OMETIMES we encounter statements so egregious they must be corrected. I recently came across this false statement: “All mainstream editions of chant books (Vatican, Solesmes, and so on) are known to contain a large number of errors.” First of all, the Solesmes edition is an exact reproduction (ne varietur) of the Vatican edition. Indeed, all publishers were required to print the Vatican edition without alteration: Schwann, Pustet, Mechlin, Dessain, Weinmann, Styria, and so forth. More importantly, the statement references “a large number of errors”—but errors according to whom? For example, the word “solemne” is misspelled in English but perfectly correct in Spanish. In Latin, Coeli, Caeli, and Celi are all spelled correctly. Some people use color, flavor, behavior, honor and Savior whereas others prefer colour, flavour, behaviour, honour and Saviour. These are not errors. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: The Vatican edition does not pretend to reproduce a particular version found in a particular monastery from a particular year; it’s a CENTO.
George Herbert Palmer (d. 1926) was not Catholic, but he understood this reality:
“No performing edition of the music of the Eucharistic Psalmody can afford to ignore the evidence of the current official edition of the Latin Graduale, which is no mere reproduction of a local or partial tradition, but a CENTO resulting from an extended study and comparison of a host of manuscripts gathered from many places. Thus the musical text of the Graduale possesses a measure of authority which cannot lightly be disregarded.”
It is wrong to “transfer” markings and nuances from a particular MS to the Editio Vaticana, just as it would be wrong to transfer a Fortissimo by Liszt to a score by Dvořák, or pedal markings from Chopin to music by Gershwin. The Gregorian melodies display astonishing unity—there’s no question about that. But that doesn’t mean every monastery for the last 1,500 years sang each melody in exactly the same way.
Fellow choirmasters…let’s never fall for this!
An Example • Tólle Púerum
Perhaps an example will make things clear. Let’s consider the Editio Vaticana version of “Tolle Puerum,” which is the ancient Communion antiphon for the Sunday within the Christmas Octave:
First of all, let’s take the very first edition Abbat Pothier ever created: his 1883 Liber Gradualis. His 1883 version is almost identical to the Editio Vaticana, and this should hardly surprise us because Rafael Cardinal Merry Del Val (obeying the directive of Pope Pius X) gave an order on 24 June 1905 that the Vaticana was to take as its basis the Liber Gradualis of Pothier. The red arrow points to the only divergence:
Now let’s turn to the famous MS called “Montpellier H. 159,” which dates from about 975AD. This is a “bi-lingual” manuscript, because it clearly notates each note, as you can see. Mr. Finn Egeland Hansen transcribed the entire Montpellier H. 159 Tonary, and the red arrow again directs your attention to a divergence:
We see that Abbat Pothier’s version is almost identical to Montpellier H. 159. Believe it or not, this is somewhat surprising. Abbot Pothier—according to Dom Pierre Combe (Restoration of Gregorian Chant, page 117)—said that Montpellier H. 159 “is not always in conformity with the pure Gregorian tradition.” So we cannot always assume Pothier’s version will match Montpellier H. 159, although in this case it certainly does. Indeed, if you examine “Pothier’s Tonary” you will see that his earlier version was greatly altered—for reasons we do not know—before being printed in the Liber Gradualis of 1883. (This image from Pothier’s Tonary is courtesy of Mr. Jean-Pierre Noiseux.)
It would be seriously wrong to assume that Montpellier H. 159 is the only MS that matters. For instance, here’s an MS from the 12th century which matches the Editio Vaticana to a high degree, yet has some important divergences, which I have attempted to indicate in blue ink:
Some people will say: “Oh, who cares? Montpellier H. 159 is all that matters; forget the rest of the Gregorian repertoire.” Such an assertion is seriously flawed. We must consider the entire Gregorian tradition when attempting to reconstruct pitches, and we must never pretend that one manuscript has all the answers. (Even the adiastematic notation MSS frequently contradict one another.)
