Chapter 3. Roman Liturgy and Chant

Chapter Outline



Gregorian chant is one of the great treasures of Western civilization. Like Romanesque architecture, it stands as a memorial to religious faith in the Middle Ages, embodying the community spirit and artistic sensibility of the time. This body of chant includes some of the oldest and most beautiful melodies, and it served as the basis for much later music. 

As beautiful as the chants are, they cannot be separated from their ceremonial context. We saw in chapter 2 how Gregorian chant was codified and notated after centuries of development as an oral tradition and how it played a unifying role in the western church. In this chapter, we will relate chant to liturgy and see how each chant is shaped by its role, text, and manner of performance. We will also see how new chants and types of chant were added to the authorized liturgical chant during a wave of creativity around the margins of the repertory. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. The Roman Liturgy
    1. Purpose
      1. Educate new converts
      2. Reinforce lessons
      3. The church’s teachings were the path to salvation.
      4. Music carried the words.
    2. Church calendar
      1. Stories from Christ’s life cycle through the year.
      2. Feast days celebrate important events.
        1. Christmas (December 25) marks Christ’s birth.
        2. Easter, the Sunday after the first full moon of spring, celebrates Christ’s resurrection.
        3. Commemoration of saints (exemplary Christians considered models of faith)
      3. Preparatory seasons
        1. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.
        2. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, forty-six days before Easter.
  2. Mass
    1. The Mass is the most important service in the Roman church (see HWM Figure 3.2).
      1. The central ritual is a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples (see HWM Figure 3.1).
      2. Other ritual actions include Bible readings, prayers, and psalm-singing.
      3. In monasteries, convents, and major churches, Mass is performed daily.
      4. In all churches, Mass occurs on Sunday.
    2. In the first millennium, congregants were supposed to feel awe in Mass.
      1. Church buildings were often the tallest buildings in a town.
      2. Artwork such as sculptures, tapestries, and paintings depicted Christian teachings.
      3. Priests dressed in colorful clothing.
      4. Bibles, crosses, and ritual chalices were decorated with gold and jewels.
    3. Texts of the Mass (see HWM Figure 3.2)
      1. Proper
        1. Parts of the Mass whose words vary depending on the day in the church calendar are called “proper.”
        2. The musical parts are known by their function: Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, Communion.
      2. Ordinary
        1. Parts of the Mass with invariable words (but many possible melodies) are called “ordinary.”
        2. The musical parts are known by their first words: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.
        3. Most musical settings of the Mass after the fourteenth century set only the Ordinary texts.
    4. Parts of the Mass (see HWM Figure 3.2 and NAWM 3)
      1. Introductory section
        1. Introit: an entrance with music
        2. Kyrie, a threefold musical invocation of the Greek words Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy), derived from Byzantine practices.
        3. Gloria (Greater Doxology) is a formula of praise to God and plea for mercy.
      2. Liturgy of the Word
        1. Bible readings and church teachings
        2. Florid chants, based on psalm texts, follow the readings.
        3. The Gradual
          • From gradus, stair-step, where it was sung
          • Replaced by another Alleluia on some days during the Easter season
        4. Alleluia
          • From the Hebrew word Halleluja (“praise God”)
          • Replaced by the tract, a more somber chant, during Lent
        5. Sequence sung by the choir after the Alleluia on major feast days
        6. An optional sermon closes the Liturgy of the Word on most days.
        7. On Sundays and feast days, the Credo, a statement of beliefs, comes after the sermon.
      3. Liturgy of the Eucharist (Reenactment of the Last Supper)
        1. The Offertory
          • Sung by the choir as the priest prepares bread and wine for communion
          • A florid chant on a psalm text
          • Followed by spoken prayers and the Secret, a prayer read in silence by the priest
        2. The Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy)
          • Preceded by the Preface, a dialogue between the priest and choir
          • The text begins with the angelic chorus of praise from Isaiah 6:3.
          • The priest then speaks the Canon, which includes the consecration of the bread and wine.
          • The priest sings the Lord’s Prayer.
        3. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)
          • Sung by the choir
          • Adapted from a litany
          • The priest takes communion on behalf of all assembled (instead of sharing it, as was the custom earlier and again today).
