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A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), where he also 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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"And since it is becoming that holy things be administered in a holy manner, and of all things this sacrifice is the most holy, the Catholic Church, to the end that it might be worthily and reverently offered and received, instituted many centuries ago the holy canon, which is so free from error that it contains nothing that does not in the highest degree savor of a certain holiness and piety and raise up to God the minds of those who offer."
— Council of Trent (1562)
Essay on Gregorian Accompaniment
published 17 August 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

The following article was published by Jeff Ostrowski in 2007. It is being reproduced here (in spite of its many flaws) in case anyone finds it useful. The entire essay is in need of serious revision.

“Musicians deprived of aesthetic taste will uselessly struggle to find suitable harmonies to the Gregorian melodies.” — Traite d’harmonie of Rameau (published in 1722)

ET ME BEGIN negatively by clearly stating what this essay is not. This essay is not a condemnation of any of the various theories about modal theory. This essay is merely to explain the approach taken in the composition of the Chabanel Psalms. I could have chosen any number of other equally valid approaches. But, as it happened, I chose this one. Rather than spend time writing about how this or that approach is to be condemned, would it not be more appropriate to simply thank our Lord for the gift of music?

I mention this at the beginning because I do not want this essay to be taken as a polemic for or against certain modal theories. Such essays are a dime a dozen in musicological journals. Again, this essay aims to merely explain the modus operandi chosen, without condemning any other system of thought. It is also important to remember that I do not offer the "final answer." As a matter of fact, if I had composed the Chabanel Psalms, say, three years ago, I suspect my approach would have been different. Then, too, if I undertake a similar project at a later date, my approach might be different. The great Alfred Cortot drove this point home to the young prodigy, Ruth Slenczynska, in a remarkable way. He would mark in her score numerous crescendi and decrescendi. Young Ruth would come for her lesson, playing just what Cortot had marked. Then, however, Cortot would erase each of his markings, changing the crescendi to decrescendi and vice versa. Slencynska soon learned that there are many ways of approaching music. In like manner, I do not feel that the approach taken in the Chabanel Psalms is the only valid approach.

Truly, then, can I say with Flor Peeters, who wrote in the gracious Preface to his "Method of Gregorian Accompaniment," a Preface which teems, above all, with his deep love for Gregorian chant:

This method, based on the Vatican Edition of Plain Chant, seems, at least to the writer, to have a breadth of of conception and ease of adaptability sufficient to gain favor with all those whose love of Plain Chant is of a sincerity great enough to rise above the partisanship of scholastic prejudice.   [ … ]   I cherish the hope that this Method will help its readers in acquiring a rational and flexible style of accompaniment, and incite them to more intensive study and appreciation of Modal tonality, and thus lead to a better and more intimate comprehension of the spirit of Plain Chant.

A Short History of Modality

Gregorian chant was partially destroyed because it was corrupted by what might be called “tonality.” That is to say, before the sixteenth century, Gregorian melodies generally “fit” into what became known as the eight Church modes. (In retrospect, it seems that the Western system of eight Church modes were an attempt to classify already-existing ancient melodies by making them “fit” the eastern system of the octoechos, which, incidentally, seems in some cases to have done violence to the original melody). However, with the advent of the sixteenth century came the system of major and minor tonality (a.k.a. major and minor keys). This was the new fad, started by composers of the late sixteenth century (especially the later works of Giovanni Gabrieli, Giovanni Croce, Hans Leo Hassler, Ludovico Viadana, and ultimately Monteverdi) who started writing pieces in major and minor keys and using the Dominant seventh chord and accidentals to (in a manner of speaking) corrupt the modes. This new fad of major-minor tonality had an adverse effect on chant melodies, leading to corrupted editions by editors who imposed tonality on the modal chant melodies. Incidentally, the rhythm of the chant was also corrupted (for various reasons, and helped especially by a famous edition by Palestrina’s student Guidetti). If that was not enough, the melodies also were curtailed substantially. The chant editions of the organist Nivers are very good examples of corrupt chant editions. Here’s an example.

These “corrupt” editions continued until the reign of Pope Saint Pius X (at the beginning of the twentieth century). Here are four (4) examples of publishers that were pushing “corrupt” chant editions until the time of Pius X:

1818 Bourguignon   •   1874 Mechlin   •   1874 Pustet   •   1863 Hermesdorff

(N.B. Hermesdorff later condemned his 1863 work as corrupt and was a major force in chant restoration.)

Pope Pius X did much to restore the ancient Gregorian melodies, and the editions published during his reign were much more firmly planted in the ancient modal system than the corrupt “tonal” editions that had reigned for about 300 years. Indeed, the books published during his reign are still the official edition of the Catholic church, and not a single note or marking has been changed since their publication. Incidentally, the editions were based on the nineteenth-century editions of Dom Joseph Pothier, who supervised their publication under Pius X, and who really can be called the most influential figure in the history of Gregorian chant since Guido d’Arezzo.

However, the question of Gregorian Modality arose when it came time to accompany these melodies on the organ.

Should chant be accompanied by the organ?

Organ accompaniment for chant is very common practice. If you ask people why they eat meat inside bread it never occurs to them to give you a history of the sandwich. They simply do it. As a matter of fact, if you ask people that question, they might turn the question right back on you, saying, "Why are you questioning why I’m eating a sandwich? People have eaten sandwiches for hundreds of years!" In other words, some people demand an answer to why chant is being accompanied, as if accompanying chant were a novelty. However, the burden of proof is actually on them, to prove why it ought not to be accompanied.

Some will say, "Chant should never be accompanied, because it was not originally accompanied." But this is a false argument, because the way chant is sung today is never going to be exactly the same as when chant first started to be sung. Chant has developed over many centuries. It is silly to pretend as if chant has always been sung exactly the same way.

