M Corpus Christi Watershed is pleased
M to welcome our newest contributor,
M Mr. M. Frederes, whose inaugural
M article will be of great interest:
LITTLE LESS than 10 years ago, through the investigative research of Katharine Ellis, Professor of Music at University of Cambridge, the name and activities of a highly influential yet stealthily hidden activist in the politics of plainchant in 19th century France were uncovered who may have played a pivotal role in which edition of the chant eventually became the Editio Vaticana. Ellis discovered seven boxes of documentation at the Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence, France about this clandestine operative in Gregorian chant politics. The name of this former Benedictine novice and French diplomat was Auguste Pécoul. What follows are just a few of the highlights from Ellis’ book The Politics of Plainchant in fin-de-siècle France (2013, 165pp), where she documented her findings. When reading her account and this summary, keep in mind that it may differ (slightly or substantially) from other points of view of these events as described by other authors. Her resulting work is based not only upon the contents of the never before catalogued papers she discovered, but also on a lengthy seven-page bibliography. Ellis produced an extremely rich and dense text with exhaustive footnotes describing several layers of parallel trajectories in excruciating detail, and what has been left out of the overview below far outweighs this brief sampling. The overlapping layers of intrigue all intersect at points concerning Gregorian chant and Mr. Pécoul, who was a relentless catalyst for organized protests, meetings, negotiations and sometimes scandal. At times, he was his own worst enemy, and seemed to answer only to himself.
Pécoul’s Vocation at Solesmes Cut Short • Pécoul’s family was Catholic and wealthy. Their fortune was made trading in Martinique sugar and rum. Pécoul tried to enter monastic life, taking on his habit as a novice at Solesmes in 1860, but left due to unfortunate circumstances in 1863. Footnotes indicate that Dom Guéranger wrote to Pécoul to discuss the impediment, even though his vocation was six years old before his entry into Solesmes. The death of his second and last brother prompted him to leave the monastery when his mother pleaded with him to marry and secure the family line as their sole heir. While at Solesmes, Pécoul became a very loyal friend to Dom Pothier. Pécoul in a letter to Dom Mocquereau said that he had promised to support Dom Pothier “unto death.” After leaving the monastery, Pécoul went on to serve as a diplomat to the French ambassadors to Madrid (mid-1866), and a few years later to the Holy See (1868). Pécoul studied canon law, and remained closely involved at the Vatican until 1906. Being well connected in both the Church and the French government gave Pécoul an unfair advantage over anyone interested in having influence in the politics of plainchant. His experience with monastic life, vast network of diplomatic contacts and close ties to the Vatican made him an ideal undercover agent. His secret mission was to make sure that the nation of France, the French printshop worker, the Benedictine Monastery of Solesmes, and his friend Dom Pothier would succeed in their endeavor to research, restore, print, publish and eventually profit from their work. Each of the forementioned interests were threatened by present or impending injustice, at least from the perspective of a Frenchman, or a Solesmes monk.
Print Unions and French Nationalism • The French printing industry was a lucrative business. French exports of music in 1864 were four times what was brought in. The citizens of France who worked in the publishing industry producing liturgical books for the Church were greatly offended when their archenemy, the Bavarian publisher Friedrich Pustet of Regensburg, Germany was granted a 30-year exclusive privilege in 1868 to print a new edition of the Medicean text. This was an existing abridgement of the Gradual previously commissioned by the Council of Trent. To secure his financial hold on liturgical book publishing, Pustet wanted this edition codified as the official chant edition, and to become the permanent supplier. The people of France were strong nationalists due to numerous wars with England and had no affection for German or any other foreign influence. France would go on to lose the Franco-German War in 1871, which dug in this anti-German sentiment even deeper. Pécoul began an aggressive campaign to promote the work of Solesmes to help turn this tide. It would be an uphill battle, because even the Vatican was holding back the work of Solesmes, and Pothier did not have the trust of French printers, having chosen to print his original Liber Gradualis in Belgium, using Belgian type. This did not go unnoticed by the liturgical publishers, who had heard the “brothers and friends of Dom Pothier clamour in the softest of voices for the universal and general use of the Liber Gradualis as the official chant for all dioceses … here is the third thief getting ready to cut the ground from under the feet of publishers … where, pray, is the sense in printers defending this edition?”