        4. The Communion
          • Sung by the choir after the priest takes communion
          • The text is based on a psalm.
          • The priest intones the Postcommunion prayer.
        5. Ite, missa est (dismissal)
          • The priest chants the dismissal.
          • The choir responds.
          • The name for the service comes from missa (“Mass” in English).
        6. St. Basil (ca. 330-378) commented on the power of music to help listeners receive the message of the text (see HWM Figure 3.2).
  3. The Office
    1. A series of eight services celebrated daily (see HWM Figure 3.3)
    2. Members of monasteries and convents observe both the Office and the Mass.
    3. The Rule of St. Benedict (ca. 530) codified practices for monastic life.
    4. The musical elements of the Office
      1. Several psalms
        1. A chant (antiphon) would be sung before and after the psalm.
        2. Over the course of a normal week, all 150 psalms would be sung at least once.
      2. Bible readings with musical responses called responsories
      3. Hymns
      4. Canticles (poems from the Bible, but not part of the Book of Psalms)
    5. Egeria (HWM Source Reading, page 27) described Matins.
  4. Liturgical Books
    1. Books were copied by hand in the Middle Ages.
    2. Books for the Mass
      1. Texts are in the Missal
      2. Chants are in the Gradual
    3. Books for the Office
      1. Texts are in the Breviary
      2. Chants are in the Antiphoner
    4. Modern books
      1. In the nineteenth century, the monks of Solesmes edited the official chant books, including the Gradual and Antiphoner.
      2. The Liber Usualis (Book of Common Use)
        1. The most frequently used chants were collected into the Liber Usualis by Solesmes monks.
        2. The chants of NAWM 3 and 4 come from the Liber Usualis.
  5. Characteristics of Chant
    1. Manner of performance
      1. Responsorial: soloist alternates with the choir or congregation
      2. Antiphonal: two halves of the choir alternate singing
      3. Direct: no alternation
      4. Some chant genres descend from these practices though their structure has changed.
        1. Introit and Communion were originally antiphonal psalms.
        2. The Gradual and Alleluia were originally responsorial.
        3. By the late Middle Ages, all four were performed responsorially.
    2. Text-setting
      1. Syllabic: chants in which almost every syllable has one note
      2. Neumatic (from neume): chants in which each syllable has from one to six notes
      3. Melismatic: chants that include melismas (long melodic passages on a single syllable)
      4. Some chants have different text-setting styles within the same chant.
    3. Recitation formulas
      1. Formulas that can be used with many different texts
      2. Even fully composed melodies sometimes reflect an underlying formula.or servants.
    4. Melody and declamation
      1. In large medieval churches, sung words were heard more easily than spoken words.
      2. Chants were not composed to depict emotions or images.
      3. Accentuation of Latin sometimes influenced composition.
        1. Often a melodic phrase had an arch shape that reflected Latin speech.
        2. High notes sometimes brought out accented syllables.
        3. A change of text-setting style sometimes highlighted important words (e.g., a change from syllabic to melismatic or vice-versa).
  6. Genres and Forms of Chant
    1. Recitation formulas: simple formulas for declaiming prayers and Bible passages
      1. The priest or an assistant sings the formulas, sometimes with a response from the choir or congregation.
      2. The formulas are simple.
        1. Most words are chanted on a single pitch (usually A or C).
        2. Motives mark the ends of phrases and sentences.
      3. The formulas pre-date modal theory and are not assigned to any mode.
    2. Psalm tones (see HWM Example 3.1 and NAWM 4a)
      1. Slightly more complex than recitation formulas
      2. Used for singing psalms in the Office
      3. One for each of the eight church modes plus one extra formula (Tonus peregrinus, which has two reciting tones)
      4. The structure can be adapted to any of the psalms.
        1. Psalms have two-part verses
        2. Intonation: a rising motive for the beginning of the first verse of the psalm
        3. Tenor: reciting pitch, used for the majority of the syllables
        4. Mediant: cadence formula for the mid-point of a psalm verse
        5. Termination: final cadence formula for the end of each psalm verse (variable)
        6. Lesser Doxology (Gloria Patri)
          • Text praising the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
          • Added to the end of the psalm and sung with the same formula
          • Added to the end of the psalm and sung with the same formula
          • This text adds a Christian context for the psalm, which is from Hebrew Scriptures.
