About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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“The authority of the Pope is not unlimited. It is at the service of Sacred Tradition. Still less is any kind of general ‘freedom’ of manufacture, degenerating into spontaneous improvisation, compatible with the essence of faith and liturgy. The greatness of the liturgy depends—we shall have to repeat this frequently—on its lack of spontaneity.”
— Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (2000)
Concordi Lætitia (cont'd)
published 15 December 2010 by Jeff Ostrowski

Below is a continuation of my earlier analysis of organ accompaniments to Concórdi Lætítitia. If you have not read it, the below will probably not make much sense . . . . Also, here is the complete Concórdi Laetítia organ accompaniment, taken from this source of organ accompaniments.

Kevin Vogt was kind enough to point out a few forbidden parallels in my accompaniments to Concordi Laetitia. He asked if the Belgian school of Gregorian accompaniment encourages parallels.

In general, I don’t like parallel octaves. Hidden octaves are sometimes acceptable, although, between outer voices (i.e. Soprano and Bass) these are usually quite offensive. I don’t believe that the Belgian school normally employs parallel octaves (although parallel sevenths are often used).

Why, then, did I allow parallel octaves in my harmonization? I think it was probably due to carelessness. I had to produce those accompaniments very quickly, and did not have sufficient time to proofread. In other words, I just plain missed them.

Sometimes (it’s true) one is so interested in attaining some “other good,” that one tolerates the octaves. Each case must be looked at with care. Let us see what the situation is with a few of these:

If I were trying to avoid blame, I might pretend that the red lines are not really octaves, because the structural pitch is the D-natural in the Soprano (marked with blue asterisk). However, I think a better description is that I simply made an error. Looking at the second measure (above), we see that I could have easily fixed the octaves by doing the oldest trick in the book: voice exchange between Soprano and Tenor. Some might argue that voice exchange upsets the harmonic rhythm (by abruptly switching to “note-to-note” accompaniment). However, when I play the second measure several times, I cannot (in good conscience) say that this is the case. The bottom line is . . . I goofed.

Looking at this example:

I feel the same way. One could argue that the “structural” pitch is the A-natural in the Soprano (marked with blue asterisk), so they are not real parallel octaves. However, I think a better explanation is that I simply messed up. One could easily solve the problem (once again) by voice exchange:

The only issue becomes, “Does this solution change the harmonic rhythm? Does it too abruptly switch to 'note-to-note’ accompaniment?” I don’t really think it does. I think this is a much better solution. However, in this example:

. . . although we’re dealing with some major parallels (hidden octaves between outer voices, parallel fifths between Alto and Bass, and similar motion with the Tenor), I actually think it’s justified because of a “greater good.” The “greater good” is strict continuation of the walking Bass line that had employed uninterrupted ascending stepwise motion since the very beginning of the stanza. What a shame it would have been to do violence to that walking Bass line! As Dr. Watson said in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, “It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.” I can say, “It was worth parallels to keep that bass motion inviolate.”

Now we come to the third verse, which is my personal favorite. I flatter myself by surmising that Flor Peeters himself would have been proud of what I did with this verse. There is a case of parallel octaves here:

. . . which could have been solved by going to a B-flat in the Tenor (marked by blue asterisk). However, I chose not to do that because it drew too much attention to the Tenor (in my view). It started to sound “too contrapuntal” for what I was going for (or “that for which I was going,” as the grammarians Churchill mocked would say). Others will surely disagree, and who knows? Tomorrow I may change my mind . . . . Moving along, we also have a case of parallel fifths here:

. . . but I’m not really sure how to “fix” that, without destroying what I was going for. In verse four, we have parallel octaves:

. . . and I think I would leave these. The reason is because I was going for the harmonic framework marked by the purple bar (above). In my mind, I desired that sound, which “governed my tolerance” for parallel octaves in this case.

The final verse has a case of parallel octaves and “hidden” octaves (both of these between outer voices):

In my view, these are justified because of the “greater good” (marked by purple lines) of perfect, uninterrupted walking Bass lines.

In conclusion, then, the mere avoidance of parallels is not enough if, in the process, you destroy the smoothness of the accompaniment, employ jagged voice leading, or go back and forth between the same chord (ugh!). Once again, I’d like to make it clear that parallels usually create bad music. Parallels will ordinarily bother a musically sensitive ear. However, if the composer has a “greater good” in mind, I would argue that parallels are sometimes acceptable.

A final reminder: The mere act of writing “correct” accompaniments is very easy. However, writing accompaniments that go somewhere harmonically, that have smooth lines, that employ uniform harmonic rhythm, that use a variety of chords, that match the textual accents, that are varied for each verse in strophic pieces (very difficult), that do not simply go back and forth between the same chords, that use good counterpoint (contrary motion, pedal tones in all voices, stepwise motion, etc.), that have a logical sensitivity to texture, that sound very smooth, etc. . . . this is quite a different thing.

Each piece of Gregorian chant is different. Each Schola is different. Each organ is different. Each organist is different. I believe in approaching each harmonization on an individual basis. Also, I think the best Gregorianists will always look at a piece, play it through numerous times, try to “become one” with the piece, and then try to do something with the accompaniment. It is not simply a matter of laying down chords and avoiding parallels.