ATHER SAMUEL WEBER’S new resource, The Proper of the Mass for Sundays and Solemnities, may not be a game-changer in its novelty, but its execution sets an extremely high bar for those of us interested in the musical proper of the Mass. The usefulness of this book to the average 1 choir is evident even at first glance. (View Images)
As its title suggests, this is a full set of the Proper of the Mass for each Sunday of the liturgical year. What sets this book apart, however, is the approach which Fr. Weber took in his treatment of each psalm. He is undoubtedly one of the modern masters of setting English chant.
Most propers in the book have four (!) different settings:
1. A MELISMATIC SETTING (sample video) that is not a direct transcription of the Gregorian original, but quotes it extensively, making modifications to elucidate the English text rather than the Latin.
2. A SIMPLIFIED SETTING (sample video) of the above, which is through-composed but much more accessible to singers who are not quite as strong at chanting. I would say these are comparable to the Graduale Simplex in their difficulty.
3. A GREGORIAN PSALM TONE (sample video) setting of the text.
4. AN ENGLISH PSALM TONE (sample video) setting of the text.
Overall, I would say this is the closest thing I have seen to an English spiritual descendent of the Graduale Romanum. Furthermore, each setting contains several psalm verses. These are extremely useful since they are not printed in the Latin Gradual (just the Scriptural citations). Being so closely adapted from the Gregorian originals, these “smell” of the liturgy, which is always a good thing. Recalling Pope Saint John Paul II’s statement that the sacrality and liturgical appropriateness of a piece can be judged by comparing it to the Gregorian form, we have here a strong contender.
What does this mean for your choir (and mine)? For me, it adds yet another option for singing the Proper of the Mass, which is something I am always on the lookout for. At my parish, we use a combination of St. Meinrad psalm tones, hymn settings of the Introit texts, chants from the Simple English Propers, my own Communion settings, and settings from the Graduale Romanum as rehearsal time permits. Fr. Weber’s new book is one I will gladly add to the above, in any iteration of the text.
This book could actually be a great way to teach a beginning schola how to chant from Gregorian notation. By beginning with the simplest settings, one could easily introduce the early concepts of mode, neumes, and the style of proclamation, gradually (get it?) progressing to the more ornamental settings. This book is not only useful as a liturgical resource, but a pedagogical one.
We here at Views from the Choir Loft will have a lot more to say about this wonderful resource in the coming days, and all of it will be deserved. It calls for three cheers from the liturgical music community.
This article is part of a series on Fr. Weber’s Book of Propers:
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Or above average, or even advanced!