Gregorian Rhythm Wars contains all previous installments of our series.
Please refer to our Chant Glossary for definitions of unfamiliar terms.
LTHOUGH THE ARGUMENTS I HAVE PRESENTED may be new to most readers, you’ll find no new theories and hardly any original thought in what I’ve written, only a restatement of the rhythmic teaching of the medieval writers as presented by Vollaerts, Murray, and Van Biezen. It’s unlikely that you’ve studied any of those authors, even if you happen to be well-versed in the theories of Mocquereau, Gajard, or Cardine, and it would be unreasonable for me to expect you to pay attention to me if you don’t want to bother with Vollaerts, Murray, or Van Biezen—but at least I can try! Some people read my articles and are still confused, even after singing through the examples in modern notation, so let me state as clearly as possible the two key differences between what was handed down from the Fathers of the Church and later alterations: The original chant has strict rhythmic proportions, not merely expressive nuances, and also a steady beat.
Beginning or End? • A friend and colleague expressed reservations about my criticism of approaching chant as sung prayer rather than the proclamation of a sacred text. In my first Corpus Christi Watershed post, before the Gregorian Rhythm Wars series, I wrote about beginnings and ends. To apply some of the same ideas, I would like to propose considering prayer as the end of chant instead of the beginning. One of my favorite chant quotes comes from Dom Gajard: “Flexibility is only possible where all is exact, where every element is in its right place.” When singers have their notes, rhythm, Latin text, and vocal technique in order, they then have the freedom to make their song prayer. When they’re still stumbling and fumbling musically, the chant will be for them—and their hearers—more of a cross to bear than a means of prayer, and their artificial mental separation between prayer and performance will persist. We would rightly be shocked to hear a priest say something along the lines of “I wasn’t praying; I was celebrating Mass,” yet hardly anyone bats an eye when an ordinary layperson says, “I didn’t sing because I was praying,” even though it means that person has chosen to prioritize individual devotion, which can take place at any time and anywhere (admittedly perhaps not as fruitfully as in church), over communal vocal participation in the liturgy, which is an opportunity many Catholics have but once a week. As I wrote in that first post, “When we sing the Ordinary and Proper of the Mass, we are actually praying the liturgy on behalf of the whole Church, not merely amplifying or elaborating the prayers of the priest.” I suppose we also have the right to remain silent, but what a truly awesome opportunity so many Catholics choose to squander! In writing these lines, I don’t at all mean to minimize the importance of interior participation.
Total War • The title “Gregorian Rhythm Wars” was Jeff’s idea, not mine. I think he had in mind something quite civilized, where we would draw our swords and actually look each other in the eye, whereas I imagined blowing everything in sight to smithereens. Be that as it may, sometimes the most productive approach is simply to ask questions. My opponent has accused me of muddying the waters, while himself fixating on late sources that reveal nothing about the original rhythm. Why are we not focusing exclusively on the interpretation of the best ancient MSS? [Q#1] The barrage of later MS evidence contrasted with the oldest sources serves as proof of a rhythmic alteration by the mid-eleventh century at the latest, and he has unwittingly bolstered the arguments in favor of my position rather than his own.
Show Me! • Since Jeff has reiterated his request to see a “transitional” MS, let me repeat what I already wrote in my first response: “If Mr. Ostrowski wishes to see an intermediary semi-rhythmic manuscript ‘halfway’ between proportional and equal rhythm, then let him consult chapter 1 of Fr. Vollaerts’ Rhythmic Proportions in Early Ecclesiastical Chant for a classification of tenth- through twelfth-century manuscripts. I really have nothing to add to what has already been said there by Fr. Vollaerts.” If you’re not going to listen to Vollaerts, you’re not going to listen to me either! If, as Jeff claims, “there ought to be transitional manuscripts giving evidence of rhythmic decay,” shouldn’t there also be transitional, semi-rhythmic editions of all of the altered sixteenth-century psalm and chorale melodies? [Q#2] There are, in fact, “transitional” editions of Old Hundredth that are neither fully rhythmic nor fully isometric—the “rhythmic” version generally known to English speakers is already an alteration of the original Genevan Psalter version—but I would be curious to see such an edition of the other 124 Genevan psalm tunes, Passion Chorale (O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden), or Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. What exactly does the existence of an extant “transitional” version of Old Hundredth prove? [Q#3] And more to the point for our current discussion, what does the absence of a similar version of Passion Chorale, Ein feste Burg, or any other tune prove (besides that we might as well keep looking)? [Q#4] And why ought there to be transitional chant manuscripts? [Q#5] Frankly, I find that to be a real whopper of a presupposition! Can Jeff furnish an example of a chant MS where only about half of the old Offertory verses are notated? [Q#6] Why or why not? [Q#7] I don’t think he can defend his absurd claims with solid evidence; otherwise, he would have already done so.