“Singing Duel” • In 1882, the Arezzo Congress of Liturgical Chant was organized by an enthusiast for religious music named Don Guerrino Amelli, and in attendance were a great number of those interested in the restoration of the chant from eight different countries. During this conference, Pothier engaged in his famous “singing duel” with Msgr. Haberl, editor of the Regensburg edition, who, by all accounts, was soundly defeated by the pure beauty of Pothier’s performance style and the quality of his new research and chant edition. At the end, a series of resolutions were passed by vote in favor of the work of Solesmes, but all were sharply disapproved of by Rome, in favor of the Ratisbon edition by the decree Romanorum Pontificum Sollicitudo, issued by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of Rites on April 10, 1883. In the decree, it was declared that the Ratisbon edition was the only legitimate and authentic chant of the Roman Church, and that it must be called by this name. More strong language was included to convey the moral obligation of bishops to adopt it, in order to bring unity to the practice of liturgical chant. On May 3, 1884 a papal counter-brief defined Solesmes research as only of archeological value. Pothier could therefore not disseminate any of his work.
Abandoned Graduals • Bishop Etienne-Antoine-Alfred Lelong of Nevers was the first to order his diocese to adopt the Ratisbon edition, but his clergy did not comply. A second bishop Nicolas-Joseph Dabert of Périgueux met a similar fate. In 1889, this bishop went as far as to buy copies for his entire diocese, but being unwilling to firmly impose the edition, he is said to have died with his residence full of the official German Graduals, while the French editions remained in use. The Church was as unwilling to be firm in its musical policy convictions as the clergy were to being generously obedient. Does this theme sound familiar?
Rome v. French Law • The Vatican’s intent was to move the Church towards Romanization, which in practice meant increased liturgical unity in terms of text and ritual, and plainchant needed to follow suit. The chant was still seen by some as an accessory rather than an integral part of the liturgy, and this was something that Rome wanted to change through standardization of the chant edition. The resistance to these changes carried another political charge that Pécoul was especially suited to deal with. However, the “ultramontane” vision Rome had for the Church was difficult to fully implement in France, due to the strong sense of nationalism that was woven into the fabric of the people, and the law of the land. The Church in France was under the Concordat of 1801 which declared French bishops employees of the state, which prevented the Vatican from being the final authority concerning policy and procedure in their diocese. To make matters worse, the Organic Articles of 1802 declared that the state had veto power over any Vatican decree. These were in place for over a century until eventually revoked in 1905. Fortunately, Catholicism was also named the state religion per the Charter of 1814, and in general, the Church flourished. Cathedral choir schools were rebuilt, monastic orders reassembled, including the Solesmes monastery founded by Dom Guéranger in 1833, and a French liturgical publishing industry was born. In November 1880, the monks were forcibly removed by the French government from their choir stalls while chanting the divine office, and this happened repeatedly until 1922.
Ratisbon Edition … Mandatory? • When the Vatican began giving serious consideration to the making of the Ratisbon edition obligatory in 1889, it shook everyone involved with the restoration at Solesmes. This news, originating from one of three strongly nationalistic bishops, the bishop of Dijon, was used as a catalyst for Pécoul to initiate his fierce journalistic activism against the Pustet privilege. Pustet, of course, was emboldened by this decree.
Mobilizing the Print Unions • Pécoul knew that his greatest leverage would be mobilizing the citizens of France who would be most affected if the Ratisbon edition became canon law. To help defend the printshop worker from the German competition, Pécoul assisted thousands of workers in lobbying government officials and Cardinal François-Marie Richard de la Vergne, Archbishop of Paris during the 1890’s to try to stave off this permanent German overthrow of the industry that provided their livelihood. Repeated protests driven by Pécoul were arranged to bombard the various civil authorities to harken to the needs of their oppressed constituents. This sentiment of the oppressed working class was also known to be close to the heart of Pope Leo XIII.
Unwanted Press • Pothier tried to subdue and rein in the severity of Pécoul’s approach, but he would have none of it. In a letter to Pothier on July 21, 1891, Pécoul stated, “It’s no longer about liturgy or music but about business and commercial interests.” Pécoul became very unruly at times, such as when he leaked sensitive information to the press during the Solesmes crisis of 1893, which ended up on the front page of Le matin, a “scandalmongering newspaper,” exposing the disgraceful rumors concerning the abbess of Sainte-Cécile. In April 1893, both the abbey and the convent were put under emergency jurisdiction during Vatican investigations, despite the ongoing exile from their abbey.
