Gregorian chant is a type of liturgical music performed in unison or in monophony by the Roman Catholic Church to accompany the readings of the mass and the canonical hours, sometimes known as the divine office. The Gregorian chant is named after St. Gregory I, who was Pope from 590 to 604 and during whose reign it was collected and codified. King Charlemagne of the Franks (768–814) brought Gregorian Chant into his country, which had previously been dominated by another liturgical style, the Gallican chant, which was in general usage.
The passages that are repeated from one mass to the next are included in theOrdinary of the Mass.
The first appearance of the Gloria was in the 7th century.
The Gloria chants that follow are neumatic.
- TheSanctus andBenedictus are most likely from the period of the apostles.
- Since its introduction into the Latin mass from the Eastern Church in the 7th century, theAgnus Dei has been written mostly in neumatic form.
- The Proper of the Mass is a collection of texts that are different for each mass in order to highlight the significance of each feast or season celebrated that day.
- During the 9th century, it had taken on its current form: a neumatic refrain followed by a psalm verse in psalm-tone style, followed by the refrain repeated.
- As time progressed, it evolved into the following pattern: opening melody (chorus)—psalm verse or verses in a virtuously enriched psalmodic structure (soloist)—opening melody (chorus), which was repeated in whole or in part.
- Its structure is similar to that of the Gradual in several ways.
- Synagogue music has a strong connection to this cry.
- Sacred poems, in their current form, the texts are written in double-line stanzas, with the same accentuation and amount of syllables on both lines for each two lines.
- By the 12th century, just the refrain had survived from the original psalm and refrain.
- The Offertory is distinguished by the repeating of text.
- The song has a neumatic feel to it.
Responses are short texts that precede or follow each psalm and are mostly set in syllabic chant; psalms, with each set to a psalm tone; hymns, which are usually metrical and in strophes or stanzas and set in a neumatic style; and antiphons or refrains, which are short texts that precede or follow each psalm and are mostly set in syllabic The Gradual’s form and style are influenced by the sponsor’s contribution.
Amy Tikkanen has made the most current revisions and updates to this page.
What is Gregorian Chant – GIA Publications
|Before reviewing the main Gregorian chant books and resources, perhaps it is good to state what Gregorian chant is.Gregorian chant is the church’s own music, born in the church’s liturgy. Its texts are almost entirely scriptural, coming for the most part from the Psalter. For centuries it was sung as pure melody, in unison, and without accompaniment, and this is still the best way to sing chant if possible. It was composed entirely in Latin; and because its melodies are so closely tied to Latin accents and word meanings, it is best to sing it in Latin. (Among possible exceptions are chant hymns, since the melodies are formulaic and are not intrinsically tied to the Latin text.) Gregorian chant is in free rhythm, without meter or time signature.Because the liturgy was sung almost entirely in Gregorian chant in the Middle Ages (with polyphony saved for special occasions), every type of liturgical text has been set in chant: readings, prayers, dialogs, Mass propers, Mass ordinaries, office hymns, office psalms and antiphons, responsories, and versicles. Although Pope St. Gregory the Great (590–604) certainly did not play a role in the creation or compilation of our chant melodies, popular legend led the church to name Gregorian chant after this great leader.Many other types and styles of music are similar to Gregorian chant or inspired by it, but one should distinguish them from Gregorian chant. Taizé chants, for example, are generally in Latin, similar to Gregorian chant antiphons. But the musical style is quite different: metered and with choral harmonies and/or instrumental accompaniments.Many psalm tones have been written since the Second Vatican Council. They are much like Gregorian chant psalm tones with their free rhythm and their repeatable melodic formulas. By Gregorian psalm tones, however, we mean a set of particular melodies, one for each of the Gregorian modes, always in the form of two measures. The Gregorian psalm tones are well suited to the Latin language, but do not work very well with English accents, unless one takes freedom in adapting them. For English psalm verses, it is probably wiser to use psalm tones written for the English language. Back to Gregorian Chant Resources|
What makes Gregorian chant uniquely itself — with recommended recordings
Today, I’ll talk about what distinguishes chant from other musical styles, and then I’ll share some of my favorite chant recordings with you. Last week, I provided a (short!) overview of the history of Gregorian chant in the Catholic Church’s liturgy. Today, I’ll talk about what distinguishes chant from other musical styles, and then I’ll share some of my favorite chant recordings with you. If we can identify the unique characteristics of chant, it will be simpler to understand why it organically developed alongside the liturgy and why the Church has praised it so highly throughout history, including in our own day.
1. Primacy of the word
Chant is music that is used in the service of God’s message. The majority of chants are based on God’s own words from Scripture, which are chanted in melodic phrases that bring out the depth of meaning of the words. Anexegesis of the text is what chant is: the melody and rhythm are not only incidentally tied to the text, but unpack and relish its reality, highlighting this or that part of it, lingering over this line, probing that one. Chant may be described as anexegesis of the text.