For years and years people had been accompanying chant with instruments (especially the organ). Some people might be surprised to learn that even Dom Mocquereau allowed certain monastic hours at Solesmes to be accompanied and even praised the result (for its discreteness). When it is done well, it constitutes a type of organic development, a concept familiar to Catholics. Some authors laud this practice, others denigrate it, but all acknowledge that organ accompaniment of chant has been done for a very long time. Several authors claimed to hate this practice, but claim that they were forced by the sheer commonness of this practice to publish their own methods for accompanying chant! One example of this dichotomy should suffice. The musicologist Joseph d’Ortigue says in the 1856 Preface to a method on organ accompaniment:

I have maintained that plainsong is essentially a melodic system; that harmony, being the product of elements which are foreign to plainsong and were introduced only after many centuries, cannot be associated with a species of melody for which it was never intended; consequently, that to apply harmony to plainsong retroactively is not only to couple two dissimilar elements, but to destroy one by the other . . . .

However, he then proceeds to justify publishing his method book on Gregorian accompaniment:

I have had before my eyes one terrible, fatal, inexorable fact, against which it is impossible to contend: all the churches have adopted harmonized, accompanied plainsong in consequence of the installation of a choir-organ in their edifices. The signal once given, the enthusiasm has been general. What dam can stem the torrent which engulfs all, and for which musicians, organists, the faithful and even the clergy have provided a channel?

In light of all the evidence to the contrary for those willing to look, it is no small mistake that Willi Apel makes when he claims (in the 1958 Preface to his famous work on chant) that accompanying chant was a “new practice.”

By the way, under certain circumstances, organ accompaniment aids the singer.

Moreover, for some chants (not every single piece in the repertoire), a well executed organ accompaniment creates truly gorgeous music. It sounds different than unaccompanied chant, but it is beautiful in its own way. Comparing well-done accompanied chant to unaccompanied chant is like comparing a beautiful lily to a beautiful rose: pointless! Both can be so incredibly beautiful. Oh, let us praise our Savior for both! The happiest memories of my life consist of listening to chant (mainly unaccompanied) for hours and hours, day after day, month after month, year after year. I can think of nothing more beautiful in this entire world than Gregorian chant. It is so beautiful words cannot describe it. However, this does not mean that chant with a good accompaniment is not beautiful. They are both beautiful. All hyperbole aside, both are so beautiful that I almost faint when I think of the beauty. May God be praised for his creations! Domine Dominator noster quam grande est nomen tuum in universa terra!

Here are two short examples of beautiful unaccompanied chant:

Example 1   •   Example 2

Here are three short examples of beautiful accompanied chant:

Example 1   •   Example 2   •   Example 3

A fundamental fact to grasp

There is one fundamental thing to grasp (printed in red):

Whether a chant sounds beautiful with organ accompaniment depends on the modality of that particular piece, the space (acoustic) in which it will be sung, the tempo, number and skill of singers, and many other factors.

This should come as no great surprise. After all, a smart musician knows how to adapt music to each occasion. Bach fugues on a piano, chamber music, and harpsichord music, for example, do not sound their best when performed in a huge space like the Metropolitan opera house. By the same token, a Mozart symphony, a chorus from Bach’s Mass in B minor, or a Mendelssohn Symphony when reduced for performance on a harpsichord or by a flute ensemble do not sound as they should. So it is with chant: the smart conductor knows what will work for each occasion.

A Summary of chant accompaniments

Pius X’s restoration of the Gregorian melodies caused a veritable torrent of chant accompaniments to be published. I will here give a brief summary.

With great sorrow, I note that it was not possible at this time (due to various constraints) to include samplings of all the Gregorian harmonists. Rather, I was forced to choose examples from the leading publishers only (the ones who had the most influence and circulation). I should, however, mention in passing that in certain of the works of “lesser-known” harmonists one often finds some very curious things. One example would be the book of accompaniments by Fr. Michael Horn (Note 1):

Those of L’Abbé Lepage, incidentally, are also interesting in the extreme (as are those of Collard, Danjou, Deprez, Nekes, Vogler, Tombelle, Johner, Séverac, Bordes, Gogniat, Lepage, Sébastien, Gastoué, D’Indy, Dupré, Wiesmeyer, C. Potier, Perruchot, Guilmant, and Oberhoffer, to name a few).

Also, choosing selections proved difficult (since most of these authors harmonized the entire Kyriale, Proprium de Tempore, Proprium de Sanctis, and Vesperale), so I tried to choose passages that were illustrative and (hopefully) familiar to the reader.

Around the time Pius X restored the Gregorian melodies, musicians were beginning to realize that tonal accompaniments were not appropriate for Gregorian chant. The great Camille St. Saëns describes this, although he is naïve in thinking the melodies which the nineteenth-century organists employed to have been purely modal (Note 2):

Our predecessors . . . made an accompaniment [which was rhythmically deplorable] and, as a climax of illogicalness, they transported, by means of said useless accompaniment, this music composed in the ancient modes into modern tonalities. A remedy for these evils was sought by Niedermeyer, who, despairing of extirpating the error involved in an accompaniment to plain-chant, attempted to render it at least rational by conserving its "modal" character by means of an ingenious system.

St. Saëns might also have added that this "ingenious" system of Niedermeyer laid the compositional foundation for many of his fellow French masters (like Dupré, Fauré, Duruflé, Franck, Vierne, Ravel) throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

The Three Main Schools of Gregorian Accompaniment

As far as twentieth-century Gregorian accompaniment, I find it useful to speak of three main schools: German, French, and Belgian.