Give Us Answers! • For some of the following questions, this is now my third time of asking:
- Is MS age important? [Q#8]
- What are the sources for your MS dates? [Q#9]
- Is there a scholarly consensus as to which MSS are the oldest? [Q#10]
- Are those same MSS for the most part legible and clear in their rhythmic indications? [Q#11]
- Is it reasonable to judge later MSS and editions in light of the oldest sources? [Q#12]
- Is it reasonable to judge the oldest MSS in light of later or less authoritative sources? [Q#13]
- Do the oldest MSS bear witness to elements of performance that disappeared in later centuries? [Q#14]
- Is it reasonable to suppose that the melismatic Offertory verses and syllabic Communion psalm verses were only sung in certain monasteries in the tenth and eleventh centuries, not all across Europe? [Q#15]
- Is it reasonable to view the general disappearance of those verses from later MSS as evidence that the chants were no longer sung as they used to be? [Q#16]
- Is it reasonable to suppose that the tenth-century rhythmic indications were only intended to represent nuances from a particular monastery? [Q#17]
- Is it reasonable to view the general disappearance of those rhythmic indications as evidence that the chants were no longer sung as they used to be? [Q#18]
- How do you address the proportional rhythm doctrine of the medieval writers? [Q#19] Give us more than “We don’t know what a long time means.”
- Why should it seem incredible that a rhythmic deterioration and equalization occurred in Gregorian chant, when we can demonstrate conclusively that exactly the same thing occurred in many Reformation-era chorale and psalm tunes? [Q#20]
- What do you make of the isometric variants of 16th-century chorale and psalm tunes? [Q#21] Are they the result of mass hallucination, capricious publishers, or nothing more than the tendency of religious music to slow down and even out rhythmically over time? [Q#22]
- In the introit Si iniquitates, is there evidence of a long (doubled) note at the end of est from any MS (besides Lagal)? [Q#23]
- Why are the notes before bar lines interpreted as double the normal note value? [Q#24] What is the basis or source for that interpretation? [Q#25] Please make your own argument and don’t quote Dom Pothier.
- Where do the morae vocis of the Vatican edition come from? [Q#26]
- Is a clivis plus climacus followed by another clivis rhythmically identical to a virga followed by a succession of two cursive torculi? [Q#27] What is the significance of the break after the virga? [Q#28] Between the torculi? [Q#29]
Example from the Gradual Tecum principium for Christmas Midnight Mass
top: Düsseldorf MS-D-12; middle: hypothetical edition (unpublished) for comparison; bottom: Vatican edition (Schwann)
- Likewise, is a porrectus subbipunctis plus two climaci rhythmically identical to the combination of virga, two cursive torculi, and pes subbipunctis? [Q#30] What is the significance of the break after the virga? [Q#31] After each of the torculi? [Q#32]
Example from the Gradual Eripe me for Passion Sunday
top: Düsseldorf MS-D-12; middle: hypothetical edition (unpublished) for comparison; bottom: Vatican edition
- How would you notate your equalist rendition of the introit Si iniquitates using the Messine (Laon) and St. Gall neumes? [Q#33] Give us a triplex edition!
- Does the Catholic Church give us objective principles to determine what constitutes a prayerful aesthetic? [Q#34] If so, are there different standards for the Latin and Eastern rites? [Q#35]
- What is the mind of the Church today regarding chant interpretation? [Q#36]
- If the inherent or implied rhythm of the 1908 Vatican edition is adequate, why is it not actually used in the Vatican? [Q#37] (And is there any evidence that it was ever actually used in the Vatican? [Q#38])
- If the 1908 Vatican edition is adequate, why did Vatican II call for a “more critical edition” of the chant books? [Q#39]
- Why had Solesmes already started working on a critical edition in the late 1940s? [Q#40]
- What sources should serve at the basis for the more critical edition, and why? [Q#41]
Your readers deserve answers! All of my questions merit your response, but I am not going to let you off the hook for the five underlined in bold above. I have answered your questions, and you have already pussyfooted around long enough. In the new year, perhaps you would consider recording a chant from the Proper of the Mass (and why not Si iniquitates?) in proportional rhythm with an ensemble in order to demonstrate that you fully understand my position, because right now I’m not at all convinced that you do.