“War Machine” • Ellis states that Pécoul used “aggressive and exploitative techniques” to manipulate and control the narrative using political spin and at times, as we will soon see, disinformation by omission. His strategy of remaining twice removed and unidentified was maintained by using a variety of codenames in his organization of protests, media publications, letters to clerics and pamphlets. By avoiding the disclosure of his identity, this allowed Pécoul to appear to the public as not one, but many independent groups all clamoring for the same thing. Here is an article which appeared in Revue du chant grégorien in 1895 under Pécoul’s codename “Schmidt.” Dom David, Pothier’s closest aide, referred to Pécoul’s approach as his “war machine,” and did not hesitate to call upon his services when the need arose.
Realizing The Mocquereau Effect • Pécoul began to sense that Mocquereau, Pothier’s protégé, and his friends were beginning to appropriate Pothier’s patrimony as a palaeographer, and this began to irritate him. Pécoul vehemently opposed the “modernist” effect Dom Mocquereau was having on palaeography by introducing theories many medievalists considered unproven and unprovable. One example included in the book of Pécoul’s own writing explains the fault he had found with Mocquereau’s theories:
“The two monasteries of Solesmes, the abbeys of St-Pierre and Ste-Cécile, are conservatoires of Gregorian chant. Perhaps the first in the Catholic world, but concervatoires. Performance perfection is brought to unsurpassable heights, and responds fully to the musical sense. But are these chants still prayer?”
Ellis writes, “Immediately afterwards Pécoul began to summarize an article by Pierre Aubry on decadence in liturgical music of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, taken from the Tribune de Saint-Gervais, to which he subscribed.” From this excerpt one can understand that Pécoul was making the same distinction that members of the musically informed clergy have often made when treating the topic of liturgical music, namely that music which appeals too strongly to the sensitive appetite is no longer suitable for worship, because it ceases to be prayer any longer.
“Plainchant, executed with due restraint, has a great advantage for the use of the Church. This is because, being unable, owing to its gravity to move the affections that arise in the theatre, it is most suitable to arouse those that are proper to the church.” — Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro, OSB (1676-1764), Teatro crítico universal, discourse 14, § III.
Mocquereau’s Inconsistency • Ellis came to believe that Mocquereau was fully aware of the incongruity she identified between his extrapolation from a minute body of comparative evidence, for the purpose of rhythmic interpretation on one hand, and on the other, his drive for scientific and statistically sound evidence for melody. The huge body of raw data in the Paléographie musicale he used to demonstrate Gregorian melodic unity did not have a complement for his changes to the rhythm. Ellis decides that the blind eye Mocquereau turned towards this contradiction was driven by his personal imperative to “forge a new path on the basis of slender evidence, but to do so in a manner that is academically respectable.” She also points out the irony that “some of the pressure for change came from the pleading of his own regular contacts for a guide to interpretation that would make their delivery of the musical liturgy simpler. And those contacts, who included Dom Andoyer, simply wanted practical solutions, not definitive answers.”
Liquidation of Solesmes • When the Law of Associations (1901) suppressed nearly all the religious orders in France and confiscated their property, the question arose of who owned the copyright to the work done at Solesmes. Everyone who was involved asserted they were the owners. To avoid the property from falling into the hands of the government, the Solesmes publications business was hastily sold into Belgium to Henri Desclée of Tournai. During this time, the monks did not comply, but again chose exile instead. Some of the monks took up residence in the surrounding neighborhoods, or to England during the 1901 eviction. Pothier settled in Vonêche, Belguim. Disputes arose regarding whether civil law, monastic or canon law should prevail, and the issue was not settled until 1904. The sale to Belgium was convenient in that it gave Pécoul a fresh new angle. His campaign could now appeal to the passions of nationalism among the French government officers by pointing out the mess they had made when formerly French publishing operations at Solesmes were moved to Belgium. In addition to Pustet being a threat to the French print unions from Germany if a new French edition of the chant was never accomplished and made official, Pécoul could now lobby for support of Pothier on purely protectionist grounds against yet another foreign country, Belgium.