(1) The German School

The German school more or less followed in the footsteps of the nineteenth-century German composers like Haberl, Hanisch, Witt, Schildknecht, Ebner, Lambert, and Oberhoffer. Space forbids me to here reproduce examples of these composers, but I can summarize them thusly: they were poorly printed, they employed every manner of chromaticism, they followed the corrupt rhythm of Guidetti (reproduced in so many nineteenth-century editions), they used tonal chords (like the Dominant seventh and subtonic diminished chords), and they had no sense of harmonic progression.

The German school is remarkable in that they often insist on following "rules" from the Common Practice Era when harmonizing Gregorian melodies. For instance, they often employ the Dominant seventh (harbinger of Major-minor tonality), and they make sure to always resolve the seventh of their Dominant seventh chords downward and take TI upward, just like a Mozart symphonic score (PDF example). The fact that this leaves an incomplete chord does not bother them. Verily, I can scarcely find a difference in their harmonizations from the tonal compositions of the day, like this 1909 work by Fr. Young (Note 3):

*1 is a Dominant seventh, *2 is an incomplete chord, and *3 is nineteenth-century "schmaltzy" chromaticism.

As we will see, the German school scrupulously employs these compositional "rules" to Gregorian chant. To me, the consistent and unfailing employment of techniques like this makes the German school look rather pedantic. It reminds me of a child who studies swimming, and learns only one thing from his teacher: a particular way of breathing above the water. Then the child, who fancies himself an athlete after learning but one rule, goes to play football. Well, the child is not skilled at football, yet always makes sure to breath the way his teacher taught him (as if he were swimming) and even goes out of his way to superciliously correct others on this point. The poor child fails to realize that he is not swimming anymore! Neither does the German school seem to realize that they are not harmonizing a Mozart Trio anymore!

The first example of the German school comes from organist brothers August and Karl Wiltberger (Note 4):

The red star shows chromaticism and ending on an incomplete chord. True to their school, the Wiltbergers add chromaticism to their harmonizations at will.

Max Springer is another leader of the German school. This example (from the feast of Pentecost) is from harmonizations he published in 1910 (Note 5):

Here are some possible criticisms of the above examples (all of which sound unpleasant to my ears):

• The red lines show a bad control of dissonance.

• Number 1 shows the seventh of an FMM7 resolving up (bad control of dissonance).

• Number 2 shows a phrase that harmonically goes nowhere (that is, lacks a sense of progression). The blue lines also show a lack of harmonic progression, since the chords simply alternate back and forth between d minor and C Major.

• Number 3 is a Dominant seventh.

• Number 4 is an incomplete chord at a noticeable spot (because he wants to resolve his Major-minor tonality Tritone).

• Number 5 shows an unpleasant chord progression (I have no idea why he moved to the F in the tenor: it wrecks both the rhythm and the chord progression).

• Number 6 has parallel octaves between tenor and soprano. I am guessing he did this to avoid not resolving his Dominant seventh downward, but this is like committing murder to cover up a theft.

• At number 7, Springer brings the bass line onto the tenor note and then takes it back again, which not only causes yet another unsatisfactory chord progression (d – F – d), but more importantly jostles the ear as one voice seems to disappear and then reappear.

To the student of harmony, it is remarkable to know that Springer was espoused by the Benedictine monastery of Beuron. As an aside, Springer sometimes uses Dominant ninth chords in his harmonizations, and often syncopates his harmonizations by setting two-against-three (which other members of his school do as well).

Sometimes chromatic alterations literally pile up on one another in Springer’s harmonizations (Note 5B):

The following two examples (examples 2-3), from the same set by Max Springer, are given in this PDF file. Possible criticisms follow:

EXAMPLE 2 (Note 6):

• “A” and “B” show that Springer chooses to use the same exact harmonization when passages repeat, even with the unpleasant voice leading at the end. Or perhaps he is merely following Bernard C. Jones’ dictum: "It is an error of style to vary the accompaniment of a repeated melodic formula merely to avoid monotony." In any event, as we shall see below, I disagree with Jones, as does the Belgian school

• In yellow 1 Springer abruptly brings the bass line up to the tenor note and then drops it down, which means that in the time it takes for three eighth notes to sound, he goes from four voices to three voices and then back to four.

• In yellow 2, Springer writes double Tritones! One in the treble clef and one in the bass clef.

• In yellow 3, there is very abrupt voice leading from the F chord to the Bb chord.

• Yellow 4 shows a jarring dissonance . . . in essence a Dominant seventh on C with doubled seventh!

• At yellow 5, the chord changes occur much too quickly (out of character with the rest and inappropriate for chant); they are too "tonal" (IV – V – I), and he crosses an inner voice (the tenor line) with an outer voice (the bass line).

• In yellow 6, the Bb chords leads to an altogether unsatisfying dm chord.

• The ending "cadence" at yellow 7 has no sense of progression, the harmonic rhythm speeds up, and the tenor and alto combine (which jolts the ear for the space of an eighth note).

EXAMPLE 3 (Note 7):

• Number 1 skips to a jolting, unprepared dissonance.

• Number 2 shows unthinkable chromaticism.

• Number 3 is an unpleasant chord progression (b6 to DM).

• The fact that he even gives a Picardy third as an option at number 4 is very bad taste to the "modally sensitive" listener.

Here is a final example from the same collection of Springer (incidentally, the key signature is no sharps or flats) — (Note 8):

Frankly, this is simply sloppy harmonization, especially the chord progression from yellow A to yellow B.

The most well known harmonist of the German school was Franz Xavier Mathias, and his editions (reprinted for years and years) are to this day rather easy to obtain. Amazingly, Mathias says in the 1906 preface (emphasis his) — (Note 9):

Those who may not like this Accompaniment owing to its being exclusively within the Gregorian scales are free to make any alterations; [sic] they may deem proper in passages which to them may sound somewhat crude.

So, there can certainly be no doubt that his intent was to produce modal accompaniments.

