M Gregorian Rhythm Wars contains all
M previous installments of our series.
HE UNITED STATES episcopal conference recently published what they deem “the principal books of music for the Eucharist,” and their document clearly affirms that the Editio Vaticana is still the Church’s official edition. Specifically, it says that “Gregorian chants of Mass parts and Propers” must be taken from the pre-Conciliar Graduale Romanum—more commonly referred to as the “Editio Vaticana.”
Ostrowski Vs. Williams • At the 2022 Symposium, the so-called “Chant Rhythm Wars” between Professor Weaver and myself proved very popular with the participants. Therefore, it makes sense to continue them. My colleague, Patrick Williams has agreed to enter into a “colloquy” or “argument” with me vis-à-vis Gregorian rhythm. I will put forward my ideas, then Mr. Williams will respond. If I have anything more to say, I’ll respond. And so forth. We believe this exchange will be of interest to readers. Who knows? Perhaps Professor Weaver might even be persuaded to join the conversation…
Legislation • From the standpoint of legislation, the question—in my opinion—is unambiguous. Pope Pius X published the Editio Vaticana (circa 1905-1913). In the words of Father Angelo De Santi, this edition was “given the force of law as a juridical code of sacred music.” Abbat Joseph Pothier (d. 1923) was named president of the Pontifical Commission on Gregorian Chant, which Pope Pius X referred to as his “special Roman Commission” in the MOTU PROPRIO dated 25 April 1904. This commission was to oversee the publication of the Editio Vaticana. Dom Mocquereau had ardently hoped his 1903 Liber Usualis would be adopted by Pope Pius X, but that did not happen. Dom Mocquereau then added his own markings to the official edition—perhaps attempting to “get even” with the commission that had “snubbed” his 1903 edition. In any event, regarding the modifications made to the official edition, Abbat Pothier declared Mocquereau’s additions erroneous and illicit in his famous “De Caetero” Letter of 1906. (I cannot add anything to what Pothier wrote; his words are lucid and explicit.) Furthermore, the Congregation of Sacred Rites under Pope Saint Pius X declared in 1910 that Catholics must use only the official rhythm. Under Venerable Pope Pius XII, on 3 September 1958, the condemnation of Editio Vaticana modifications was upheld in a forceful way. The Vatican was basically saying that using “counting” signs—in order to assist amateur singers—was permitted, but contradicting the Editio Vaticana rhythm was still prohibited. Consider the following example:
Dom Mocquereau’s modifications clearly do not “preserve the force and meaning of the notes” (which is what the legislation explicitly required).
Beyond Legislation • More knotty than legislation is the question of “authenticity.” When we sing from the Editio Vaticana, can we be certain we are singing in a style that’s historically accurate? Can we prove that we are singing the same way, broadly speaking, that Catholics have sung for centuries? The rest of my article will attempt to show that we can easily prove this.
Our Specimen • Let’s consider a single specimen, rather than trying to tackle all 40,000 pages of plainsong. Our specimen is a short excerpt from the INTROIT for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. [Ordinary Form: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.] By the way, you can see what an improvement the Editio Vaticana was—and why it was desperately needed—if you examine the 1865 version which had been in use prior to Pope Pius X.
What We Consider • Below are Dom Mocquereau’s markings. He believed that by adding such markings we obtain the “truly traditional reading” (Pierre Combe’s Restoration of Gregorian Chant, page 249).
Are Those ‘Authentic’ Markings? • Why were those elongations added by Dom Mocquereau to our specimen? We have already seen legislation forbids them—but what about musicology? When we employ Mocquereau’s modifications, are we singing in a more ‘authentic’ manner? We will see that it is lunacy to add such markings to the Editio Vaticana, which is a CENTO. As Francis Henry Burgess (d. 1948) wrote:
M “The Vatican Edition is no mere
M reproduction of a local or partial tradition,
M but a CENTO resulting from an extended
M study and comparison of a host of
M manuscripts gathered from many places.”
Applying individual nuances from an ancient manuscript to a CENTO is comparable to ‘transferring’ pedal markings from a work by Johannes Brahms to a work by Franz Liszt.
