olemn and sublime were the chants of the Midnight Mass. Now, in the Introit of the third Mass [of Christmas], a new tone is heard. This Introit has not exactly the spirit of the popular In dulci jubilo, but approaches it more closely than any of the songs of the Midnight Mass. Indeed, one might almost say that this Introit supplied the inspiration for the song In dulci jubilo. After Puer with its dulcet fifth comes d e d; the second half of the phrase begins in the same manner. There can hardly be any doubt that the parallelism of the text (Puer—filius) influenced the formation of the melody. The difference in the effect of this parallelism compared with that of the first Mass of Christmas with its minor thirds, reminding us of the semidarkness of that night, is well marked. It is well to note, however, that childlike joy, the kind heard in this first phrase, does not always demand new forms of expression, and that the repetition of a favorite motive is one of its chief characteristics. The tristropha brings a relaxation, allowing the following nobis to be sung with more color. For us has He been born, this wondrously gracious Child. We bask in His peace, in His benevolence.”
This insightful analysis discussing the beginning of the Puer Natus Est can be found in Dom Dominic Johner’s book, The Chants of the Vatican Gradual. In this short excerpt from his commentary, he draws upon six different sources to formulate his explanation of this single Introit. Johner highlights the pinnacle attribute of one of my most cherished and anticipated Introits of the liturgical year: the two consecutive and most jubilant intervals between the tonic and dominant tones of the mode that announce a Child is born, a Son is given to us! (Isaiah 9:6)
Understanding the meaning of the chant melody at this level, with the help of the great curators and expositors such as Pothier and Johner respectively, helps me appreciate the immense value of our vast treasure of Gregorian chant. That the chant was preserved and enriched throughout the centuries for us to discover largely intact was certainly due to the protection of the hand of Almighty God. The depth, beauty, wisdom and catechesis that can be seen embedded in just this one phrase of one Introit permeates the entirety of our Gregorian repertoire.
My eagerness to sing this masterpiece of an Introit has not diminished over the many years of rehearsals and chanting this melody at the beginning of Mass, and has only grown through increased familiarity to the point of being knit directly into the very fabric of my life. Having been imbued with this holy music while participating in the liturgy, it echoes back for days or even weeks. I frequently find myself involuntarily singing familiar melodies like the Puer, which helps me to recall the sacred mysteries with which they correlate. The personal impact of music heard during Christmastide is compounded further by the fond memories of our family celebrations. Also, this Introit is one of the very few which repeat again the following week, on the Feast of the Circumcision. I will forever have the memory of this melody imprinted in my mind, therefore it is not so surprising that the chant was well preserved in the memory of those living the monastic life during the middle ages, without any need to record it, for so many centuries.
It is here where our delight in and possession of this inspiring chant takes an unexpected turn. For those who are not already aware, there are novel versions of the chant with crippled melodies emanating from those who appear to seek “archaeology and nothing else.” This does severe harm to the deposit of Gregorian chant by violating all of the principles, which I will enumerate shortly, which are espoused by the Church Herself as the correct way to approach the daunting task (that has already been accomplished), of piecing our Gregorian chant tradition back together. One such version of the chant is the Graduale Novum and its derivatives.
It is questionable whether or not any further work even needs to be done to the melodies already found in the Editio Vaticana, because as Our Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, in an autographed letter to His Eminence Cardinal Dubois, on the occasion of the Founding of the Gregorian Institute, at Paris, in 1924, wrote:
“We commend you no less warmly for having secured the services of these same Solesmes monks to teach in the Paris Institute; since, on account of their perfect mastery of the subject, they interpret Gregorian music with a finished perfection which leaves nothing to be desired.” With this quotation of an august commendation, the present Edition is now offered by the Solesmes monks, that the Roman Chant may be a profitable instrument “capable of raising the mind to God, and better fitted than any other to foster the piety of the Nations.”