Examples 6-7 can be found in this PDF file. From a modal perspective, here are some possible criticisms of Mathias’ work:

Ex 6 — (Note 10) shows Mathias’ penchant for Dominant seventh chords (red star).

• In Ex 7 (Note 11), the red stars signal unpleasant-sounding diminished d6 chords. The large "F" shows how Mathias is comfortable sitting on an F chord, without any harmonic drive or sense of progression.

Those who examine the German school will note one major similarity to the French school discussed below (besides voice crossing), namely the "chorale-like boxiness" of the texture. In other words, instead of having a smooth, fluid accompaniment, the chord changes are rather abrupt, almost as if it were a Bach chorale (and I truly believe that many of the German harmonists treat chant as they would a Bach chorale). One reason for this is that they use too few common tones. Another reason is that they do not use minor-minor seventh chords or Major-Major seventh chords. Then, too, part of the reason for this is their particular conception of the rhythm of Gregorian chant.

On the contrary, we will see later that the Belgian school of Gregorian harmonists strives for very smooth chord changes (note 12):

The ties alone (emphasized by red lines) show how smoothly the chords change when harmonized by the Belgian school.

Taking as my model the Belgian school, I tried to avoid "chorale-like boxiness" in the Chabanel Psalms. Here is a PDF example (from Chabanel Psalm #1130). The chords progress in a smooth way, yet always with a pleasing sense of progression. Never are there abrupt chord changes, but neither are there endless stretches of notes on the same chord.

The final member of the German school to be considered is the famous Dr. Peter Wagner, student of Hermesdorff. I will be pointing out what I consider serious flaws in his accompaniments. Here is an excerpt from his 1905 Kyriale (Note 13):

The whole first section strikes me as quite stagnant, Wagner just sits on Bb chord in root position with the same voicing and goes nowhere. There is no sense of progression. To me, it really seems that a computer could do these harmonizations, simply grabbing random notes from the melody and putting chords underneath them (regardless of the dissonances that result). The result would be the same: no sense of direction, many passages of going back and forth between the same two chords, and endless passages on a single chord (in one position with the same voicing). Then, after "camping out" for so long on one chord, how abruptly he changes chords at the red star!

This example is even more disturbing (note 14):

• At the pink star, Wagner actually changes key signatures in the middle of a chant (Mathias did this as well).

• At the green star, Wagner adds a poorly-conceived, stylistically wrong, and insipid contrapuntal line (reminiscent of the practices of the nineteenth century). This bit of counterpoint is especially out of place when one considers that from red star to red star is nothing more than one long F Major chord!

• The blue star shows Wagner’s penchant for ending phrases with an incomplete chord, and he does this more than any other harmonist. In my opinion, Incomplete chords can indeed be used to great effect by the Gregorian harmonist, but they must be not be used where the melody comes to rest. They ought to be used throughout the phrase, certainly not just at the end, and they must be used smoothly, not just abruptly thrown in at the end. How jagged are Wagner’s chord changes!

In the following excerpt, the yellow stars signal incomplete chords (Note 15):

The red line signals a technique which is found often in Wagner (and, for that matter, Auguste de le Guennant, Bas and Gastoué): that of randomly launching into unison octaves. Because they often do this at particularly difficult phrases to harmonize, I can only assume it is done out of laziness. I find the effect very poor, although such a technique would not be out of place in a Mozart divertimento. Neither would the chromaticism be out of place (at the blue star).

True to his school, Wager often uses Dominant seventh chords, as the blue star shows in the following example (Note 16):

Perhaps I seem a bit critical of this well-known chant scholar’s accompaniments. I just cannot understand how someone could produce such inelegant accompaniments. Here is a PDF example of a short phrase from Mass VIII. I contrast Wagner’s version with but one of many possibilities he might have written instead.

As stated earlier, sometimes the reason for an unsatisfactory accompaniment is the rhythmic conception of the harmonist. This example by Wagner is a case in point (note 17):

(2) The French School

The main harmonists of this school were Jean Hébert Desrocquettes, Henri Potiron, Achille P. Bragers, Leo P. Manzetti, Julius Bas, Eugène Lapierre, and Ferdinand Portier. This school could just as easily have been called the "Solesmes school," because it accompanies chant according to the Solesmes method of rhythm. It is completely unified (even it its very notation). The style of accompanying chant has not changed since it was initiated in the early twentieth century, even to this day. Most of the composers learned what they know about accompanying at Solesmes. The only variation one finds among these are that some authors do not always follow each and every horizontal episema of Mocquereau, probably out of carelessness.

The French school never employs Dominant seventh chords or chromaticism. This fact, along with the strict adherence to Solesmes rhythmic theories, constitutes the primary difference between this school and the German school.

This PDF example shows examples by the major harmonists of the French school.

Without a doubt, the accompaniments by the French school are the most popular and widely disseminated accompaniments the world has ever known. I offer some possible criticisms of the following merely as personal observations, not as blanket condemnations of accompaniments which have won recognition the world over.

In general, I do not find the French school’s accompaniments to be as smooth as the Belgian school’s. I believe the primary reason for this is that the French school employs neither minor-minor nor Major-Major seventh chords. I believe that they reject these two beautiful seventh chords out of reasons of "purity." However, if that, indeed, is the reason, I think it is rather a double standard, because these chords (and even greater dissonances) arise as passing tones. Here is an example by Ferdinand Portier (Note 18):

The green line draws attention to a passage wherein, in reality, an amm7 chord is sounded numerous times, as a result of what some would call "ornamental notes," as well as dissonances much more "impure" than a minor-minor seventh. Indeed, the elongated note above the blue star causes quite a startling (and unpleasant) dissonance.

In general, I also feel that many of the accompaniments of the French school lack a sense of harmonic progression. The purple line in Portier’s example above is a perfect example of this, where eleven notes are harmonized by a single GM chord.