Let us now consider the following MS which was created circa 1385AD. The way it corresponds to the Editio Vaticana is absolutely astounding—and I won’t deny that. On the other hand, there are some minor differences, which I have attempted to indicate with blue ink:
Some people will say: “Well, manuscripts from the 1300s are corrupt, and we can disregard anything contained by them because…they are corrupted.” I strongly disagree with such an assertion, because I believe in taking the full repertoire into consideration. I’m not comfortable rejecting the entire MS tradition of the 14th century. Indeed, some of the “alterations” from the Editio Vaticana are quite beautiful; Dr. Peter Wagner would even call them improvements!
Now, consider this MS from the late 1200s. Certainly there are some divergences, yet the similarities to the Editio Vaticana are breathtaking. It’s enough to make one think there might have been an “original, pristine source” which all Gregorian MSS used as their starting point: 1
Consider this MS from circa 1165AD. Again, the melodic similarities are absolutely mind-blowing:
I could easily include many more diastematic (“heightened”) examples, but let’s consider just one more. This one dates from around 1050AD:
Once again, it resembles the Editio Vaticana to an astonishing degree—the similarities are literally mind-boggling! On the other hand, there are slight melodic differences.
The idea is to “match” the manuscripts with pitches—that is to say, “heightened MSS” or “diastematic MSS”—to the manuscripts with adiastematic notation (“in campo aperto”) which don’t provide the pitches because they were written as a “reminder” of a melody which the singer already knew by heart. Here is a beautiful example from 1024AD:
At the end of the day, certain adiastematic manuscripts will correspond to one another—in amazing ways. And the adiastematic manuscripts will also correspond to “heightened” manuscripts—with a correlation that’s nothing short of astonishing. Nonetheless, it is utterly foolish to pretend that the CENTO approach of Vatican edition is “flawed” or “erroneous.” And I have been struggling for twenty years to understand why some singers place adiastematic notation from a particular manuscript (created for a particular monastery in a particular century) above the Editio Vaticana notes. The Graduale Triplex would be an example of a book which adopts such an approach, and I cannot understand why people think that makes sense. 2
Andrew’s Magnificent Achievement
Cantus Gregorianus is a house of many mansions, and there’s great interest in the possibility of “composing” plainsong in the vernacular. Mr. Andrew Hinkley recently completed a magnificent achievement, placing the complete Palmer/Burgess (Anglican) PLAINCHANT GRADUAL into GABC. I strongly recommend our readers investigate the great service by Andrew:
* Plainchant Gradual • VOLUME 1
—Adapted by George Herbert Palmer (d. 1926) and Francis Burgess.
* Plainchant Gradual • VOLUME 2
—Adapted by George Herbert Palmer (d. 1926) and Francis Burgess.
Mr. Hinkley even shows the original next to what he’s created so you can make sure there are no mistakes.
What is the quality of the Palmer/Burgess Gradual? Jeffrey Tucker of the Church Music Association of America was a huge fan of this book, but I must admit that I have reservations. Let’s consider the Palmer/Burgess version of Tólle Púerum, which we have considered during this article:
In my humble opinion, the adaptation was done without much thought to beauty or form. For example, it seems that unimportant words (the, and, of, etc.) get all the melodic emphasis, which grates. Moreover, the highest neume of the entire piece—and the culmination at the “Golden Mean”—happens on the word which. From what I can tell, the editors of the Palmer/Burgess just “stuck” or “placed” or “inserted” the English words underneath the Latin melodies mindlessly. On the other hand, maybe they didn’t care! Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt once took a long trip, visiting many Anglican churches. He said they sang the plainsong better than anyone, but he couldn’t understand a single word—so they might as well have been singing in Latin!
In terms of English adaptations, the highest quality I’ve seen to date were the Chaumonot Communions, but most are currently unavailable until they can find a publishing company… In the meantime, I will keep pushing them to release them online!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 If such an “original source” existed, we don’t possess it. Dom Prosper Guéranger fervently believed there was such a source—but if it ever existed, it hasn’t been found.
2 Indeed, the FOREWORD to the Graduale Triplex is riddled with errors and should be withdrawn. I don’t say this lightly, but it’s an embarrassment and should never have gone to print.