        7. The termination formula
          • Used for the final phrase of each verse
          • This is indicated in chant books, in HWM Example 3.2, and in NAWM with the letters EUOUAE, the vowels of the end of the Lesser Doxology (“et in secular saeculorum, amen”).
        8. Canticles are sung to slightly more elaborate versions of the psalm tones.
    3. Office antiphons
      1. Added to psalms to reflect the church calendar
      2. Texts
        1. Biblical
        2. Original
        3. Refer to the event or person being commemorated that day
      3. Relationship to psalm (see HWM Example 3.2 or NAWM 4a)
        1. The mode of the antiphon determined which psalm tone would be used for the psalm.
        2. The opening motive of the antiphon determined which of the several possible terminations would be used (designated by the letters EUOUAE).
      4. Performance
        1. The cantor (the leader of the choir) sings the opening words of the antiphon (to the asterisk in modern chant books).
        2. The choir sings the rest of the antiphon.
        3. The two half-choirs alternate singing the psalm verses or half-verses.
        4. The whole choir sings the reprise of the antiphon.
      5. Style
        1. Mostly syllabic
        2. Melodies are simple yet fully composed and independent
        3. The structure and accentuation of the text are clearly delineated.
        4. The alternation of antiphon and psalm contrasts the final (prominent in the antiphon) with the tenor (prominent in the psalm).
    4. Office hymns (see HWM Example 3.3 or NAWM 4b)
      1. The choir sings a hymn in every Office.
      2. Strophic text-setting: all stanzas sung to the same music
      3. Melodies
        1. Move by seconds and thirds
        2. Arch-shaped contour, with a peak toward the middle
  7. Antiphonal Psalmody
    1. In the Mass
      1. In the early Mass, psalms with antiphons accompanied actions-e.g., the entrance (introit) and communion.
      2. From the later Middle Ages to today, the Introit and Communion are performed responsorially instead.
        1. The cantor begins the antiphon
        2. The choir completes the antiphon.
        3. Soloist(s) and choir alternate the psalm verse and Lesser Doxology.
        4. The choir sings the reprise of the antiphon.
      3. Mass antiphons are more elaborate than Office antiphons (see NAWM 3j).
    2. Responsorial psalmody in Office and Mass
      1. Responsorial psalmody of the Office and Mass derive from early Christian practice.
        1. A soloist sang each psalm verse.
        2. The choir or congregation sang the response.
      2. Because a soloist sang the verses, these chants are more melismatic and elaborate.
      3. Office responsories
        1. Common elements include a respond, a verse, and full or partial repetition of the respond.
        2. Matins includes nine Bible readings, each followed by a Great Responsory in neumatic to melismatic style.
        3. Other Office services pair Bible readings with a Short Responsory in neumatic style.
    3. Graduals (e.g., HWM Example 2.2 and NAWM 3d, Viderunt omnes)
      1. More melismatic than responsories
      2. Very long melismas
      3. The cantor begins the respond, which is completed by the choir.
      4. One or more soloists sing the verse.
      5. The choir joins on the last phrase.
      6. The respond is not repeated.
    4. Alleluia (see HWM Example 3.5 or NAWM 3e)
      1. The word “alleluia” is the respond.
      2. Between the two repetitions of the “alleluia” is a psalm verse.
      3. long melisma, called a jubilus, extends the end of the final syllable of the last “alleluia.”