Furthermore, the French school often causes stark syncopations, which does not fit well with the Solesmes theory. For example, a reputable Solesmesian defender, J. Robert Carroll, stated clearly (Note 19):

If you accept the Solesmes principles that (1) the episema is an expression mark of no fixed metrical value, (2) the Latin accent is independent of the ictus, and (3) syncopation is unknown to chant, then you will follow the Solesmes movement to its logical development. If, on the other hand, you (1) call the episema a metrical sign of length, (2) consider the Latin tonic accent as ictic, and (3) admit syncopation to the chant, you will find that you cannot deny any of the rest of the principles of Dom Jeannin [the Solesmes rhythmic opponent].

But, when set with an organ accompaniment, I think a case could be made that the red star above (in the excerpt from Portier) sounds syncopated.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the French school and the Belgian school (discussed below) is their treatment of the tonic accent.

The French school prefers not to change chords on the word accent (but will in certain circumstances), changing chords instead on the "ictus" (a point of alignment in Mocquereau’s theory of rhythm). On the other hand, the Belgians take it as a matter of principle to always change chords on the word accent. Here are some examples:

DIES IRAE harmonization by Solesmesian leader Desrocquettes (Note 20):

DIES IRAE harmonization by the Belgian school (Nova Organi Harmonia) — (Note 21):

VICTIMAE PASCHALI harmonization by Solesmesian leader Desrocquettes (Note 22):

DIES IRAE harmonization by Belgian school (Nova Organi Harmonia) — (Note 23):

Finally, linked below is the VENI CREATOR (Note 24) harmonized by the two different schools. It will be seen that sometimes the insistence by the Belgian school of "accent over music" results in rather awkward harmonizations. Note how careful they are to always have at least one note changing on the tonic accent. Only the first verse of the Marier is given (for copyright reasons), but he does not change a note in his harmonizations for the other verses anyway. The purple accents in the Marier show the times he changed chords on the accented syllable. The red accents show the chord changes that avoid the tonic accent.

Marier (Solesmes) Harmonization   •   Belgian School Harmonization

(3) The Belgian School

Much as the French school could just as accurately be called the "Solesmes" school, the Belgian school could just as accurately be called the "Lemmens" school. The work of Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens and his institute constitutes an accomplishment every bit as magnificent as it is unknown and undervalued. I cannot say here how strongly I disagree with the words of Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt (Note 25):

Nicolas Jacques Lemmens had been a professional organist with no particular Church music background. Late in life, he cajoled Belgian authorities into letting him found a Church music institute and when he died, quipped one of his successors, "the bishops were stuck with it."

The words of Fr. Franz Witt (treated below), a church musician Schmitt admired, will give, perhaps, a reason for Schmitt’s animosity toward Lemmens.

In any event, Lemmens is a major figure in the history of modal chant accompaniment. Much more important, however, than Lemmens himself were the works produced by his institute (Note 26). These were:

(1) The Organum Comitans ad Graduale : : a massive collection of Gregorian chant organ accompaniments composed by Alphons Desmet, Aloysius Desmet, and Oscar Depuydt. This was published by H. Dessain, and the early volumes started to appear in 1907.

(2) The Nova Organi Harmonia (NOH) : : not so much of an "update" as a completely new version of the Organum Comitans ad Graduale, completely redone. Approximately 3,000 pages, this version is even longer than the older. H. Dessain published this sometime around the year 1942. The project was undertaken through the leadership of Monsignor Jules Van Nuffel, who collaborated with the other professors at the Lemmens Institute (of which Van Nuffel was then director). The professors who assisted Van Nuffel with creating the NOH harmonizations were Flor Peeters, Marinus de Jong, Jules Vyverman, Gustaaf Nees, E. de Laet, and H. Durieux. These seven musicians will be referred to from here on as the Belgian school.

I have already stated that the NOH was the model and inspiration for the Chabanel Psalms. However, it is interesting to ask the question, "Upon what models did the professors at the Lemmens Institute base their accompaniments?"

This is a difficult question to answer, as there are no shortage of nineteenth-century treatises on Gregorian chant. Nor is there a shortage of harmonizations of Gregorian chant (which are often far more revealing than the treatises).

The pivotal question becomes, "Who was the first composer to accompany chant exclusively in the Gregorian scales?"

In the quotation above, Saint-Saëns already gave us the answer. The honor belongs to Louis Niedermeyer, founder of the French conservatory which bears his name. Niedermeyer’s collaborator, Joseph d’Ortigue, agrees with Saint-Saëns, and wrote in 1856 that Niedermeyer made him a believer in "two fundamental rules" (Note 27):

1. The necessity of employing exclusively the notes of the scale in accompanying plainsong.

2. The necessity of assigning to the chords of the final and of the dominant in each mode, functions analogous to those exercised by these essential notes in the melody.

Continuing to sing Niedermeyer’s praises, he went on to say:

May I be permitted to add that the foundations of such a theory could have been laid only by a man at once a great musician, a great harmonist, a great authority upon plainsong, equally versed in knowledge of the various schools of harmony, especially of the modern school and of that of the sixteenth century.

