EFORE THE INVENTION of the internet—which gave any owner of a ‘smart phone’ the power to easily conduct Zoom calls with people on different continents—each region in the United States had its own dialect, its own way of pronouncing English. That’s very much like the medieval monasteries; each one had their own particular ‘dialect’ or way of singing Gregorian Chant. Each medieval monastery also had its own handwriting: a particular way the neumes were written. Abbot Pothier, in his 1880 publication Les Mélodies Grégoriennes d’après la tradition, was the one who made the determination as to which were neumes were “the most universal.” For instance, Montpellier H. 159 uses “upside down” quilismas, but Pothier did not adopt those for the official edition.
In Gregorian Chant, instances of the strophicus are not uncommon:
What’s the proper way to sing these notes?
Traditionally, they are divided into groups of Two (2) and Three (3), and each group is given a slight—almost imperceptible—vocal impulse. Consider this Offertory in the third mode, as transcribed by Dom Mocquereau for the “Liber Usualis in Modern Notation,” published in 1924:
Like most Gregorian chant, this Offertory is very ancient.
Here’s how it looked in the 10th century:
Or consider this Offertory from the feast of Epiphany:
It would sound something like this, although I don’t claim to be a great singer.
URING the 1970s, another way of performing these neumes was adopted in certain quarters. This method—sometimes referred to as “the goat repeat”—has a vocal impulse on each punctum. According to this interpretation, each of these notes would receive a small vocal impulse. In my humble opinion, this approach is not as artistically pleasing as the traditional approach, especially for bistropha and tristropha:
On the other hand, Abbot Pothier’s 1908 PREFACE does explicitly allow for such an interpretation. I think the “goat repeat” can work nicely when it comes to pieces such as Kyrie Fons Bonitatis, where I cannot help but “hear internally” the tropes that were removed. In any event, about twenty years ago, I had the amazing privilege to travel to Washington D.C. for private instruction with a priest whom many consider the USA’s preëminent Gregorianist. For several years, he was Eugène Cardine’s boss at the Pontifical institute—so he was quite familiar with the writings and theories of Dom Cardine.
At that time, speaking of repeated notes in Gregorian Chant, I asked the following question:
“In modern music, when we have repeated notes we restrike each one. An example would be Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante Opus 18. Does that mean we should have a vocal impulse on each note or punctum in plainsong?”
In response, this patient priest explained that I had things 100% backwards. We must avoid looking backwards from modern music; instead we must understand how things developed. In those days, “paper” was non-existent. They had to kill animals and dry the skin to get paper. They had limited tools at their disposal, and didn’t use a system of Whole Notes, Half Notes, Quarter Notes, Sixteenth Notes, and so on—those would come later. In essence, for a “note” they would make a punctum: (1D). If they wanted a longer note, they would make two impressions: (2D). If they wanted a longer note, they would make three impressions: (3D). And so forth:
The key, then, is to avoid looking backward, based on how we interpret musical notation in the year 2020. Instead, we must understand how and why the notation itself developed.
At the beginning of this article, I reminded the reader that each monastery had its own particular way of singing plainsong. It is foolish to seek “the” correct way of singing plainsong properly. The Gregorian repertoire is massive, and different monasteries had different styles of singing. In my opinion, the best way to sing repercussions is the traditional way (SEE ABOVE), because it is artistically pleasing, historically accurate, and unified. At the same time, I don’t deny that Abbot Pothier allowed for the possibility of other approaches to the repercussion in his 1908 PREFACE.
OPE PIUS X appointed a special committee to assemble the Editio Vaticana (“Vatican Edition”), which is still the official edition of the Church. It is the only edition ever imposed by juridical code upon the Church. (The Editio Medicæa was highly encouraged, but not imposed.) Around the year 1904, the committee spent a lot of time fighting about the “true and correct” melodies of the Church. Essentially, the followers of Dom Mocquereau wanted the most ancient version—even when that meant piecing together a version that had never existed. Opposing this were the followers of Dom Pothier, who believed in “organic development”—that is to say, the notion or idea that chants could improve through the centuries as the melodies were sung over and over and slight modifications were made.
One particular chant they fought over was Kyrie Lux et Origo. Basically, the followers of Dom Pothier favored the “Teutonic Dialect,” which tended to make every MI into a FA and every TI into a DO. The followers of Dom Mocquereau favored a version with TI—also found in the ancient MSS—as you can see here:
Who was correct? Dom Mocquereau or Dom Pother? They both were; there is no “correct” answer. At the end of the day, a choice needs to be made. Once that choice has been made for the entire Church—as it was under Pope Pius X—it seems counterproductive to insist upon a particular reading when we consider how vast the Gregorian tradition is, and the changes it has undergone through the centuries.
When the Editio Vaticana was released, it became fashionable to say the previous editions had been utter garbage. To be fair, they were pretty awful compared to what Abbot Pothier produced. However, consider this statement regarding Dom Ermin Vitry (1884-1960):
I remember Father Vitry, an adamant adherent to the Vaticana of 1905, remarking that the old chant, like that of Mechelen and Ratisbon, couldn’t have been all that bad, since he had been brought up on it. It was musicologically indefensible, but the musicological aspects of chant were not far advanced, and the basic plea was not only for an aesthetic or scientific norm, but for the guarantee of a universally acceptable official song. With more aesthetics and more science, the same plea would be made for the Vaticana. The fight has been going on for a long time, and will probably continue.
Consider this remarkable Graduale from the year 1800 in Quebec:
Le Graduel romain (John Neilson, 1800AD). A collection containing all the chants for the Proper of the mass: introit, gradual, tract or alleluia, offertory, and communion, as well as those for the Feasts of Our Lord (the Proper of the Time) and of the Saints (the Common of the Saints). Accompanied by a text, the square notation is printed in movable type on a four-line staff. The name Graduel comes from the response sung after the first reading from the bible which, until the papacy (590-604) of Gregory the Great, was read by the deacon on the “gradus” (steps) of the “ambo” (oblong elevated pulpit reserved for the proclamation of the Gospel). The models for the first Canadian edition of the Graduel romain, published in Quebec City in 1800, were the Graduel from the diocese of Vannes in Brittany and the books of Lyon. The first musical notation to be printed in Canada, the Quebec edition came into being through the initiative of John Neilson, who also published the Processional romain (1801) and the Vespéral romain (1802).
In all seriousness, many of the Propers are quite nice in this book—although still “corrupt” compared to the Editio Vaticana. Indeed, the following (not Credo VI, but Sanctus XI, and Agnus Dei XI) are almost identical to what we have:
I think the most important thing is that the music be beautiful, dignified, and prayerful.