      4. Sometimes the end of the verse repeats all or part of the respond melody.
      5. Performance
        1. Soloist sings the first part of the respond (to the asterisk).
        2. The choir repeats the respond (as indicated by ij).
        3. The choir sings the jubilus.
        4. The soloist sings the verse.
        5. The choir joins the soloist at the end of the verse (indicated by an asterisk).
        6. The soloist sings the first part of the respond.
        7. The choir joins in at the jubilus.
      6. Despite its elaborate construction, the Alleluia is similar in style to other chants.
        1. Motion primarily by steps and thirds
        2. Gently arching contours
        3. Prominent pitches reinforce the sense of mode, in this case Mode 2.
    5. Offertories (see NAWM 3g)
      1. Today, offertories have been shortened to include only the respond.
      2. In the Middle Ages, they were performed during the offering of bread and wine.
        1. Choral respond
        2. Two or three psalm verses set to ornate music and sung by a soloist
        3. Reiteration of the second half of the respond after each psalm verse
    6. Tract (see HWM Example 2.1)
      1. Several psalm verses with no responses (direct solo psalmody)
      2. Each verse combines recitation with florid melismas.
      3. Many melodic passages are common to different Tracts, indicating a tradition of oral composition based on formulas.
  8. Chants of the Mass Ordinary
    1. Development
      1. Originally sung by the congregation to simple syllabic melodies
      2. The choir took over the singing of these chants after the congregation’s participation was reduced.
      3. Starting in the ninth century, church musicians composed elaborate melodies for the church’s trained singers to sing.
    2. Credo (NAWM 3f)
      1. Always set in syllabic style because of its long text
      2. Because it is a statement of faith, it was the last of the Ordinary chants to be assigned to the choir instead of the congregation.
      3. The priest begins the Credo and the choir completes it.
    3. Gloria (NAWM 3c)
      1. Most settings are neumatic.
      2. The priest begins the Gloria and the choir completes it.
    4. Sanctus (NAWM 3h)
      1. Repetitions in the text are often reflected in the music.
      2. The text begins with the word sanctus (“holy”), repeated three times.
      3. The second and third sections of the text end with “Hosanna in excelsis” (“Hosanna in the highest”).
        1. When the music for the second and third sections are similar, the chant’s form is ABB’.
        2. When only the music for the Hosanna is repeated, the chant’s form is A BC DC.
      4. The text setting is usually neumatic.
    5. Agnus Dei (NAWM 3i)
      1. Like the Sanctus, the text setting is usually neumatic, and repetitions of text often inspire music composed to reflect repetitions.
      2. The text of the Agnus Dei sets a prayer three times, with the final repetition a slight variant.
      3. Possible settings of music: AAA, ABA, AB CB DB
    6. Kyrie (NAWM 3b)
      1. With few words and symmetrical construction, the text lends itself to many forms.
        1. Three statements each of “Kyrie eleison,” “Christe eleison,” and “Kyrie eleison.”
        2. AAA BBB CCC’ (as in NAWM3b)
        3. AAA BBB AAA’
        4. ABA CBC EFE’
      2. Usually performed antiphonally, between two half-choirs that alternate statements.
      3. The final “Kyrie” is often extended by adding a phrase and sung by both half-choirs together.
  9. Additions to the Authorized Chants
    1. Musicians continued to add to the repertoire even after standardization in the eighth and ninth centuries.
      1. When new feast days were added to the calendar, musicians created new chants or adapted old ones.
      2. New genres: tropes, sequences, and liturgical dramas
    2. Trope
      1. Expansion on an existing chant in order to increase its solemnity
      2. Adding new words and music before the chant and often between phrases
        1. The most common type of trope
        2. Added to Introits and Glorias
        3. The new words often explained or expanded on the original text (e.g., NAWM 3a and NAWM 5).
      3. Adding melody by extending a melisma or creating new ones
      4. Adding text (called prosula or “prose”) to existing melismas
      5. Style was usually neumatic, sometimes borrowing motives from the original chant.
      6. Soloists usually sang the tropes.
      7. Trope composition flourished in the tenth and eleventh centuries, declined during the twelfth, and was banned in the sixteenth century by the Council of Trent (see HWM Chapter 10).
    3. Sequence (NAWM 6, Victimae pascali laudes)
      1. Development began in the ninth century.
      2. The name derives from an earlier practice called sequentia, meaning something that follows.
      3. Connection to the Alleluia
        1. Melodies may have originated as melismas that replaced the jubilus of the Alleluia, and some sequences draw melodic material from the Alleluia.
        2. One form of sequence was an extended melisma on “Alleluia.”
        3. Scholars used to believe that the sequence originated as texts added to Alleluia melodies, but now they believe only previous sequence melodies received new texts.