Here are some PDF harmonizations done by Niedermeyer in 1856 (Note 28):

Psalm Tones   •   Tantum Ergo

The Belgian organist François-Auguste Gevaert wrote harmonizations very similar to Niedermeyer’s (although he employed a bit of chromaticism here and there). Here are some PDF harmonizations done by Gevaert in 1856 (Note 29):

Psalm Tones   •   Tantum Ergo   •   Ave Regina Caelorum (2 pages)

Incidentally, the fact that Gevaert took the trouble to harmonize many of the priest’s parts (while leaving literally hundreds of other chants unharmonized) shows that, although utterly forbidden by the Church, a common practice was to accompany the priest’s singing on the organ. This practice lasted well into the twentieth century, since I have a book (published by a major publisher in 1938) containing almost 100 pages of priest’s parts (e.g. the Preface, the Pater Noster, the Ite Missa Est) all carefully harmonized, as can be seen by the following (Note 30):

Gevaert’s PATER (2 pages)   •   1930’s G. Schirmer PATER

An amazing statement is made by the celebrated Gregorianist Franz Witt in an 1880 Preface to the third edition of his Kyriale (first published in 1871). The statement is reproduced in this PDF file (and those who wish can read the entire fascinating Preface). Witt claims to have invented the system of harmonization we have been considering, claiming that folks like Gevaert and Lemmens copied him.

However, anyone who takes the time to examine the following excerpts of Witt’s work (Note 31):

Witt DIES IRAE   •   Witt KYRIE

. . . will see that, far from being confined to the diatonic notes of the Gregorian scale, Witt’s harmonizations are imitations of sixteenth-century polyphony, employing chromaticism freely. In the statement above, Witt claims that Lemmens "copied" his method, but when one considers these excerpts from Lemmens’ 1886 Treatise on Gregorian accompaniment (Note 32):

Lemmens 1   •   Lemmens 2

. . . it becomes clear that Lemmens was imitating, not Witt’s parodies of sixteenth-century polyphonic works, but Niedermeyer’s exclusively diatonic accompaniments. In light of the above, it is probably fair to say that Niedermeyer and Gevaert provided the harmonic foundation for the Belgian school’s accompaniments: a modal system of harmony, employing exclusively diatonic notes. Furthermore, in the masterful Preface to the NOH, Canon Jules Van Nuffel says:

When the Nova Organi Harmonia is submitted to a detailed examination and to a comparative study, with greatest interest we will publish a practical manual of our Gregorian accompaniment. It will be the methodological synthesis and will be useful to this work.

Flor Peeters was given the task of writing this Method, and in his sparse bibliography (PDF) he makes a point of listing works by Lemmens and Gevaert.

Actually, if anyone wants to understand the method behind the Chabanel Psalms, he need only acquire a copy of Peeters’ Practical Method of Plain-Chant Accompaniment, available in English, French, and Dutch. Monsignor Van Nuffel wrote the forward, reminding the readers that Peeters’ work is the modus operandi for the entire faculty at the Lemmens Institute, and thanking Peeters for having reached his eighteenth year as a Lemmens Institute professor. Most people, when singing the praises of Peeter’s marvelous work, do not realize that it was never meant to stand on its own, but rather, to be an explanation of the NOH.

Peeter’s Method is too long to be reproduced here. However, in light of this fact, it was thought that the "next best" exposition of the modus operandi behind the Chabanel Psalms would be the Preface from the NOH. Therefore, the NOH Preface (translated into English by a generous music student) is here linked to as a PDF file. I can add absolutely nothing to this magnificent Preface, least of all to the section towards the end which lists the six points most striven for in their accompaniments:

a) the careful movement of the lines reserved for the intermediary voices in polyphony, that of the tenor and especially that of the bass

b) the constant and varied use of shared notes in different voices

c) the pleasing use of the pedal notes in the bass, tenor, and even alto

d) the frequent application of conjunct motion in the movement of the voices

e) the richness of harmonic nuances obtained by minimal movement of voices

f) the rigorously modal character of the accompaniment

As the Preface goes on to say, one of the things which will surprise some is the admission (in certain cases) of parallels and free treatment of dissonance, and if the student looks hard enough through the hundreds of NOH pages, he will indeed find several examples of "forbidden" parallels:

. . . as well as a free treatment of certain dissonances:

Looking at a responsorial psalm (PDF example) by the famous Church organist, Aurelio Porfiri, one can see that he, too, admits the use of parallels, for stylistic purposes and to avoid abrupt voice leading. In my opinion, composers can go too far (and put too much strain on the singers) trying to hide their fifths and octaves. Here’s a PDF file showing an excerpt from Lassus.

Here is an audio example of a piece harmonized by Monsignor Van Nuffel for the NOH. It is arranged for and sung by voices in a polyphony, and, listening to this recording, one easily can see why the NOH editors favor such luscious "dissonances." Actually, the NOH dissonances are mild in comparison to other twentieth-century composers, for example, Theodore’s Marier Gloria.

One thing not mentioned in the NOH Preface is the unique and wholly splendid achievement of inventing a notational system so perfectly suited to Gregorian chant: one with no stems, no time signatures, nor definite note values, but which can be read by the organist so clearly. I have seen many efforts at producing such a system, but the Belgian school alone (in my estimation) hit the target. The NOH editors owe much to the system designed by the NOH predecessor (the Organum Comitans) in this regard, as can be easily seen by the following three comparisons (Notes 33-34):

“Diffusa” (Desmet/Depuydt)   •   “Diffusa” (Nova Organi Harmonia)   •   Verse Comparison

By the way, one of the most remarkable attempts at Gregorian notation was that of Marc de Ranse.  (Note 35)

It will be noticed that the Chabanel Psalms employ an abundance of minor-minor seventh chords (i.e. the "mm7"). I make no apologies for this, and can only point out the frequency with which these chords appear in the NOH. The following three examples (chosen at random) illustrate this (Note 36):

      * *  PDF file (3 Pages)

This example shows another wonderful thing about the NOH, containing as it does a melody which occurs many times throughout the liturgical year. The NOH editors, being musicians of the highest order, chose to reharmonize this melody (indeed, any melody which repeats) every time it occurs, giving the organist a virtual "text book" of the possibilities of keyboard harmonization. Peeters himself harmonized this particular example, and notice the beautiful walking bass line with which he ends page 2 (blue line). Attention was also drawn to several of the pedal tones in the tenor and alto (green lines).