Leaving nothing to be desired is quite a strong statement which in effect means that what we already have in the work of Solesmes is truly sufficient. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at what has happened to the Puer Natus Est in the Novum. The top line indicates the changes to the melody, with the original version shown below:
Honestly, this is heartbreaking. The main feature of this chant has been altered, and so much of what Johner said about it has been made moot. There is no longer a pair of matching intervals, the missing parallelism of the melody now leaves the Puer/filius phrases unequal and off balance, and with it goes our childlike joy in the former simplicity and repetition which no longer exists. Divers intervals stand in the place of consistency, and in filius a sobering descending minor third is heard, a doubling down so to speak on the low pitch at la, rather than a nice sliding descent before an immediate return higher to do to highlight and then finish the datus est nobis. (Yet in comparison to other chants in the liturgical year, this amount of disruption is actually fairly minor. You should see the Propers littered with sharps and naturals right next to each other, on the same pitch!)
Where did these disruptive changes come from, and why were they needed on Christmas Day of all times, when one of the most familiar and cherished melodies of the liturgical year is sung?
According to the authors of the Novum, the changes to the interval at (1) are justified by only two Beneventan manuscripts from the geographical area of what is now southern Italy. The first is Bv 34, which contains a trope Ecce, adest that also contains the Puer. The other is an unpublished manuscript Mc 546, still buried in a library and not accessible online. See the trope below showing the justification for the altered intervals highlighted:
Mss Bv 34
Do you think what is on this page (plus one other unpublished source, using the same notation style) sufficiently justifies the change? Were the changes productive, or just change for the sake of change? My opinion is no, they should have left well enough alone. Dealing with memorized melodies which are almost identical is the hardest thing.
The Singular Beneventan Mss • The Graduale Novum selects and cites 6 sources of Beneventan origin, and one of them, the Mss Bv Cod 34 (shown in the last example), is the single most important diastematic manuscript they consulted. This is notable, because Luisa Nardini, who wrote a book called Interlacing Traditions: Neo-Gregorian Mass Propers in Beneventan Manuscripts, says that Beneventan chant developed before and coexisted after the arrival of the ‘Gregorian’ repertory, and shows how Beneventan musicians refused to abandon their chant completely, and instead, supplemented the Gregorian repertory with their own set of new chants that blended both traditions. Retired Harvard professor Thomas Forrest Kelly, expert in Beneventan chant, mentions the peculiar style of this tradition in his book, The Beneventan Chant.
As a brief aside, regarding other manuscripts found in the south of Italy, Mocquercau believed – as many people then believed – that the chant tradition evident in manuscripts from all over Europe stemmed from Gregory’s time, if not from Gregory I (590-604) himself. Mocquereau certainly believed that Gregorian chant emanated from Rome. His encounter at Rome with Vat. lat. 5319 and San Pietro F 22 puzzled and embarrassed him. He wrote in a letter to Pothier:
I must tell you about a discovery that we made at the Vatican and that never ceases to amaze us. Perhaps Dom Pothier can explain to me what I am going to say? It is a Gradual from the twelfth century, whose liturgy is certainly Roman, except for a few slight peculiarities, but whose chant is no longer that which is given by all the manuscripts of all countries.
Mocquereau had a distaste for the melodies he found:
Most of the chants in use in these codices relate to the tradition neither by the economy of the distribution of their neumes, nor by the following musical intervals … under the flourishes, the embroideries, or, as they still say, the machicotages that disfigure it, we recognize the primitive design. These melodies seem to date from a relatively recent period in which the rules of Gregorian composition were beginning to fall into disuse: this is revealed by the faulty or clumsy way in which the lyrics are applied to the music.
Archaism (Antiquarianism) Is the Goal of Semiology • Getting back to the Beneventan Mss, the next logical question is, why are these few Beneventan manuscripts so much more privileged than the 10,000 others? Dom Joseph Gajard fully explained this in his 1931 volume in the series Paleographie Musicale XIV:
Archaism, this is perhaps the most characteristic note of the Beneventan tradition. It is not that we intend to make here an unqualified apology for the manuscripts of Southern Italy. No more than any other group, the Beneventan group can claim the privilege of having kept the primitive tradition in all its purity – we have overemphasized the need to appeal to all independent manuscript groups so that it is possible to misunderstand the meaning and scope of this remark. It is nonetheless apparent from the study of these manuscripts that they have preserved clues which reveal in the least equivocal manner their absolutely authentic archaism.
It is all the more appropriate to insist on this fact, since the Beneventan tradition presents itself in such a particular form that one would be tempted to see in it, at first glance, only a series of manifest alterations, specific to the manuscripts from Southern Italy, and whose only interest would be to provide as many individual notes of a particular branch of the tradition.