Pustet Privilege Expires • The Vatican declared on January 1, 1901 that the Pustet privilege had expired, but the canonical status of the edition was untouched. Ellis relates that at Pécoul’s oldest daughter’s wedding, he met with Fr. De Santi, when confidential information about Pustet’s editor Haberl’s abusive behavior and its impact in Rome was exchanged. At that time it was shared that the Sacred Congregation of Rites had reversed the decision to make the Regensburg edition mandatory before it was implemented. The tide was beginning to turn. On July 10, 1901, another publisher, Charles Poussielgue was advised by the Sacred Congregation of Rites that the Vatican would not in principle disapprove of a new Gregorian edition. Poussielgue via his agent Védie, went to work right away in approaching Solesmes about printing the new edition.
Pontifical Congratulations • On May 17, 1901 Pope Leo XIII penned the famous “Nos Quidem Brief”—an official letter of congratulations to Dom Delatte on the work of Solesmes during the previous decades. The unusual choice not to send this letter to Saint-Wandrille made the true recipient of the accolades difficult to interpret. Dom Mocquereau’s rapid response to this was to instantly begin work on a revision of the 1896 Liber Usualis, adding his rhythmic signs for wide dissemination. Pécoul spung immediately into action to counteract what he saw as a grave misunderstanding. A new pamphlet was drafted containing the following passage: “To forestall any confusion, let us remember that there is just one Gregorian notation—that restored, according to the ancient manuscripts, by the eminent Abbot of Saint-Wandrille, Dom Pothier.” Ellis notes that Combe incorrectly attributed this essay to Poussielgue.
Pothier, a Free Agent? • Dom Delatte, the congregation’s superior, refused on Nov 6, 1901 to agree to any contract in which Pothier was even remotely involved, and intended to “declare himself the sole author and master of the proposed Poussielgue book, for whose make-up he would delegate certain tasks to Dom Pothier, making it his personal responsibility to pay him for his work.” On Nov 20, Pothier decided to make an agreement with Poussielgue alone, that would be effective if it could be determined that he was in the right to even sign such a contract. Pothier requested silence, but Pécoul did not oblige. For the next year or so, he continued to wage various battles over the intellectual copyrights, and the true ownership and validity of the sale of the Solesmes printshop. Pécoul engaged the French Minister to Foreign Affairs who investigated for six months, and said that the situation was “unprecedented, due to the entanglement of monastic, canon and civil law, and difficult to deal with because the French state had no capacity to take the initiative.” Another attempt of Pécoul to secure Pothier access to his Solesmes research had failed.
New Pontificate • The next year brought in the new pontificate of Pius X, and his actions are well documented and very accessible, so they won’t be reiterated here. Pécoul did not stop lobbying the Vatican prelates such as De Santi in support of Pothier, who was now meeting regularly with Mocquereau and Delatte. Ellis discovered that Pécoul had direct access to the “diplomatic bag” to the Holy See via a son of a family friend, Robert de Courcel, who was conveniently named chargé d’affaires for Armand Nisard, the French Ambassador to the Holy See. He used this channel of communication to help blot out the contributions of Dom Mocquereau from presentations to the Vatican Gregorian congress, and to convince Angelo de Santi to side with Dom Pothier.
Pécoul Meets with De Santi • In 1904, Pécoul wrote fourteen (14) candid letters to De Santi, in order to guide the direction of the new Vatican edition, and to block Mocquereau from making headway with his ideas. Initially, De Santi seemed to judge Mocquereau’s theory wrong, and even seemed sympathetic to the idea that Solesmes had rid themselves of Pothier by giving him an abbey. Ellis writes, “Pius X was reported as responding that it amounted to ‘a small compensation’.” In order to gain an ally, Pécoul revealed everything to De Santi including his codenames, his fifteen-year history in the media and in government campaigns, and especially his anger with the “intellectual swindles” Pothier had been subjected to. In the mean time, Mocquereau had grown wise to Pécoul’s goals and schemes. Shortly after the meeting where Pécoul divulged his secrets to De Santi, Mocquereau, in his meetings with De Santi, won him over with his comparative tables, in what Ellis calls “a head-to-head battle with Pothier in Rome.” Ellis includes footnotes for at least four different narratives to support this part of the story’s reconstruction.
