HE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS for this year’s Sacred Music Symposium has not yet been released. It’s still being “adjusted” based upon the participants’ desires. This year, I’m considering giving a talk about the rhythm of plainsong. If I decide to give such a talk, the following questions will be addressed: (1) Can we know with certainty that our current plainsong performances correspond—generally speaking—to the way plainsong has always been sung? (2) Is it verifiably true that singing from adiastematic notation is “better” than diastematic notation? (3) What can we know with certainty about adiastematic rhythm? (4) Does following the official rhythm of the Church lead to the most beautiful performance of plainsong? (5) When it comes to plainsong rhythm, should we seek advice from those who have never stood in front of a choir in real life? (6) With regard to plainsong, should we seek advice from “scholars” whose recordings don’t sound beautiful?
Embracing The Official Rhythm: For more than two decades, I have been studying ancient manuscripts. Over the last two years I have examined the ancient MSS with greater attention than ever before (on account of a project I was involved with). As a result, I have decided to abandon the rhythmic markings of Dom Mocquereau—which often distort the melody—even though I have sung from these markings since the 1990s. My decision is based partially upon study of the ancient MSS, but it’s also based upon directing choirs for a long time. I have decided to embrace the official rhythm of plainsong: viz. “pure” Editio Vaticana. Technically, this is the only system allowed by the Church documents. Any doubt about this was swept away by the “Martinelli Letter” (02/18/1910). Abbat Pothier’s “De Caetero” letter (1906) also makes this clear. (It will be remembered that Abbat Pothier was chosen by Pope Pius X to create the Editio Vaticana.) Five decades later, a document by Pope Pius XII, De musica sacra et sacra liturgia (1958), in paragraph §59b stubbornly upheld the earlier decrees with regard to editions which modify 1 the official rhythm of the Editio Vaticana. We are starting each week with the Introit, and here’s how the “pure” Editio Vaticana scores look:
* PDF Download • INTROIT (Passion Sunday)
—Introit with “pure” Vaticana rhythm (official edition).
Here’s how the very somber “Passion Sunday” Introit sounds when sung according to the official rhythm:
Melismatic Mora Vocis: In the Introit for this coming Sunday (Passion Sunday), there’s only one melismatic mora vocis (“MMV”) singers must be aware of. In the score I placed a little arrow above it. The official edition, printed by the Vatican Press, doesn’t provide any help; the singers must watch carefully for a “white note” or “blank space equal to a notehead”—and that’s where the MMV goes:
Numerous Editions: The Editio Vaticana was reproduced by many publishers exactly identical to the Vatican Press version. I’m talking about editions published by Pustet, Mechlin, Schwann, Weinmann, and so forth. But in 1954, the editors of the Schwann (Abbat Bomm, K.G. Fellerer, and Msgr. Overath) thought the singers needed a little help. Therefore, they placed a little line underneath, to help the singer. The blue arrow shows the “melismatic mora” and the red arrow shows an editorial mark by the Schwann editors reminding you to elongate the note:
Schwann’s modern notation version also indicates the MMV:
Flor Peeter’s Edition: The edition by Flor Peeters, which follows the “pure” Editio Vaticana, indicates the MMV as we would expect:
Max Springer’s Edition: The edition by Max Springer of Beuron Abbey, produced circa 1910, observes the MMV just as one would expect:
Saint Leo Edition: Father Franz Xaver Mathias (an Alsatian priest and organist) founded the SAINT LEO INSTITUTE FOR SACRED MUSIC in 1913. His edition follows the “pure” Editio Vaticana and indicates the MMV as we would expect. However, Father Mathias indicates some additional elongations, which I don’t understand—and I marked these with blue arrows. It’s possible he couldn’t get the 1883 edition out of his head (on this, see below).
The organ accompaniment by Father Mathias matches, just as one would expect:
Dom Mocquereau’s Edition: The 1903 Liber Usualis was the crowning achievement of Dom Mocquereau, who desperately wanted it to be adopted by Pope Pius X. However, because of Dom Mocquereau’s “intransigence,” the pope chose Abbat Pothier’s edition instead. For this, Mocquereau never forgave Pothier. In any event, the edition by Dom Mocquereau has an elogation there:
14th Century: A manuscript from approximately 1385AD does not indicate an MMV—but that doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise:
Precursor To The Vatican Edition: The 1883 edition by Pothier does not correspond to the 1908 Editio Vaticana. That means Abbat Pothier must have changed his mind in 1908:
For the record, it seems that Abbat Pothier changed his mind about a lot of things in 1908, as this chart shows:
* PDF Download • COMPARISON CHART
—1876 (Hermesdorff); 1883 (Pothier); 1903 (Mocquereau); 1908 (Vaticana).
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 On 14 August 1905, the Vatican under Pope Pius X declared: “The Sacred Congregation of Rites declares and decrees that this same edition [Abbot Pothier’s Editio Vaticana] be considered by all as typical, in such wise that henceforth the Gregorian melodies contained in future editions of these books be perfectly conformed, without any addition, subtraction, or change whatsoever [nihil prorsus addito, dempto vel mutato] to the aforesaid typical edition, even in the case of extracts made from these books.”