The truth is quite different and deserves to be pointed out. Thanks to its isolation at the extremity of the Latin world and to this combination of privileged circumstances which formed the framework of its evolution, the Beneventan tradition found itself withdrawn from a whole set of systematic reforms to which most of the other particular traditions were subject; so that, on many points, several of which are important, the Beneventan manuscripts remain the particularly authorized witnesses of the most authentic tradition, of which they are sometimes even the only faithful representatives.
And this, it should be noted, is not a hasty generalization, based on a few isolated facts, on a rapid or partial study of the Benevento tradition. Whether we study it from the graphic or liturgical point of view, from the semeiographic or melodic point of view, it is always, ultimately, this same note of archaism which holds the attention, to the point of appearing as the one of its most characteristic features. It is therefore from this general point of view that it should be studied, if one wishes to grasp its archaic homogeneity.
(Translation from French provided by software, and may contain errors. We assume it is acceptable for our purpose.)
It seems that Dom Gajard is not ashamed to admit he is an antiquarianist, at least concerning the sacred chant. To paraphrase his position, he used to feel it was important to consult other manuscripts, but now that he has the Benevento Mss, there is no longer any need, and it was overstated to begin with. Despite all of the testimony to the contrary, the Beneventan manuscripts are correct, and all others are wrong. We have finally found an authentic reflection of the “primary source” we’ve been looking for.
This blatant antiquarianism is corrupting the work of Pothier, et al, by reverting to other versions only because they are old, without concern for preserving any of the organic developments and refinements of the rhythm or the melody which occurred during future generations. In the Novum, the melody of the Puer Natus Est of Christmas has been trampled upon in favor of pure archaeology (as has been done with the rest of the Editio Vaticana).
Here are a few examples of the Puer which are consistent with the Vatican edition of this chant:
Sadly, some directors are beginning to use the Novum at Mass in various locations, despite the fact that there is an official edition still in full force. As Jeff Ostrowski has astutely pointed out, even the USCCB has weighed in and declared which books should be used, and thankfully the Novum was not among them.
Catholic theologian, author, choir director and composer Dr. Peter Kwasniewski recently shared his views on the subject of competing factions and new scholarly editions of the chant:
It has brought me untold delight to be able to join or lead scholas almost anywhere in the world because of the use of the Solesmes books and method. Conflicting factions or new scholarly editions of the chant, whatever their academic merits or aesthetic curiosity, have, in my experience, a polarizing, dispersive, and confusing effect that does not redound to an una voce sound and the edification of the faithful. This is why I believe the greatest effort should be made to adhere to what is universally accepted and agreed upon when it comes to both the sacred liturgy and its Gregorian chant. God is not the author of confusion, division, or disagreement…
Hiley in Western Plainchant get it right when he declares:
This book stresses rather the variety which is to be found in medieval (and later) chant-books. If one seeks to recreate a particular melodic or rhythmic tradition (say that of St Gall) for modern use, that is to select but one tradition out of a multitude.
The Methodology and Priorities of Building a Cento • Understanding and appreciating the methodology used to compile the Editio Vaticana, I pray that these mutations of melody found in the Novum, especially those which are adverse to the more mature and widely adopted melodies that several generations have been using, will never be considered a candidate for becoming an official edition. It is conceivable that this could happen if efforts are not made to defend the work of Solesmes, and therefore portions of what we currently have are at risk of being lost to archaism unless more musicians and members of the faithful get involved and resist any deviation from the priorities which established the edition of the chant we have inherited and sung for the last century.
What were those priorities which produced the Editio Vaticana? The Preface to the Editio Vaticana of the Roman Chant lays this out in great detail:
Holy Mother the Church has received from God the charge of training the souls of the faithful in all holiness, and for this noble end has ever made a happy use of the help of the sacred Liturgy. Wherein — in order that men’s minds may not be sundered by differences, but that, on the contrary, the unity which gives vigor and beauty to the mystical body of Christ might flourish unimpaired — she has been zealous to keep the traditions of our forefathers, ever trying diligently to discover and boldly to restore any which might have been forgotten in the course of the ages.