I would like to conclude this essay with a small excerpt from a work by Peeters:

Peeter’s “Sub Tuum Præsidium

This excerpt reminds us that Peeter’s own modern compositions were not by necessity radically different from the harmonizations he did for the NOH. Even in such a short excerpt, he uses the beautiful minor-minor and Major-Major chords, and even resolves the seventh of his FMM7 chord upward!

Finally, lest it be thought that the Belgians were the only ones using their system of modal organ accompaniments, I must draw attention to the work of Dom Gregory Murray. He composed an absolutely gorgeous set of 100 modal interludes for organ (Note 37). The style throughout this entire work is identical with that of the Belgian school (although Murray was an English monk). I can say truly that these masterful interludes were a major source of inspiration for the Chabanel Psalms and I owe Dom Murray a great debt of thanks. Here is a PDF example of these heavenly pieces.

With great joy, I learned (several months after releasing the Chabanel Psalms) that Dom Gregory Murray wrote several Responsorial Psalms himself. As can be seen by these two examples (PDF), they were composed in a style very similar to the Chabanel Psalms.


“I am dreaming of an accompaniment sustained by a sequence of gentle, linked, light chords, exactly in the mode, the melody being left to voices alone.” — Dom André Mocquereau

Now that all this has been said, I have to admit that there is another school of organists altogether that has not been mentioned, and this have the greatest accompaniments of all. I refer to organists who make up their own private accompaniments (often on the spot) which are never written down, and most likely could not be notated anyway. One example of such an organist is P. Petrus Eder, OSB. Samples of his artistry can be heard on the FSSP CD Tu Es Petrus. His imagination, sense of balance, harmonies, and clever counter-melodies defy description, so wonderful are they. Here is but one short example of his magnificent work (a hymn to St. Joseph in which he varies the harmonies and registration every verse). (Note 38)

These organists often improvise on chant melodies, as well, and the possibilities are endless. Here is PDF score improvisation I based on the VICTIMAE PASCHALI LAUDES. It will be noted that it becomes more "chant-like" towards the end, as the singers are meant to begin the VICTIMAE immediately after the improvisation. Many of the chant method books (e.g. those of Johner, Peeters, & Abbé F. Brun [Note 39]) include "written out" improvisations on chant at the end. Worth mentioning again is Dom Murray’s work, also based (in large part) on chant melodies.

I have no doubt that masters like Peeters, Dupré, Duruflé, Guilmant, Widor, and Vierne composed accompaniments which rival Eder’s. Peeters hints as much at the very end of his Method by showing a few other magnificent styles of accompaniment that differ from that of the NOH. It would be a great mistake, then, to judge an organist merely by the accompaniments he publishes. Dupré was one of the greatest organists the world has ever known, yet his Method contains the most elementary Gregorian accompaniments conceivable. Van Nuffel made this clear in the NOH Preface when he said, "We sought to produce a Gregorian accompaniment whose artistic value was not compromised by its ease of execution." I can say the same about the Chabanel Psalms.


1 : : Dom Michael Horn, Ordinarium Missae organo concinente juxta editionem Solesmensem (Austria: Abbaye of Seckau, 1906), 18. Rev. Horn was a Benedictine from the Monastery of Seckau and Consultor to the Pontifical Commission for the Editio Vaticana.

2 : : Camille Saint-Saens, "Music in the Church," The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 4, 1991, pp. 19-26.

3 : : Fr. Alfred Young, The Catholic Hymnal (New York: The Catholic Book Exchange, 1909), 126.

4 : : August Wiltberger and Carl Wiltberger, Organum comitans ad Epitomen e Graduali romano (Düsseldorf: L. Schwann, 1910), [100].

5 : : Max Springer, Organum comitans ad graduale parvum quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam (Ratisbon: Alfred Coppenrath [H. Pawelek], 1910), 106.

5B : : Max Springer, Organum comitans ad graduale parvum quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam (Ratisbon: Alfred Coppenrath [H. Pawelek], 1910), 11. To Springer’s credit, the C# is this example is optional (in parenthesis).

6 : : Max Springer, Organum comitans ad graduale parvum quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam (Ratisbon: Alfred Coppenrath [H. Pawelek], 1910), 107.

7 : : Max Springer, Organum comitans ad graduale parvum quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam (Ratisbon: Alfred Coppenrath [H. Pawelek], 1910), 108.

8 : : Max Springer, Organum comitans ad graduale parvum quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam (Ratisbon: Alfred Coppenrath [H. Pawelek], 1910), 106.

9 : : Franz Xaver Mathias, Organum comitans ad Kyriale seu Ordinarium missae:

quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam
(Ratisbon: F. Pustet, 1906), Preface.

10 : : Franz Xaver Mathias, Organum comitans ad Kyriale seu Ordinarium missae:

quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam
(Ratisbon: F. Pustet, 1906), 8.

11 : : Franz Xaver Mathias, Organum comitans ad Kyriale seu Ordinarium missae:

quod juxta Editionem Vaticanam
(Ratisbon: F. Pustet, 1906), 13.

12 : : Nova Organi Harmonia Juxta Editionem Vaticanam, A rectore una cum professoribus Mechliniensis Interdioecesani Instituti Musicae Sacrae composita ac aptata, Pars I "Proprium de Tempore" (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1942), 105.

13 : : Dr. Peter Wagner, Ordinarium missae, juxta editionem Vaticanam (Paris: Procure Générale de Musique Religieuse, 1905), 6.

14 : : Dr. Peter Wagner, Ordinarium missae, juxta editionem Vaticanam (Paris: Procure Générale de Musique Religieuse, 1905), 6.

