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 resides with his wife and children.
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“Vatican II did not say anything about the direction of the celebrant. […] I love both directions of celebrating Mass. Both are full of meaning for me. Both help me to encounter Christ—and that is, after all, the purpose of the liturgy.”
— Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (February 2007)

Transposed Mode • This Sunday’s Communion
published 22 September 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

N SOME UNIVERSITIES, there’s a disconnect between modal theory and practice. Some professors make students memorize a whole bunch of “rules” which can actually be detrimental. Those who really dig into Renaissance music—and I mean performing and examining tons of scores by tons of composers—discover this disconnect pretty quickly. In the conservatory, we had to read woks by the theorists of the time: H. Glareanus, J. Tinctoris, T. Morley, A. Uttendal, and so forth. One theorist we read extensively was Pietro Aron. Students ardently wish that all those theorists agreed, but many even contradicted themselves! They were trying to force music to fit into a set of “rules” and some created quite a mess. 1

Looking at this Sunday’s Communion is a good way to explore certain problems of modal theory. When we add psalm verses, the normal routine is to switch the position of DO—literally switch its position—like this. If you’re unwilling to do that, you can try to avoid switching the position of DO, but that leads to major problems. Believe it or not, the problems could actually be “solved” if a single flat was added to the word “Dóminum,” but that’s not really how flats were used. 2 One could also use a Mode VII psalm tone to “solve” the problem … but doing that just sounds wrong.

This chant is known as a “transposed” chant. You can see this was no accident on the part of the Editio Vaticana editors:

272 Tollite Hostias Chant

Abbot Pothier followed the tradition in his 1883 Liber Gradualis, and notice where he places the reciting pitch (highlighted in yellow):

270 Pothier 1884 TOLLITE

My favorite way to “solve” the problem—which can avoid confusing your singers—is with a transposed psalm tone:

    * *  PDF Download • COMMUNION “Tóllite Hóstias”

If you don’t believe this psalm tone actually exists, please click here and here.


1   Proper analysis of Mode VI polyphony, for example, can often be problematic. Glareanus is particularly interesting on these questions.

2   A reader, Ján Janovčík, has kindly pointed out the exception which proves the rule, from the Graduel de Klosterneuburg.