Unity Brings Men Peace of Mind, Life, and Beauty • The Preface begins by making sure we understand that the first priority is Unity. To the extent that this Preface expresses the timeless mind of the Church, it is clear that our Holy Mother sees lack of unity, such as having a plurality of methods, melodies, rhythms and of the liturgical chant in use, as a great encumbrance, as a type of weakness and even as an ugliness of the mystical body of Christ.
The Preface continues:
Nevertheless it remained for the Roman Church and the other Churches which follow her Rite, to provide themselves with books containing the true melodies of the Gregorian Chant. His Holiness, Pius X, had this in view when, in his Motu Proprio, promulgated on April 25th, 1904, he declared: the Gregorian melodies were to be restored in their integrity and identity, after the authority of the earliest manuscripts, taking account of the legitimate tradition of past ages, as well as of the actual use of the Liturgy of today.
Guided by these rules and standards, those who had taken the task in hand at the bidding of the Pope set to work to revise the books then in use. The first thing they had to do was to undertake a thorough and well considered examination of the primitive manuscripts. This procedure was clearly a wise one; for documents of this kind are not merely to be esteemed on account of their antiquity, which unites them so closely to the beginnings of the Gregorian Chant, but chiefly because they were written in the very ages in which the Chant was most flourishing. For although the more remote the origin of the melodies and the longer they have been in use amongst the ancients, the more worthy they might be of finding a place in the new edition which was in hand, nevertheless, what gives them the right of being included is their religious and artistic flavour, and their power of giving suitable expression to liturgical prayer.
Therefore, in studying the manuscripts, this was the primary object which was kept in view: not indeed to admit off-hand, on the sole ground of antiquity, whatever happened to be most ancient, but, since the restoration of the ecclesiastical Chant had to depend not only on paleographical considerations, but also was to draw upon history, musical and Gregorian art, and even upon experience and upon the rules of the sacred liturgy, it was necessary to have regard to all of these things at the same time; lest a piece, composed perhaps with the learning of antiquity, should fall short in some of the other conditions, and do injury to Catholic tradition by depriving many centuries of the right of contributing something good, or even better than itself, to the patrimony of the Church. For it is by no means to be admitted that what we call the Gregorian tradition may be confined within the space of a few years; but it embraces all those centuries which cultivated the art of the Gregorian Chant with more or less zeal and proficiency. The Church, says the Holy Father in the Motu Proprio already mentioned, has cultivated and fostered the progress of the arts unceasingly, allowing for the use of religion all things good and beautiful discovered by man in the course of the ages, provided that liturgical rules be observed.
The work of the present edition has been carried out in accordance with these wise directions delivered by Our Most Holy Lord Pope Pius X.
Religious Character and Prayer, Not Antiquity • Here we arrive at the second priority: the religious character and ability of a chant to facilitate prayer. Again, to the extent that this Preface expresses the timeless mind of the Church, it is clear that mere antiquity is not the gold standard on which to build the Church’s book of chant. On the contrary, manuscripts “confined within the space of a few years” may still fall short, and must take a back seat to better, more mature versions that have progressed beyond their infancy into a superior work of art.
All Future Generations May Contribute • Finally, the third priority is that all generations have a right to contribute to the Gregorian tradition, and that this right must not be infringed upon.
If any organization or individual should embark upon either an attempt to improve the Editio Vaticana, or to select an edition to use for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it seems reasonable to expect that the very same priorities used by the Church to assemble the official edition should be adhered to in their endeavor, and that any works not in conformance with the mind of the Church in terms of their priorities, they should be rejected until they are brought into conformity.
Organic Development is Catholic and Traditional • Willi Apel in his book Gregorian Chant writes, “the primary obligation of the Solesmes monks was to the Church, rather than to musicology,” and this is certainly the case today. What does the Church need in order to Unify, Pray, and Progress? That is what we should be working on as schola/choir directors. The world has enough factions, and frankly, so does Christianity. We don’t need more confusion, division, arguments and conflicts. It is what we agree on that makes a team strong and effective.
Laszlo Dobszay writes that: “The actual questions are: what the music scribe recorded by this device and to what extent his recorded material is a Vorschrift and to what extent a Nachschrift? Is the substantial identity of the material as written down in the 10th/11th-century sources more important or the differences found therein? An overemphasis on the former gives credence to the notion of a single archetype. The abundance of codices is considered to be the result of a visual copying process, and differences are reckoned to be caused by scribal error. On the other hand, when the variability is accorded greater significance, musical and consciousness-related motives in the process of notation assume greater importance. The music scribes seeks to record the form of melody he knows either as the tradition of the community he is familiar with or as his own realization of its possibilities.”