15 : : Dr. Peter Wagner, Ordinarium missae, juxta editionem Vaticanam (Paris: Procure Générale de Musique Religieuse, 1905), 45.

16 : : Dr. Peter Wagner, Ordinarium missae, juxta editionem Vaticanam (Paris: Procure Générale de Musique Religieuse, 1905), 23.

17 : : Dr. Peter Wagner, Ordinarium missae, juxta editionem Vaticanam (Paris: Procure Générale de Musique Religieuse, 1905), 16.

18 : : Abbé Ferdinand Portier, Graduale Romanum comitante organo, Tome I (Solesmes: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 1984), 89.

19 : : J. Robert Carroll, "The Forest and the Trees," Caecilia, Vol. 84, No. 2, 1957, 89.

20 : : Adoremus Hymnal (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997) #577.

21 : : Nova Organi Harmonia Juxta Editionem Vaticanam, A rectore una cum professoribus Mechliniensis Interdioecesani Instituti Musicae Sacrae composita ac aptata, Pars V "Kyriale et Missa pro Defunctis" (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1942), 169.

22 : : Adoremus Hymnal (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997) #418.

23 : : Nova Organi Harmonia Juxta Editionem Vaticanam, A rectore una cum professoribus Mechliniensis Interdioecesani Instituti Musicae Sacrae composita ac aptata, Pars II "Proprium de Tempore" (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1942), 5.

24 : : Nova Organi Harmonia Juxta Editionem Vaticanam, A rectore una cum professoribus Mechliniensis Interdioecesani Instituti Musicae Sacrae composita ac aptata, Pars VIII "Ad Vesperale" (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1942), 135.

25 : : Francis P. Schmitt, Church Music Transgressed: Reflections on “Reform” (New York: The Seabury Press, 1977), 130.

26 : : The precise name of this Institution is rather complicated. It used to be called the Malines Institute of Sacred Music (Mechliniensis Interdiocesan Institute Musicae Sacrae), but was then changed to the Lemmens Institute of Malines (or Mechelen) in memory of its legendary founder. It is now called the Lemmens Institute of Leuven.

27 : : Louis Niedermeyer & Joseph D’Ortigue, Gregorian Accompaniment, translated into English by Walter Goodrich (New York: Novello, Ewer, and Company, 1905), x. In restating the belief that Niedermeyer was the first to hormonize chant exclusively diatonically, I am not ruling out the possibility that others did this before him. For example, I am not completely convinced that the Belgian organist Théodore Nisard was not accompanying chant this way. Nisard’s publications on the subject are especially noteworthy as they condemn the use of the Dominant seventh chord in accompanying chant. In any event, it seems safe enough to assert that Niedermeyer was the first to publish treatises explicity espousing this method.

28 : : Louis Niedermeyer & Joseph D’Ortigue, Gregorian Accompaniment, translated into English by Walter Goodrich (New York: Novello, Ewer, and Company, 1905), pp. 63 &82.

29 : : François-Auguste Gevaert, Méthode pour l’enseignement du plain-chant et la manière de l’accompagner, suivie de nombreux exemples, 6th edition (Paris: Gand et Liege, 1856), pp. 26, 50, & 56-57.

30 : : Joseph Fischer, Organ Accompaniment to the Responses at High Mass and to the Prefaces for the Sundays and all the Festivals of the Ecclesiastical Year, Pater Noster, Ite Missa Est for all occasions (New York: J. Fischer & Brother, 1938), 18.

31 : : Father Franz Xavier Witt, Organum comitans ad Ordinarium Missae, quod ut partem gradualis romani, sub auspiciis sanctissimi domini nostri PII PP. IX. Curavit sacrorum rituum congregatio, 3rd edition (Ratisbon: Frederick Pustet, 1881), pp. 88 & 27.

32 : : Jaak Nikolaas Lemmens & Joseph Duclos, Du chant grégorien; sa mélodie, son rhythme, son harmonisation (Gand: C. Annoot-Braeckman, 1886), pp. 138 & 154.

33 : : Alphons Desmet, Aloysius Desmet, & Oscar Depuydt, Organum comitans ad Graduale sacrosanctae romanae ecclesiae SS.D.N. Pii X, Pars VI "Commune Sanctorum" (Belgium: H. Dessain, 1910’s), 86.

34 : : Nova Organi Harmonia Juxta Editionem Vaticanam, A rectore una cum professoribus Mechliniensis Interdioecesani Instituti Musicae Sacrae composita ac aptata, Pars IV "Commune Sanctorum " (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1942), 123.

35 : : Abbé F. Brun, Traité de l’Accompagnement du Chant Grégorien, 2nd edition (Paris: Au Bureau d’Édition de la Schola, 1912), 54.

36 : : Nova Organi Harmonia Juxta Editionem Vaticanam, A rectore una cum professoribus Mechliniensis Interdioecesani Instituti Musicae Sacrae composita ac aptata, Pars IV "Commune Sanctorum " (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1942), pp. 14-16.

37 : : Dom Gregory Murray, Liturgical Interludes: 100 pieces for organ (Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 1998). When I wrote the Kevin Mayhew Publishing Co. recently, they told me that Dom Murray’s book is out-of-print, and they have no thought of republishing anytime soon. However, it would seem that as though they have been included in this book, a collection including Modal Interludes for Organ by Andrew Moore, Liturgical Interludes by Dom Gregory Murray, and Adagio Collection by Noel Rawsthorne. Click here to learn more about Dom Gregory Murray’s Organ Interludes.

38 : : I also must admit that I find the accompaniments done by the organist of the Abbey of El Calcat (in a famous chant recording by that Abbey) to be of the very higest order.

39 : : It will be noted that the fascinating works of Abbé F. Brun are to be distinguished from the even more intriguing publications of Abbé Brune (organist and chapel master at the Cathedral of Saint-Claude).