The story of Gregorian
chant extends from 754 to the present time. The adjacent pages on Beneventan,
Milanese, Gallican and Mozarabic chants grow out of the page on Early
Western chant. The page on Roman chant (titled Old Roman chant) also
develops out of the Early Western article in the same way and leads
into this article.
The belief originating
in the ninth century that St. Gregory the Great (pope, 590-604) was
directly responsible for chant composition was questioned in 1890
and is no longer seriously considered. The current understanding of
the origin of Roman chant will be found on the page just cited.
The seminal event
that led to the repertory of Gregorian chant was the visit of Pope
Stephen II to Paris in 754. He came to ask for King Pepin's aid against
the Lombards in Italy, but he brought his chapel with him and, from
January to August of that year, took up residence in the royal abbey
of St. Denis, just north of Paris. Pepin III had usurped the Frankish
throne in 751 after asking the previous pope to decide whether a king
should be one who wears a crown or one who exercises power. He got
the expected answer and deposed the last Merovingian king. Pope Stephen
anointed Pepin king during his visit.
The celebration of
the papal liturgy at St. Denis from Epiphany to Pentecost (including
most of the great feasts of the liturgical year) seems to have made
a profound impression on Pepin, who must have been present frequently.
He ordered Roman chant to be sung in the Frankish kingdom. It took
repeated injunctions from Pepin and his successor, Charlemagne, to
accomplish this radical change, and repeated efforts were made to
bring cantors from Rome to teach chant to the Franks. Frankish cantors
were also sent to Rome to learn the chant. Metz became one of the
centers of chant in the Frankish kingdom.
By about 800 Frankish
scribes had copied complete Graduals, manuscripts of the sung texts
of the Mass, from the Roman sources (which have not survived). Two
of these early Frankish Graduals still survive, along with four similar
but slightly later manuscripts. While they contain no music notation,
these texts identify the chants that had been brought from Rome, for
they can be compared with later manuscripts (called Old Roman) that
witness to the Roman repertory.
The Franks made two
major contributions to the body of chant. They fitted the chants into
the ancient Greek system of eight modes (the octoechos), which were
being used in Byzantine chant. Each mode was characterized by a tonic
note and a dominant note, which made their tonality distinctive. In
a few cases, a chant had to be modified to fit into this new pattern.
The Franks also invented notation, using neumes to show the shape
of a remembered melody. But the neumes were useless if the melody
they represented was not already known.
Neumes are found
in scattered theoretical writings in the middle of the ninth century.
By 900 the Franks had added neumes to complete Graduals. The early
systems of neumes varied from one part of the kingdom to another.
The neumes written in different monasteries were quite different,
though they conveyed the same information. In the following century
the neumes in new manuscripts were "heightened," conveying a fairly
clear idea of the melodies. Later a line, or two lines, were drawn
to identify the notes C and F. Finally, in the eleventh century, a
new system of notation on a four-line staff became universal. While
these manuscripts show the melodies (by this time forgotten) clearly,
they have lost the nuances of rhythm that the first neumes had conveyed.
All of these surviving
sources are important. The staff notation of the Middle Ages can be
compared with the neumes of related early manuscripts, and the text
manuscripts of the ninth century can be used to determine the extent
of the repertory, for the Franks continually added new chants to the
original Roman collection.
In addition to composing
chants for new feasts, the Franks also developed new classes of chants.
The Ordinary chants of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus
Dei) were not new, but they had been limited to a very few simple examples,
since they were originally sung by the entire congregation of people.
The Credo was not sung in Rome at all (Rome, the Eternal City, felt
no need to prove its faith!) until, under Frankish influence, it was
added to the Roman Mass in the eleventh century. But the Ordinary chants
were no longer sung by the people, so many new and more elaborate chants
could be composed for the choir.
Hymns were also not
new, but there was only a very small repertory used in special processions
(such as Palm Sunday) and in the daily Office. The Franks composed
a great number of new hymns, including several hymns for each saint's
Sequences were added
to most Masses after the alleluia verse. The former notion that a
sequence was a set of words set to the jubilus (or melisma) of the
alleluia is no longer adequate to explain their origin.
Tropes, or explanatory
phrases, were added to every ordinary and proper part of the Mass.
Some Kyrie tropes were part of the original composition, not added
The Cistercians (or Trappists)
were monks who sought a more austere practice of monastic life than
the Benedictines. They prepared their own manuscripts of chant that
display an effort to preserve their notion of austerity. Their versions
often show alterations that change the mode of a given piece. The Premonstratensians
(or Norbertines) were also founded about the same time. Their chant
books seem to have been modeled on the Cistercian chant. Both of these
orders have preserved their chant unchanged through all the vicissitudes
of later chant history.