2. Free rhythm
As a result of the aforementioned, chant is classified as “ametrical” or “non-metrical,” making it the sole music of this type in the Western tradition. Because Scripture is not written in poetic meter, the musical lines in this piece follow the natural rhythm of the text. Given that chant is not restricted to a preset grid of beats, such as duple or triple time (think: march or waltz), but rather adheres to the syllables of the words, it gives the impression that its phrases float, flow along, meander, and soar.
Unconstrained fluidity and freedom of motion, which appear to break away from the dominion of earthly time symbolized by the beat, are responsible for much of the “magic” that chants evince.
3. Unison singing
It is sung in unison —that is, everyone sings the same tune at the same time — because the emphasis is on the word of God and how it unites us as one Body in Christ. Chant is performed in unison because the word of God unites us as one Body in Christ. The delicate rhythm of chant, as well as the much-admired ingenuity and intricacy of its melodies, are only conceivable as a result of this concentration on unison singing, which is both practical and symbolic. Nothing speaks more powerfully of the Church’s unity, antiquity, and universality than a vast crowd saying the Creed as a group during Mass, indicating in action that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
4. Unaccompanied vocalization
Chant is typically performed “a cappella,” that is, without the accompaniment of an instrument. With its singularly authentic, sincere, modest, and concentrated quality, the sound of the bare human voice offered up to God in prayer is far less susceptible to the kinds of distractions that occur with the use of instruments, especially whether performed virtuosically, rambunctiously, or just noisily.
Modality is the second most distinguishing quality of Gregorian chant, after only free rhythm as the most unique trait. It is possible to define a mode as a certain series of full steps and half steps, among which there is a dominating (or repeating) tone and a concluding tone on which the music comes to rest. Based on the options provided by the eight-pitch Western scale, chant evolved into what may be characterized as eight ways of performance. Two of the modes (in a manner; I’m simplifying) acquired prominence as music progressed in the late Renaissance and into the Baroque eras, eventually becoming known as the “major” and “minor” keys, respectively.
For this reason, and because our ears have become so accustomed to the major/minor key system (which has been in use for hundreds of years), Gregorian chants, which employ eight modes that rarely conform to our modern musical expectations, strike us as otherworldly; introspective; haunting; incomplete; “brightly sad.” Cry becomes for us, in a sense that was doubtless not as required in the Middle Ages, an antidote, a health-giving purgative, a summons to more interiority, as well as a promoter and protector of the proper spiritual hierarchy.
Anonymous monks, cantors, and canons created the great bulk of the chants that were performed. In this life, we will never be able to learn their names. Wow, such a wonderful counter-balance to the egotism that so frequently accompanies creative invention and performance! It is impossible to distinguish oneself when singing chant in a group or congregation because we do not know who wrote it or who composed it. We also cannot “shine” or stand out in a rock-star style because we do not know who wrote it or who composed it.
7. Emotional moderation
It would be erroneous to claim that chanting is devoid of emotion. The melodies are both immensely pleasurable to sing and to listen to, and they are quite catchy (when well executed). This group delves into the depths of joy and elation, bitterness and sorrow, desire and trustful surrender. They convey a wide range of subtle emotional undertones. They have the ability to bring tears to the eyes of those who are spiritually sensitive. The emotions expressed in chant, on the other hand, are modest, peaceful, noble, and polished.
The “temperance” of chant takes on a special significance in these times, when so many people live a fast-paced existence, busy running over the surface of things, agitated and even worn out from too much stimulus.
Chant can help to restore some of that “temperance” to our lives. For us, chant serves as a therapeutic treatment, a health-giving purgative, a call to more interiority, a promoter and protector of the proper spiritual order, and all of this in a way that was clearly not necessary in the Middle Ages
8. Unambiguous sacrality
Despite the fact that this is likely the most obvious truth, its significance is rarely completely appreciated: Gregorian chant was created only for the sake of heavenly worship, and it lends itself to no other (profane) application. It is intrinsically sacred, that is, it is reserved exclusively for God’s use. For the purposes of worship, it is the musical counterpart of incense and vestments, which are not normally utilized. This kind of event is Christ’s privileged “honor guard” and “attendants,” forcefully invoking His presence while also seamlessly directing us into His presence in our lives.
As a result, it stands in stark contrast to secular types of music, which, when introduced into the church, have an uncertain connotation: are we dealing with our Lord or with the world (or even worldliness)?
The following are the chant recordings that are suggested.
The tiny variances in the manner in which the chant is sung demonstrate that there is a real range of interpretations of this old art form available.
Benedicta (The Monks of Norcia)
This is by far the finest value available for a collection of genuinely superb recordings. For $23.15 (at the time of writing), you may acquire six CDs of chant that cover the major feasts of the Catholic calendar year. Listed below is a sampling of their music:
Choralschola der Wiener Hofburgkapelle
This is by far the finest value available for a collection of absolutely outstanding recordings. It costs $23.15 to purchase six cds of chant that cover the major feasts and festivals of the Catholic calendar (at the time of this writing). Listed below is a sampling of their musical style.