Rhythmic or Nonrhythmic? • Of what use to this discussion is the example from the Limoges MS, dated to approximately 1085, which is already fifteen years after Aribo said that the idea of composing and singing proportionally had “already been dead for a long time, even buried”? [Q#42] Why should we be at all surprised that it doesn’t reproduce the rhythm from a century earlier? [Q#43] Is there something mysterious here that I’m missing? [Q#44] I already expressed twice “my firm opinion that MSS from the second half of the eleventh century and later are, categorically, not reliable for discerning the original rhythm” and that “we are already talking past each other with continued discussion of such sources.” I wish to withdraw from further analysis of those sources and allow the other contributors to have their say, as the later MSS don’t affect my arguments at all. Mont Renaud and Montpellier H. 159 are the only MSS that Jeff dates to the tenth century and also includes as specimens in his previous post—and he does not bother to present the actual Montpellier MS, only a transcription if it. In those two sources, the same form of the clivis is used at the end of Israel (iſrahel) as at the other places he highlights as examples. Following his line of argumentation to its logical conclusion and basing our interpretation only on the evidence of the MSS themselves, we would need to sing that neume as two short notes, the same as in- of iniquitates, -ve- of observaveris, -sti- of sustinebit, and pro- and -pi- of propitiatio. (If you want to discuss unnoted performance practice, we can do that later, but please stick to the MSS themselves for now.) As I said in my first response, “A good initial test of the rhythmic reliability of a given manuscript is whether or not it differentiates between short and long forms of the clivis and pes.” What does the long form of the clivis actually look like in Mont Renaud? [Q#45] What does the long form of the clivis actually look like in Montpellier H. 159? [Q#46] Are you willing to answer these questions, [Q#47] or shall we declare a ceasefire just in time for Christmas? [Q#48] And have I been obnoxious enough yet?? [Q#49] Despite his continued insistence that he has proved something by his example in part 1, I already refuted Jeff’s misreading of Chartres 47 in my first and second responses and don’t need to repeat myself here.
Interchangeable Markings • Although this post is written primarily in response to Jeff Ostrowski, I do wish to say a few words in reply to Charles Weaver’s latest post, in which he labels the assertion of “equivalence of the various signs that affect the rhythm: the episema, the Romanian letters, the non-cursive forms, the neumatic break, and the various combinations of these things that occur in the manuscripts” as an “interpretive leap.” In Si iniquitates, Bamberg 6 writes the letter t at -sti- of sustinebit, above a cursive clivis. In E, the episema is used there instead, and in L and Chartres, a non-cursive neume is written. I have no idea why the Bamberg scribe chose to add a t there instead of an episema. Among the oldest St. Gall MSS, that is the only t I see for the chant in question. As for the neumatic break, there is one after the first note of sustinebit in L, which I discussed in my first response, and in both L and E at -a- of propitiatio, at est, and after the first note of -us. I have already given my interpretation of this chant, so I encourage the reader to draw conclusions from comparing the oldest sources. If the note before the neumatic break is already written long, does the break make it even longer? Does answering no really require much of a leap? My statement, “We now have a much better understanding of how our chants were originally conceived than anyone had 110 years ago,” was an acknowledgement of all of the scholarship in the intervening years, not only what has come from (or reinforced) a proportionalist or mensuralist perspective. Other participants in this conversation might downplay the contributions of Mocquereau, Gajard, Cardine, Agustoni, or Göschl, but it is not by any means my intention to do so. We still have a long way to go, however, when people who have studied chant for decades, even at a postgraduate level, have zero familiarity with the interpretation of Vollaerts, Murray, and Van Biezen, possibly having avoided it because the aforementioned Mocquereau et al., associated with either the Solesmes method or semiology, said that mensuralism was wrong.
Disclaimer • For the record, I reject the claim that the authentic traditional rhythm was lost or abandoned “around 950.” In my previous post, I said that “a change from proportional to equal rhythm is evident, which is known to have taken place during the eleventh century.” Cantus planus was the result of that rhythmic degeneration. Therefore, I also reject the claim that “plainsong was sung—broadly speaking—the same way from roughly 975AD to 1550AD.” Tell us, approximately what year—or century—does the first known use of the term cantus planus come from? [Q#50] My dear Mr. Ostrowski, kindly get the facts straight and quit putting words in my mouth!