New Authorization, Added Signs • On February 24, 1904, Desclée had secured new authorization from the Sacred Congregation of Rites for the Solesmes abbey’s current books, which included none of Pothier’s books, but did include the 1904 Liber usualis. Ellis points out that the 1904 Liber contained Mocquereau’s rhythmic signs in their most advanced form, and that this was a breathtaking move.
Signs Will Be Omitted! • Ellis then cites Combe, regarding an agreement between Solesmes and Pius X the next month, on March 23, 1904. After having reviewed a sample in preparation for the Motu proprio, the agreement was that the Vatican Edition would not feature the rhythmic signs, but that they would be permitted in any Solesmes version of it, and that they would not be a part of any copyright waiver. In response, Mocquereau and Delatte began to passionately safeguard Solesmes’ ability to benefit from their differentiated edition, adorned with their value-added “rhythmic apparatus”, describes Ellis, contested or not. For example, they held on so tight to the typography that adversaries could not even effectively engage in critical discourse about the signs, because the signs could not even be reproduced! Thus, great frustration was expressed about the fact that examples could not even be drawn up for discussion.
Abuse of Rhythmic Signs? • In what was possibly the most exposing paragraph in the entire work regarding the potential abuse of rhythmic signs being knowingly allowed by Solesmes, Ellis reports:
“Unsurprisingly, Dom Mocquereau was ultra-sensitive to anything that threatened that ‘value-added’. When, in January 1905, he discovered that the Vatican printer Scotti was planning a commercial edition using the Solesmes rhythmic signs he raged at De Santi in terms that precisely accord with Combe’s account of the 23 March 1904 meeting, while also emphasizing the financial imperatives at stake and the sense of betrayal. For him and for the abbey, the entire system and its signs were ‘our only means to … …. ….. …..’ And an annotation to an incoming letter of the previous year speaks volumes about abbey policy. When Clément Gaborit warned Dom Mocquereau that, because of the vacuum created by the absence of a Vatican ‘recommended edition’, Pustet would be at liberty to prepare his own edition from original sources, someone (not Dom Mocquereau) wrote [as an annotation to the letter]: ‘Put as many rhythmic signs as possible in the Gradual and the Antiphoner.’”
“Given the situation of all French Benedictine communities in the wake of 1901, the exclusion clause for the rhythmic signs was a move born of necessity. Nonetheless the entire deal was a model of financial and political acumen. In return for its concession of the basic copyright, Solesmes offered the Holy See free labour on the edition itself, thereby ensuring enhanced control of the editing process. In addition, having established the abbey’s copyright claims over those of Dom Pothier to the satisfaction of both De Santi and Pius X, Solesmes collectively removed any basis for continued activism over the question of whether Dom Pothier or indeed anyone else—for the Abbot Primate had designs of his own—had legitimate copyright claims over existing Solesmes texts. Among the principal actors no one, after all, would be likely to complain that their copyright had been offered to the Pope, and Dom Pothier had in any case already offered up what he considered his own copyright.”
Who Answered the “Rhythm” Question? • In one of Ellis’ most brilliant and musically astue observations, she makes these remarks, in reference to presentations made at the celebrations of Gregory the Great which started on April 6, 1904 in Rome:
“Dom Pothier, too, restated many of the principles of the Mélodies grégoriennes, not least that excellence in chant rested upon remaining flexible and knowing how to ‘pray by singing and to sing by praying‘. And in a plea for flexibility of utterance not to be stifled by combinations of long and short notes all in regular proportion, it was he who tackled the question of rhythm.”
As the rhythmic editions gained popularity due to their practical appeal, despite not being the Vatican’s official edition, Auguste Pécoul continued to fight their dissemination until giving up his political activities with regards to Solesmes in 1907. Pécoul died on November 3, 1916 at the age of 78.
Pécoul as “Central Force” • In closing, Ellis emphasizes the importance of not underrating the efforts of a single individual in effecting change, as epitomized by the steadfast political negotiations of the ‘invisible man’ Auguste Pécoul. She gives him the title of “the central force” of this history, and surmises that he would not thank her for having unmasked him.
I’d say jokingly that his most fitting and polite response would be to say, touché!