EADERS WILL recognize the name of Achille P. Bragers (1887-1955), who became the most famous exponent of the Solesmes accompaniments—surpassing even Julius Bas, Henri Potiron, and Jean Hébert Desroquettes in fame. 1 An extremely rare item has been scanned, thanks to Mr. Peter Meggison, the proprietor of Catholic Devotional Hymns. I hope someday Peter can send us the rarest book of all: The Monastery Hymnal. That’s a 1954 hymnal by Bragers so incredibly rare that copies may not exist…but I digress.
The “Bragers Service Book” (1941) will please you very much. It contains miscellaneous chants frequently sought by organists: Concordi Laetita, Salve Mater Misericordiae, Inviolata, Rosa Vernans, Virgo Dei Genitrix, Sub Tuum Praesidium, O Quam Suavis (where Sanctus VIII comes from), Ave Verum Corpus, Adoro Te Devote, litanies, and tons more:
I especially enjoyed what Bragers calls the Modulating link to Alleluia. 2
Monsieur Bragers anticipated the Brébeuf Hymnal by using a marvelous technique too few choirmasters know about. I am talking about “shared melodies.” For example, examine the different melodies Bragers uses for the O SALUTARIS HOSTIA. You will find him using an Advent melody (Creator Alme), a Christmas melody (Jesu Redemptor), and so forth. That way, when the congregation sings at Benediction, they can match the liturgical season. This is the same technique used in the Brébeuf Hymnal—tons of options are provided, to make sure congregations can join in the singing! We did not, however, use as many “extra” melodies as the famous ARUNDEL HYMNAL (which included a Preface by Pope Leo XIII). The Arundel Hymnal sometimes contains as many as fifteen different tunes for a single text! 3
Responses to the Brébeuf Hymnal
Speaking of the new Brébeuf Hymnal, check out these responses:
(1) Church musician friends; Buy yourselves a copy of the Saint Brebeuf Hymnal. This is a revolution in Catholic hymnody. I am astounded into silence at the care put into this hymnal—its simplicity, its theological depth, everything. Just buy and swim in the theology!
(2) Hymnal received! You are right to be proud of your work, this is a treasure.
(3) Just wanted to let you know that a friend of mine got a Brebeuf Hymnal and is thrilled with it. She texted me: “I can’t stop looking at the contents”—and she had an emoji of a person happily dancing on a keyboard.
(4) Outstanding! From cover to cover is just phenomenal.
(5) Music at Mass should be an opportunity for worshiping God. May I suggest a movement to get the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal (published 24 December 2018) into your parish? I bought a copy because as a teen I was in five choirs: three constantly, two when they needed the young soprano. I love to sing. I had friends who graduated with degrees in sacred music/church music. I have sung a LOT of amazing church music, and the Catholic Church may be the One True Church but the hymnals…sigh! Sorry I probably sound like a commercial, but this hymnal is the most amazing one I have ever had my hands on, and I have a fair few on my bookshelves. It is designed to be a Catholic hymnal; the texts are theologically fabulous (I have a Masters in Theological Studies and am a Bible loving geek); and this is awesome—like having a catechism in the music! I also have a teaching certification, and this music would help teach the faith to children in a way they will never forget! “Sung learning” is internalized deeply as it is heard, read, and physically sung—so it sticks. This hymnal is full of SINGABLE tunes, many of them very old. The lyrics are translations of traditional songs that go way back—like 4th century—and they are just beautiful. The Latin is there, side by side with a more literal translation for understanding, and it tells you what tunes will fit the Latin. There are also carefully selected English translations—all footnoted so you can do research if you want—but there, and clear, and orthodox, and gorgeous! They limited the total number of tunes used to help a congregation to master the singing, so that they can gradually come to where they no longer have to struggle because the tunes will become familiar! This is better than any of the protestant hymnals. I keep spreading the word: THIS should be the hymnal in every Catholic parish; and just do all the singing from it! Everyone who is capable of singing will WANT to sing these songs.
(6) The Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal is quite unlike any other (allegedly) Catholic hymnal you’ve ever seen. Because it actually is a Catholic hymnal—(so far as I know) no other so-called “Catholic hymnal” that’s currently published consists solely and exclusively of music that’s actually fully and completely Catholic in both origin and expression. Hymns selected from the Church’s wonderful tradition and glorious treasury of sacred music, dating back through the centuries to the time of Ambrose and Augustine. […] And alongside these beautiful Latin hymns are printed—and designated as “Assistance for comprehension”—the best literal English translations of these hymns I’ve ever seen. By these criteria, no other Catholic hymnal of which I’m aware comes close to the new standard set by the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal.
Much more needs to be done to help people understand the value of the Brébeuf Hymnal—and don’t worry, more explanations are coming! For example, there will be musical guides produced, making sure the “hidden treasures” are not missed. And something splendid is coming vis-à-vis the organ accompaniments—which I’m dying to reveal to you! It will be revealed soon.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Bragers graduated from a famous Belgium school called the “Lemmens Institute.” In the 1900s, this same institute produced the Organum Comitans Ad Graduale. A few years later, Monsieur Bragers made improvements to these, when he published his own versions. Finally, in the 1940s, the Lemmens Institute built upon these earlier attempts and published the massive Nova Organi Harmonia.
2 An example of that type of modulation is on page 149. By the way, I am not sure why Bragers harmonized certain items, such as the Good Friday chants. (The organ cannot be played on Good Friday.) Speaking of Holy Week, the Bragers book is being released at a particularly excellent moment, since it contains the “old” Holy Week—and Rome recently gave permission for certain parishes to use it.
3 I do believe one can “go too far” in terms of sharing melodies. For example, I would never have the guts to do what the Pius XII Hymnal did in this arena—although its editor created quite a thoughtful accompaniment for Christus Ist Erstanden. Basically, I feel that certain melodies have strong associations with certain texts and, therefore, should not be shared. Look what the Arundel Hymnal attempted, and see if you agree. That’s just plain crazy!