1513AD Manuscript • Let’s first consider 034braga|1513, a manuscript created (perhaps) circa 1513AD. This manuscript contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
1393AD Manuscript • Now let’s go back 100+ years and consider a manuscript from Soest Germany, created (perhaps) circa 1393AD. Notice that it lacks Mocquereau’s elongations:
1299AD Manuscript • Well, maybe those manuscripts were just flukes. Let’s go back 100 years earlier, to Cologne1001b|1299, a manuscript created (perhaps) circa 1299AD. We notice how—just like the previous examples—this manuscript contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
1119AD Manuscript • Let’s go back 200 years earlier. And don’t forget: 200 years is a long time. That would be like us traveling back to 1820, when Napoleon Bonaparte was still alive and inventions such as the light bulb were still about 50 years in the future. Consider 3823auvergne|1119, which was (perhaps) created around the year 1119AD, and written (some people believe) for the town of Sauxillanges. This manuscript also contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
1085AD Manuscript • Let’s go back even further, examining 1132Limoges|1085, a manuscript created (perhaps) circa 1085AD. This manuscript was copied by Dom Pothier in 1868, according to Dom Pierre Combe. In other words, Pothier would copy entire manuscripts (!) by hand as a young monk. Supposedly, Pothier once upbraided his student, Dom Mocquereau, for his heavy dependency on photograph reproductions of the manuscripts, rather than copying each by hand. Pothier was trying to make clear that a musician learns a great deal by the process of copying entire manuscripts by hand. Getting back to our specimen, we see that 1132Limoges|1085 also contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
1020AD Manuscript • When we examine GradualDenis|1020, which was created (perhaps) circa 1020AD, we see that it contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
957AD Manuscript • Let’s go back even further, to 47chartres|957. This manuscript was created (perhaps) circa 957AD. We see that—just as the others—this manuscript contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
What’s Going On Here?
What on earth is going on here? If Dom Mocquereau gave us the “truly traditional reading,” why does every manuscript we’ve examined so far—spanning more than 600 years—contradict those special modifications by Mocquereau? I will try to explain.
Moc’s Fantastic Four • Dom Mocquereau had a handful of favorite manuscripts. In this article, I call them MOC’S FANTASTIC FOUR. Broadly speaking, Dom Mocquereau had a predilection for: 121einsie|961, and 339sanGall|1039 and 359sanGall|877 and Bamberg6lit|905. These manuscripts are very clean, very complete, very ancient, and stunningly gorgeous.
Capricious Freedom? • When manuscripts contradict Moc’s Fantastic Four, he says they are “decadent,” accuses the scribe of being “capricious,” or says the authors wrote their musical notes “in a haphazard way and with little understanding of their meaning.” Dom Cardine—when certain examples contradict his theories—blithely attributes such contradiction to “freedom” or “elasticity.” Looking back, it seems incredible that people like André Mocquereau, Eugène Cardine, Ewald Jammers, Curt Sachs, and Jan Vollaerts pretended they could understand the ‘true’ rhythm, while the monastic scribes (spanning 800 years) were muttonheads who just wrecked everything. Nevertheless, such cockiness was consonant with the zeitgeist. More importantly, they subscribed to a particular theory of mass hallucination.
Mass Hallucination • We are told that, at some unspecified point, Catholics across Europe suffered a type of mass hallucination, in which they all forgot the ‘true’ rhythm of plainsong. Specifically, Dom Mocquereau claims the “primitive and universal rhythmic tradition” was lost due to this mass hallucination. Dom Cardine—considered Dom Mocquereau’s successor—likewise gives no explanation for how all the scribes forgot the ‘true’ rhythm. Cardine simply says “the finesse of the notation gradually disappeared,” and offers no explanation for his astonishing theory. Dom Cardine believes the scribes (somehow) transmitted the notes with blue-ribbon accuracy, yet all of them completely messed up the ‘true’ rhythm—and none of them got it right even accidentally. Dom Gregory Murray says the ‘true’ rhythm of Gregorian chant was “lost and forgotten” (his words) and suggests all later scribes “misunderstood” (his word) the ‘true’ rhythm. Like Dom Cardine, Dom Gregory Murray sees no need to explain why all the scribes magically forgot the ‘true’ rhythm yet (somehow) transmitted the pitches with blue-ribbon accuracy.