It is often stated that
the debased chant that was used in the Latin rite until 1903 originated
with the gradual printed by the Medici Press in 1614-15. This edition
was unlike medieval chant in the removal of all melismas (lengthy jubilations
on one syllable) and the shifting of text to make the word accent coincide
with the musical accent, which destroyed the lightness of the medieval
chant. In fact, this debasement had been going on already during the
15th and 16th centuries, as printed Graduals of the time demonstrate.
The Medicean edition was the result of the reforms of the Council of
Trent, but other, similar Graduals continued to be printed until the
late nineteenth century. The German firm of Pustet obtained a monopoly
on the publication of chant books that was in effect from 1871 to 1901,
but other books were still in use. The lapse of this privilege was the
occasion for Pope Pius X to approve the Solesmes reforms in 1903, his
first act as pope.
About 1640 the French
became disenchanted with their ties to Rome and set out to recover their
Gallican heritage. This was a romantic notion that had no chance of
success, but it resulted in the composition of original Offices, Masses
and chants that are known as Neo-Gallican. Such composers as Henry Du
Mont, Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Michel-Richard De Lalande and André
Campra contributed chant compositions. Well over half of the French
dioceses had their own liturgical rite until public worship was abolished
after the revolution of 1789. The Concordat of 1802 restored freedom
of worship, but it provoked the question of what to restore: the Neo-Gallican
rite or the Roman rite. As early as 1811 it was suggested that the chants
known from medieval manuscripts be used for sung liturgy, rather than
the debased editions that had formed the Roman use since the fifteenth
century. One by one, the French dioceses returned to the Roman rite,
the last (Orléans) in 1875, but by then the reform of Solesmes
was well underway.
One of the leading lights
of the nineteenth-century effort to restore medieval chant was Dom Prosper
Guèranger (1805-1875). He reopened a vacant monastery in his
hometown of Solesmes in 1833. By the 1850s his monks were copying chant
manuscripts all over Europe. By the 1880s they were printing editions
of Mass and Office based on the old sources. For the next twenty years
controversy raged, with influential partisans of both sides engaged
in debate. In 1903 Pope Pius X authorized the monks of Solesmes to prepare
chant editions for the entire church. During the next sixty years, chant
was taught widely throughout the church. In preparing editions simple
enough to be taught successfully to children, the monks brought down
scorn from scholars on their "Solesmes method" developed by Dom André
Moxquereau. But the ictus, episema, dot and incise (marks added to the
chants that were not found in the manuscripts) did, in fact, reflect
the rhythmic nuances of the earliest neumes, and were not merely arbitrary
In the first half
of the twentieth century, rhythm was the predominant question of chant
interpretation. Scholars universally rejected the Solesmes method
of teaching rhythm, but in advocating at least eight different approaches
to rhythm (all based on the same medieval theorists but impossible
to reconcile with each other) they could not agree on an alternative
theory. The impasse was broken with a new understanding of rhythmic
nuances taught by Dom Eugëne Cardine (a monk of Solesmes) in
his classes in Rome. He used the term "semiology" to describe his
interpretation of the signs (neumes) of the earliest manuscripts.
In some ways this was a return to the earliest Solesmes theory described
by Dom Joseph Pothier, which had been superseded by that of Mocquereau.
Richard L. Crocker,
An Introduction to Gregorian Chant (Yale, 2000). A superb introduction
to the broad subject of liturgical Western chant by an important scholar.
It is aimed at an educated reader who may know nothing about music
or the humanities. The broad sweep of his overview is its greatest
strength, along with its presentation of the latest understanding
of the subject.
David Hiley, Western
Plainchant: a Handbook (Oxford, 1993; also paperback). This is
the textbook for the entire subject, enormously detailed in its approach
but also readable in parts as well. Each section of text summarizes
the question and lists relevant articles from the scholarly literature.
James McKinnon, The
Advent Project: the later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass
proper (California, 2000). The latest explanation of how the Roman
chant propers of the Mass were put together is the result of a decade
of research by an outstanding scholar. It is a very convincing analysis
of the events that preceded the transmission of Roman chant to the
Willi Apel, Gregorian
Chant (Indiana, 1958; also paperback). This was the standard textbook
before Hiley. While it contains useful and detailed analyses of types
of chants, much of the content is badly dated and must be read with
an eye to current studies.
Richard Crocker and
David Hiley (eds.), The Early Middle Ages to 1300 (The New
Oxford History of Music, Vol. II, Revised; Oxford, 1990). This
volume, which replaces the first edition of 1954 (titled Early
Medieval Music up to 1300), covers a broad period of early music.
The chapters most relevant to chant were written by Hiley or Crocker.
James McKinnon (ed.),
Antiquity and the Middle Ages: From Ancient Greece to the 15th
Century (Prentice-Hall, 1990). A textbook of broader scope than
chant alone, the chapters on Christian antiquity, the Carolingian
era, and Planchant transfigured (the first two by McKinnon, the other
by Hiley) are a useful, brief and clear treatment of the subject.
McKinnon's book (above) offers the latest insights into research that
he had only begun when this book was published.
Fr. Jerome F. Weber