      4. Notker Balbulus (“The Stammerer,” ca. 840-914) is the most famous early writer of sequence texts (see HWM Source Reading, page 67).
      5. Form
        1. Series of paired verses, except for the first and last, which are single
        2. Each new pair has a new syllable count and musical stanza.
        3. There is no standard number of stanzas.
        4. The resulting form is A BB CC . . . N
        5. By the twelfth century, many sequences (such as those by Adam of St. Victor, d. 1146) lacked the unpaired first and last phrases and stanza lengths were more even.
      6. The mode is usually clear, with most phrases ending on the final.
      7. The Council of Trent banned all but four sequences. Those not banned include Victimae pascale laudes (for Easter) and Dies irae (for the Requiem, or Mass for the Dead).
    4. Liturgical drama
      1. Although not part of the liturgy, plays that were linked to the liturgy are called liturgical dramas.
      2. Tropes in dialogue form introduced important feast days.
        1. Quem queritis in sepulchro (“Whom do you seek in the tomb”), which precedes the Easter Introit, portrays an angel and the three Marys who went to Jesus’ tomb.
        2. Quem queritis in presepe (“Whom do you seek in the manger”) (NAWM 6) precedes the Christmas Introit and is in the same mode.
        3. Liturgical dramas preceding Introits may have been performed outside the church (see commentary to NAWM 6).
      3. Other plays depict Biblical events, such as The Slaughter of the Innocents.
      4. All parts were usually sung by male clergy, even the women’s roles.
  10. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
    1. Women were excluded from religious music-making everywhere but in convents.
    2. Convent life
      1. As in monasteries, convent life revolved around the eight daily Office services and Mass.
      2. Women could perform all duties of their convent except officiating at Mass.
      3. Unlike women in other spheres of society, nuns had access to intellectual pursuits, including reading Latin and composing music.
    3. Hildegard’s accomplishments (see HWM Figure 3.6 and biography, page 69)
      1. She was prioress and abbess of her own convent (near Bingen).
      2. She had visions and became famous for her prophecies.
      3. She preached throughout Germany.
      4. She wrote prose works on science and healing.
      5. Scivias (“Know the Ways,” 1141-51), is a book about her visions.
    4. Hildegard’s music
      1. By the 1140s, she had begun to set her poems to music.
      2. Two manuscripts, organized in a liturgical cycle, preserve her songs.
      3. The style varies from syllabic hymns and sequences to highly melismatic responsories.
      4. Her style includes wide ranges, exceeding an octave by a fourth or fifth.
      5. A few distinctive melodic figures appear in many of her works.
        1. A rising fifth followed by a stepwise descent
        2. Circling around a cadential note
        3. Successive leaps spanning an octave or more
      6. Some words or syllables received special treatment to bring out the meaning (e.g., NAWM 6, “oculus tuus” and “ad Patrem”).
      7. She claimed that her songs were divinely inspired, a claim that buttressed her credibility in a time when nuns were restricted to activities within their convent.
      8. Her writings were published in the nineteenth century.
      9. Her music was rediscovered in the late twentieth century.
      10. She is now the best-known and most recorded composer of sacred monophony.
    5. Ordo virtutum (The Virtues, ca. 1151)
      1. Hildegard’s most extended musical work
      2. A sacred music drama comprising eighty-two songs
      3. The text is a morality play, with allegorical and human characters.
        1. Three souls: Happy, Unhappy and Penitent
        2. Prophets
        3. Virtues
        4. The Devil (the only spoken part)
      4. The final chorus of the Virtues (NAWM 7)
        1. Functions as an epilogue
        2. Incorporates Hildegard’s characteristic melodic motives, such as a rising fifth from e-b’
        3. The play ends with a prose speech by Christ followed by a short prayer.
  11. The continuing presence of chant
    1. From the ninth through the thirteenth centuries, polyphonic music was based on chant.
    2. Chant was reformed twice: once in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and again in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
    3. Until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) chant continued to be the basis of Catholic worship.
    4. After the Second Vatican Council, chant was performed only in monasteries and concert halls.
    5. The Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain released a CD called “Chant,” which was a best-selling CD in Europe and the United States in 1994.

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