Not Even By Accident? • In Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin famously replies to his father: “Why isn’t the world ever unfair in my favor?” You see, there’s a huge problem with Dom Mocquereau’s theory. The “errors” and the “decadence” and “capriciousness” and “freedom” are always on one side. Never do we see—even by accident—an “error” which corroborates Dom Mocquereau’s elongations. To put it another way:
M If the scribes are truly as
M incompetent as we’re told,
M why don’t their errors ever
M corroborate the supposed
M ‘true’ rhythm of plainsong?
Manuscript from 1040AD • Let’s examine more manuscripts, just in case the examples I gave above are flukes. A very important manuscript called Yrieix|1040, created (perhaps) around the year 1040AD, contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations:
If Dom Mocquereau is correct that the scribes wrote “in a haphazard way,” why do their blunders never corroborate the ‘true’ rhythm?
Manuscript from 1066AD • Let’s examine yet another manuscript, viz. 1066nimes|1066, which was created (perhaps) circa 1066AD:
If Dom Mocquereau is correct that later scribes wrote “capriciously,” why do their errors never betray the ‘true’ rhythm?
Once again, Mocquereau’s elongations are missing! We are told the “capricious” scribes—due to mass hallucination—unanimously forgot the ‘true’ rhythm (at some unspecified point in history). Yet, these same “capricious” scribes transmitted the melodies with blue-ribbon accuracy. Could any musician believe this? If the scribes were so incompetent, why did their errors never betray the ‘true’ rhythm?
Eleven More Examples:
* Circa 1031AD • Our Specimen
—75cambrai|1031 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 965AD • Our Specimen
—Renaud|965 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1128AD • Our Specimen
—4951steven|1128 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1225AD • Our Specimen
—CistercienseHeidelberg|1225 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1143AD • Our Specimen
—Portugal|1143 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1047AD • Our Specimen
—Albi|1047 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1077AD • Our Specimen
—18010corbie|1077 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1023AD • Our Specimen
—123angelica|1023 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1079AD • Our Specimen
—StMaur|1079 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1087AD • Our Specimen
—1087cluniacensem|1087 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
* Circa 1057AD • Our Specimen
—857noyon|1057 contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
We Have Certitude • You might not be an expert in reading these different manuscripts, but anyone can see they contradict Mocquereau’s elongations. For instance, simply look at the first word (“iniquitátes”) and notice how the flex is identical to the neumes we have been examining. (This is the case in 1087cluniacensem|1087 and in StMaur|1079 and in 123angelica|1023). If you still have doubts, you can find that flex all over the place in the same manuscript, written by the same scribe. For instance, in 857noyon|1057 look on the same page (viz. Alleluia: Qui pósuit fínes) and take note of the “fí” of fínes, the “di” of ádipe, and the “at” of sátiat where the identical flex is employed.
“T” Symbol Missing • A manuscript that demands one’s attention is 9434Tours|1028:
This manuscript contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations, which we see clearly by comparing the flex on “ver” of the word “observáveris” to the neumes we’ve been considering. Furthermore, the scribe does not add the letter “T” which means “tarditas” or “trahere” or “tenere” or “tene”—basically a ritardando. The scribe employs that letter “T” during the Introit (cf. “quía ápud te”), but not where Dom Mocquereau added his ritardando markings.
A Very Special Witness • Finally, we must examine a very special witness: Montpellier H. 159, also known as the “Rosetta Stone of Gregorian chant.” This manuscript was created circa 989AD and is bi-lingual. That is to say, above the adiastemmatic notation, an ancient scribe translated into letter names the names of the musical notes, leaving no room for speculation or conjecture:
Once again, we see that this ancient and unambiguous bi-lingual manuscript contradicts Mocquereau’s elongations.
We are told that the scribes were incompetent, and that’s why they failed to transmit—even by accident—the ‘true’ rhythm of Gregorian chant. In the 40,000 pages of the plainsong repertoire, I’m not aware of a single instance where these ‘muttonhead’ scribes betray, corroborate, or even hint at the ‘true’ rhythm. Yet, somehow these same ‘dimwitted’ scribes transmitted the pitches with blue-ribbon accuracy. This is what we are told—but does it make sense?