His conclusion: “Each of these processes may have existed, mixed, within one single act of notation.”
Laszlo contiunes: “the differences between the sources cannot be ignored. They provide abundant examples of tonal rearrangements, changes of final tone, restructuring of the intervallic system even when the tonic remains the same, differences between pentatonic and diatonic dialects, and strings of variants apparent as adjustments of detail but tending collectively to modify the melodic meaning according to a logical musical sense and taste.”
In other words, what Laszlo sees is not corruption, but a cognizant, intelligent and cogent improvement in the diversity of melodies seen in the manuscripts – the organic development of the chant – not an overall decay which is suggested by many in the “archaeology only” camp who are generally believers in a “primary source.”
St. Gregory Compiled a Cento, Too • It is also an error to think of the Gregorian era of the chant as a “source” in itself that needs to be found, because it was the beginning of neither the liturgy nor Catholic chant. Not only is the present Editio Vaticana a Cento, the work of St. Gregory was also a Cento! This is the testimony of John the Deacon, Gregory’s biographer (c. 872): “antiphonarium centonem. . . compilavit” — he compiled a patchwork antiphonary. A Cento as expressed by the Editio Vaticana is a cross-section of hand-picked chants from the Gregorian tradition spanning hundreds of years and a wide geography, using the tiered criteria we spoke of earlier, which primarily served the ecclesiastic needs of the Church, rather than paleography or musicology alone, and the origin of what we know as Gregorian chant was itself, a Cento.
In other words, St. Gregory also inherited the treasures he compiled, and had to make some of the same decisions that faced Pothier and company. With multiple options to choose from, only a subset could be chosen, based on a series of priorities. Dom Saulnier lists the available Latin chant traditions which existed in early Western Europe at the time to include Beneventan, Roman, Milanese, Hispanic and one (or more) Gallican types of chant. This is quite the smorgasbord of options!
Look Forward, Not Back • How would those who demand only the earliest manuscripts react if the sources Gregory used in his Cento eventually turn up in an archaeological dig? Did Gregory use archaic sources, or more modern ones? Would the strict semiologists have to start over, again, and redo the work of St. Gregory if they were able to find an older tradition he didn’t consider?
It does make you wonder how or even if our semiologist colleagues would break this continuous loop of reversion to earlier and earlier times, if a “multitude of errors” were to be discovered in Gregory’s Cento based on new archaeological discoveries. After all, Gregory probably possessed the wisdom to discern the same logic that Pothier and the Vatican described in the Preface to the Editio Vaticana as being supremely appropriate in his day. I’m sure he too considered all of tradition, and avoided antiquarianism in putting together his Cento.
I will leave you with this related commentary from G. K. Chesterton:
A tradition is a live thing, not a dead one. Nay, a tradition is actually felt as a recent thing; not a remote one. A tradition is always modern; if it has not energy enough to be modern then it is not a tradition, it is that despicable thing, a document. I don’t eat pies at Christmas because William the Conqueror did. I do it because my father did; he did it because his father did; and along that chain (I need hardly say) I can trace a clear pedigree to William the Conqueror. The tradition is not kept up because it is old. It is kept up because it is nice; it was only by persistently being nice, generation after generation, that it managed to get old. The New Year is not observed because it is an ancient observance, but because it is a new year. When I give children toys at Christmas it is not because Christianity is antique, but because it is still young. I am not an antiquarian. I am not digging up in my garden the bones of something that is dead. On the contrary, I am watering in my garden the roots of something that is still alive: a green Christmas tree that still bears fruit every year. Therefore I do not worry about the origins, since I experience the rush and richness of the life. I know the animal, and seldom inquire after the embryo. It is quite true that the life does travel to me along an electric cord from the bands of numberless dead men and living. But I do not think first about the first dead man. I think first about the last live one. It is my end of the wire that tells me the wire is alive; it is my end that gives me the electric shock.
— G.K. Chesterton, “Daily News”, December 24, 1910