Saturday, November 10, 2007

Before 850 – Gregorian Chant

313 Edict of Milan legalized Christianity
c. 340-97 St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan
590-604 Pope Gregory the Great
751-768 Pepin the Short, Frankish King
768-814 Charlemagne, Frankish King
c. 850 Tropes and Sequences

The repertoire of Catholic chant represents the oldest large body of music available for modern examination. The earliest extant chant books date from c. 900.


Early chant is thought to have developed from eastern, mainly Jewish, sources. Each part of the Catholic world developed its own body of chant melodies, including 
(1) Ambrosian found only in Milan, 
(2) Old Roman, rediscovered in the nineteenth century, 
(3) Mozarabic (Visigothic), Spanish, 
(4) Gallic (Frankish), 
(5) Sarum, English and possibly from a relatively late date, and 
(6) Byzantine, used in the eastern church. 

Modern opinion holds that the Frankish kings Pepin and Charlemagne established in the 8th century the official Roman practice called Gregorian Chant which gradually supplanted the earlier styles.

Chant Styles

Any Gregorian chant melody can be classified as one of these four styles:

Psalm tone (P). Used for quick recitation, it consists of a single long tone (reciting note) with varied melodic formulas at the beginning (intonation), middle (mediant cadence) and end (final cadence) of each verse. An unusual formula using one reciting note for the first half of the verse and another for the second is called tonus peregrinus.

Syllabic (S). This style uses one note of music to each syllable of text.

Neumatic (N). Frequent groups of two to four notes per syllable appear.

Melismatic (M). A chant in this style includes one or more melismas, groups of many notes to a single syllable.



Letters (P) refer to the chant styles above.

Sung (concentus)
Recited (accentus)
Proper (changing) Ordinary (fixed) Proper Ordinary
1. Prayer (P)
2. Introit (N-P-N) 3. Kyrie (N)
4. Gloria (S,N) 5. Collect (P)
6. Epistle (P)
7. Gradual (M)
8. Alleluia (M) or Tract (M) (Sequence) 9. Gospel (P)
10. Sermon
11. Credo (S)
12. Offeratory (N) 13. Secret Prayer
14. Preface (P)
15. Sanctus (M,N) 16. Canon (P)
17. Pater Noster (P)
18. Agnus Dei (N)
19. Communion (N) 20. Prayer (P)
21. Ite missa est (N) 22. Blessing (P)

While modern attention is focused on the Ordinary that is sung, Gregorian repertoire focused its attention on the sung Proper.


Offices, or canonical hours, music in the Antiphonale, were non-communion services observed mainly in monasteries: 
(1) Matins, before dawn, included the Te Deum, 
(2) Lauds, dawn, included the Canticle of Zachary, 
(3) Prime, 6 a.m., 
(4) Terce, 9 a.m., 
(5) Sext, noon, 
(6) None, 3 p.m., 
(7) Vespers, sunset, included the Magnificat and admitted non-chant music, 
(8) Compline, after Vespers, included the four Marian Antiphons: Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina caelorum, Regina caeli laetare, and Salve Regina.


Throughout the middle ages Boethius (c. 480-524) was considered the authority on Greek music. His book De Institutione Musica (c. 500) applied letters of the Latin alphabet to pitches, after the Greeks.

Church modes

The church (or ecclesiastical) modal system developed gradually throughout the middle ages. An early treatise was Musica disciplina by Aurelianus Reomensis (mid 9th c.). The system consists of four finals, each in two forms:

Church ModeGreek NameFinalDominantRange
1Dorian re (D)la (A)D-D
2Hypodorianre (D)fa (F)A-A
3Phrygianmi (E)do (C)E-E
4Hypophrygianmi (E)la (A)B-B
5Lydianfa (F)do (C)F-F
6Hypolydianfa (F)la (A)C-C
7Mixolydiansol (G)re (D)G-G
8Hypomixolydiansol (G)do (C)D-D

Liber Usualis

The Liber Usualis, the most important modern chant book, uses numbers for the modes; Greek names are secular usage. Chant is written in square notation whose rhythmic interpretation, the rhythmic tradition of chant performance, was lost in the thirteenth century.  Modern practice interprets this notation with a constant eighth note rhythm.

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