Missing Link? • Sometimes atheists claim that one animal species evolved into another. Let’s pretend arguendo they assert that donkeys—over the centuries, little by little—evolved into eagles. A logical person would ask: “Where are the half-donkey half-eagle creatures?” In other words, evidence of an intermediary step (“missing link”) would be demanded—and rightfully so. In the same way a “miniature donkey with partially-developed wings” would be demanded, I demand to be shown plainsong manuscripts halfway between the ‘true’ rhythm and the manuscripts I’ve provided. Otherwise, I cannot take seriously the assertion that all the scribes suddenly “forgot” the authentic rhythm of Gregorian chant.
Moc’s Fantastic Four • I mentioned that Dom Mocquereau (and his followers) have a special predilection for certain manuscripts, which I’ve called Moc’s Fantastic Four. I owe it to the reader to show a few examples. Keep your eyes peeled for a symbol (“flex with episema”) that looks like this:
First of all, Bamberg6lit|905, created (perhaps) circa 905AD, does show a “flex with episema.” Another manuscript Dom Mocquereau really likes, 121einsie|961 was created (perhaps) circa 961AD, and it also shows a “flex with episema.” But other adiastemmatic manuscripts do not correspond. For instance, 339sanGall|1039—which comes (perhaps) from 1039AD—does not show a “flex with episema.” Another Saint Gall manuscript, 338sanGall|1058, also lacks a “flex with episema.” Yet another manuscript from Saint Gall is 340sanGall|1054, created (perhaps) circa 1054AD, and it does not have a “flex with episema.” I’m certainly not an expert in reading the notation of 239Laon|927, but—unless I’m mistaken—that manuscript contradicts the Mocquereau elongations, and that manuscripts dates (perhaps) from circa 927AD.
Mr. Patrick Williams • I know not how Mr. Patrick Williams will respond to my article, but I’d like to present him with a challenge. When it comes to the “flex with episema,” some scholars (such as Dom Mocquereau) believe it should be elongated. My question is simple: What evidence is there for such a conclusion? In other words, what concrete evidence shows it denoted an elongation? Please don’t say: “Because Dom Cardine says so.” I seek concrete evidence. I have my own suspicions about those signs. Briefly stated, many of them were variations without any deep significance, similar to “toward” and “towards” in English. They were also intimately bound up with signifying whether the pitch was to go higher or lower. (Indeed, I suspect many of the Romanian signs—what Notker referred to as litterae significative—were slight nuances, probably intended for individual cantors.)
My Conviction • In spite of what some have asserted, I have no animosity towards Dom Mocquereau. For more than twenty years, I sang from his editions. However, years of teaching choirs have demonstrated that—especially with a large group of singers—Mocquereau’s illicit modifications cause the chant to become fussy, plodding, and somewhat stagnant. It’s difficult for me to understand what is undesirable about singing from the Editio Vaticana as it was intended. This article has attempted to show that there is no great MYSTERY when it comes to plainsong rhythm; just follow the manuscript tradition! Furthermore, Dom Mocquereau (and his followers) were wrong to focus on just a handful of manuscripts, disregarding thousands of others. One should take into consideration the entire Gregorian repertoire.
Closing Quotation • Let us close with a quote from the PREFACE to the Editio Vaticana. This famous document is easy to find online, and the following translation can be compared to the original: 1
Therefore, when dealing with the manuscripts, one must always remember this: the fact that a manuscript might be older does not mean it must be accepted by reason of its age alone. The restoration of the Church’s song must not be based on paleography alone, but also must take into account history, the art of music (and especially chant), and experience in the laws of the sacred liturgy. Otherwise, even though it might be archaeologically correct, it might fall short in some of the other conditions, or offend against Catholic tradition by preventing certain periods from contributing to the heritage of the Church that which is good or even excellent.
1 Look for the paragraph beginning with the words: “In chirographis igitur versandis hoc primum quæ oculis est habitum…” and so forth.