ENERALLY SPEAKING, when people make reference to the Solesmes Method they mean the method of rhythm developed by Dom André Mocquereau (d. 1930), who served as PRIOR—from 12 April 1902 until 18 June 1908—of Saint Peter’s Abbey, near the town of Solesmes. This method, heavily promoted by the LIBER USUALIS, is also known as the Classical Solesmes Method. Strictly speaking, the “OLD SOLESMES METHOD” is the method promoted by Dom Pothier, a.k.a. “ORATORICAL RHYTHM.” According to Dom Lucien David, secretary to the Editio Vaticana editor, both methods are expressions of the Benedictine Method of Rhythm. You can see for yourself by reading Dom David’s famous letter:
* PDF Download • LETTER (20 December 1906)
—Dom David’s response to Caspar P. Koch’s Letter (11 October 1906).
Nuns Next Door • The Abbey of Sainte-Cécile is a group of Benedictine nuns just a few hundred yards away from Saint Peter’s Abbey. Dom Mocquereau’s sister, who served as organist there, had been a cloistered nun at the Abbey of Sainte-Cécile since 1873. The Abbey of Sainte-Cécile had been founded in 1866 by Dom Guéranger and Cécile Bruyère. Later on, the nuns would be exiled to England. Indeed, that’s the origin of Saint Cecilia’s Benedictine Abbey in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight (England).
When Mocquereau Arrived • When André Mocquereau entered the novitiate on 22 July 1875, Abbat Prosper Guéranger was no longer there. [Dom Guéranger had died on 30 January 1875.] By that time, Dom Pothier’s LIBER GRADUALIS had already been finished for 6 years, since it was completed in 1868—four years after the end of the American Civil War!—although it was not published until 1883.
When Pothier Left • In April 1893, Dom Pothier took leave of the (banished) Solesmes community to become Prior of Ligugé Abbey, which had become the “first foundation” (daughter house?) of the Solesmes congregation in 1853. Dom Pothier had served as SUB-PRIOR of the Abbey of Solesmes from 1862–1863 and from 1866–1893. Then he was appointed superior of Saint Martin’s Abbey in Ligugé. Finally, in 1898, Pothier became Abbat of Saint Wandrille in Normandy (a monastery founded in 649AD, which Pothier had revived in 1895). With regard to a particular quote—“Solesmes had rid themselves of Pothier by giving him an abbey”—please see this article. On 9 April 1885, Dom Mocquereau had called Dom Pothier “one of the glories of Solesmes.” Father Ralph March (d. 2016) wrote: “If any single man could deserve the title father of the renewed chant it would be Dom Joseph Pothier.” Dom Ildephonse Guépin, Abbat of Silos, said of Dom Pothier: “Here is a man who, in his modesty, is the author of the happiest and most lasting revolution that has occurred in the Church.”
First Exile (15 years) • Dom Pothier produced his wonderful publications while the Solesmes monastery was banished and exiled for fifteen years due to the French government’s anti-clerical persecution. Although the monks were “exiled” they were allowed to live in the town of Solesmes “scattered in various houses throughout the village.” They were eventually permitted to assemble in the Abbey of Sainte-Cécile to sing their daily offices. Here’s how Dom Combe describes it:
“The year 1880—when Dom Pothier’s Les mélodies grégoriennes, d’après la tradition was published—was marked by the forced physical expulsion of the monks from their Abbey, on 8 November 1880. This expulsion was to last fifteen years, with the exception of a few months when the monks believed that they could return to their home. They were evicted once again in March 1882, and could not return this time until 1895. At first, the expelled monks were divided into various groups, forming a number of small monasteries in the town of Solesmes and vicinity. Dom Mocquereau was among those who took refuge in Chesnaies, in the Mayenne region. There, they lived at the home of the Due de Chaulnes, where the students were gathered. [Although a priest, Dom Mocquereau had not completed his theology studies in keeping with the usual course followed in the Congregation.] The Abbey’s presses had been brought to Chesnaies, whence the Imprimerie Saint-Pierre (the monastery press), which was to render such great service in spreading traditional Gregorian chant, would soon be transferred to Solesmes itself. In June 1881, the students returned to Solesmes. They resided at La Rose, the monastery’s hostelry, since only the conventual buildings, strictly speaking, were off limits to their rightful owners. Little by little, nearly the entire community had gathered in Solesmes, albeit scattered in various houses in the village. The entire community congregated in various places at various times: all the monks gathered at the parish church or at Sainte-Cécile for the Offices, for meals at the common refectory (although not right away) in an outbuilding of the monastery, and for Chapter in the attic of the Presbytery.”
They were allowed to return to their monastery on 25 August 1895. Again, their exile meant the Solesmes monks were “at the very doors of the Abbey.” It’s difficult to imagine how exactly a monastery could function in such circumstances. It’s also difficult to understand why the French government allowed them to sing their office in the Abbey of Sainte-Cécile, yet they were forbidden from doing the same thing in their monastery, located a few hundred yards away.
Second Exile (20 years) • The French “laws on associations” meant another exile for the monks of Solesmes, this time for 20 years. In August of 1901 they left France for England. Specifically, they went to Appuldurcombe, on the Isle of Wight. [The Divine Office was last celebrated at Saint Peter’s Abbey on 20 September 1901.] In 1908, the monks of Solesmes took up residence at QUARR ABBEY (also on the Isle of Wight). Dom Paul Bellot had built a monastery and a magnificent church there. From what I can tell, the monks returned to France in 1922.
My Question • My question is rather simple. During the years 1875-1922, Dom Mocquereau was a monk of Solesmes. [I’m not considering here the eight years before his death, when he was elderly.] During those forty-seven (47) years, Dom Mocquereau was exiled for thirty-five (35) years! Where, therefore, was the CLASSICAL SOLESMES METHOD developed? Having used the Mocquereau’s method for 25 years, I have discovered that much of it doesn’t work very well in the real world. Could this be due to the fact that Dom Mocquereau had a very limited time to test his theories? Indeed, Dom Mocquereau’s rhythmic editions seem to have appeared, broadly speaking, between 1897 and 1902. By that time, how long had he been singing in a non-exiled community? Unless my math is flawed, only two (2) years! I suppose some would also count the years between 1875 and 1880 … but even still, this point strikes me as not insignificant.
* This article includes excerpts from: HISTOIRE DE LA RESTAURATION DU CHANT GRÉGORIEN D’APRES DES DOCUMENTS INEDITES: SOLESMES ET L’EDITION VATICANE published in 1969 by Dom Pierre Combe of Solesmes Abbey. The Catholic University Press published an English edition in 2003, translated by Dr. Theodore Marier and finished by a former student of his (since Dr. Marier had died before the work could be completed). Someone very close to Dr. Marier told me that he found the work of translation tedious, and would exclaim: “Well, I guess I’d better go subtract a few years off Purgatory by translating Combe!” The 2003 version is called: “The Restoration of Gregorian Chant: Solesmes and the Vatican Edition.” Broadly speaking, the 1969 book by Dom Combe is a collection of journal articles. Many of the Italian sections in the 2003 version were translated by Monsignor Robert Skeris.