signs and that’s it.
    In any case it is best to “meet the chant” personally – to sing together with someone with experience.
  • The Schola of St. Meinrad (under Kelly's direction) has 2 recordings, both available from Abbey Press.

    They're worth listening to, if you want to get an idea of the work Columba Kelly is doing with respect to Cardine and a semiological approach to singing chant.

    With respect to the issue of interpretation, I stumbled on an interesting parallel in "Old French" organ music. . . the style of interpretting ornamentation currently being promoted by those in the performance practice push is deeply related to the vocal style of the opera of the time. Just as the "vocal" lines in some of the organ pieces must be rendered with an ear to the singing style of the time, so, I think anyway, careful attention should be given to the interpretation of chant as it connects to the spoken language. I guess that's why I'm pretty convinced that the semiological approach is the way to go.

    In the final analysis, I'd rather hear Gregorian chant sung at all, regardless of the chosen style of interpretation by the conductor/trainer of the schola. I would hope that anyone interested in pursuing the teaching of Gregorian chant to their choir would just get on with it, and not get too distracted by these subtleties. In other words, don't let the skirmishes of scholarship scare you away from exploring the great treasury!
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    I think part of the problem with this whole "controversy" is that it sounds like it's bigger than it really is.

    The "semiological approach" (not the best term) does not result in radically different chant. It is not "revolutionary." You don't have to throw out everything you know in order to embrace its suggestions. It is chiefly a refinement of some of the melodies, based on two important chant manuscripts.

    The semiological approach does sounds radical and significant if you compare it to the worst practitioners of the "classic Solesmes" approach, i.e. those who sing with a kind of featureless, plodding quality. The Monty Python version of Gregorian chant. The parody that imagines a moldy medieval self-flagellating chant.

    Chant was never meant to be like that. Read Gajard's book and Mocquereau's writings. They are quite subtle about rhythm and text, and they insist on a serene vitality.

    Moreover, it will be very easy to parody or caricature "semiological" chant as unpredictable, garish, and overly Romantic. And that, too, will have nothing to do with actual "Cardine-style" chant.

    So I agree with Scott K. This is not an either-or, and it is a disservice to both approaches to suggest that there is more difference here than actually exists.

    I will give the semiologists credit: they have reinvigorated chant and made it exciting. As their predecessors did before them.
  • Marek,
    I don't know how you don't see the connection between the OLOG Seminary's way of chanting and Mocquereau’s (the Solesmes) method. Their chanting is definitely what i have heard as an example of the Solesmes method.
    From what's been posted here, it seems like it's not so big a deal, the differences between the Solesmes method and Cardine. I would probably say that at Mater Ecclesiae, Nick sings the chants in a way that blends a little of Cardine's way with the Solesmes method. His approach is more to go for the expressive of the chants rather than strictly by a certain method.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    The various Solesmes methods may put more emphasis on rythmic flow, on the one hand, or lyric expression, on the other. I'm a complete novice with no right to any opinion of my own but it seems important to, in either case, keep the chant founded upon and proceding from eucharistic adoration.
  • Today you will find people who think that the old Solesmes approach means bad chant or slow chant or something like that, and then we they hear the real thing, they say: wait, this is pretty good! Many people have been fed bad information simply because it's been about 50 years since there's been any proponents of the old school to explain and defend themselves. So this is why I'm really happy that we have Mocq and Gajard in print.
  • btw, I'm not drawn to the recordings because the rhythm sounds random. It destabilizes me but I grant that this is more due to my expectations than anything.
  • My problem with all these schools of Solesmes (Pothier, Mocquereau and sometimes even Cardine) is the ideas about the accentuation of the Latin language. The idea of ​​an ethereal arsic tonic accent (light and fast, melodically high) in Latin, with lengthening and "thesis" always at the end of the word seems to me to be a French linguistic prejudice. In portuguese, spanish and italian the tonic accent is lenghtened and strong and stressed, it is french language that puts the stress and lenght always in the final sylable of word, not the latin language. With the semiological aproach sometimes this "french prejudice" is corrected by reading the signs in old manuscripts that indicates elongation, but not always. In the Pothier method this idea about accent is transfered to the accents of melody and in Mocquereau many times at the ictus. "Dóminus" is morphed into "dominús". "Áve María grátia pléna" into "avé mariá gratiá plená". Sometimes the melody helps and transformations like this doesn't happen because of the tones or lenght of melismas, but the "french" method of accentuation doesn't need to be the rule of the chant interpretation.
  • The idea of a "French linguistic prejudice" has turned out to be a current topic!
    To say that Mocquereau didn’t understand the Latin accent because he was a native French speaker obviously not a scholarly refutation. To begin with, it seems to me that the French language has a rather strong weighted accent! (Charles Weaver)
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,690
    "…the nuance of the neumatic disaggregation, which I will write about some other time" would look great on a T shirt.
  • "To say that Mocquereau didn’t understand the Latin accent because he was a native French speaker obviously not a scholarly refutation. To begin with, it seems to me that the French language has a rather strong weighted accent! (Charles Weaver)"

    In a site of language school:
    "in French you don’t stress individual words to emphasize them. Rather, word stress follows a particular pattern, or rhythm, with the last syllable of words at the end of rhythmic groups (or regular phrases) being stressed."

    This sounds very similar to the aproach of "mora vocis" at the ends of phrases. If french has a strong weighted accent, it's one that is in the last syllable of incises or phrases and so it's similar to the weight (made of extented duration) of the mora vocis of the various solesmes methods.

    in another site the analogy is even more closer:

    "The French tonic accent is placed at the end of a group of words. In fact, the French tonic accent is a group accent, not a word accent. In French, there is no variation in the place of the stress nor in their numbers.

    But how to determine a group of words in French?
    When you speak, you are delivering a message. A message is made up of groups of breath which constitute a complete unity of meaning: a sentence. A breath group can contain several rhythm groups. The voice rises at the end of each rhythm group: this is the intonation. These rhythmic groups constitute partial units of meaning.

    The tonic emphasis is always placed on the last syllable of the rhythm group. This accentuation results in an elongation of the syllable."

    The french accent is this: elongation of the last syllable of the last word inside a rhythm group. This is exactly how mora vocis is interpreted in the various schools of solesmes. The only exceptions to this is the elongations of episemas in Mocquereu method and the notes that Cardine names "fountain-notes" or the notes he names "pivot-notes" in his book about gregorian chant.

    But as a portuguese native speaker and no a french speaker, I elongate the tonic of the latin as I elongate the tonic of portuguese, so I would do for example in the dialogue: "Dóooo-mi-nuus | vo-o-biiiiii-iscuuum. | Et cum Spíiiiii-ri-to tuuuu-o-ooo" (the "dó", of dóminus becomes a fountain-note and "bís" of vobíscum - and "pí" of spiritu and "tu" of tuo - becomes a pivot-note); instead of "dominus vo-obi-is-cuuuuuum. Et cum spirito tu-o-oooooooo" or "dominuuuuus vo-o-bi-is-cuuuum. Et cum spirituuuuu tuo-oooooo". In melismatic chants I would do a long tonic at least two times longer (maybe three ou four times longer) than the next note if the next note is one of many in an unstressed syllable, treating all isolated note of tonic syllables as fountain or pivot that prepares the melismatic development of the unstressed syllable.