N THE RECENT POST titled “Do We Need a Beautiful Cento, or an Archaic Reversion?” by Matthew Frederes, there are eleven references to the Vatican edition but not a single explicit reference to the more critical edition called for by the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium, ¶ 117. I must say, I find this omission peculiar. Mr. Frederes outlines his reasons for rejecting the Graduale Novum, which has no official status that I’m aware of. He provides an example from the critical apparatus for the Novum, as I have also done in my previous posts. Every melodic correction in the Novum has its basis in one or several reliable ancient sources.
A More Critical Edition • If the Vatican edition is not and never was in need of any melodic corrections, why did an ecumenical council order that “a more critical edition is to be prepared of those [chant] books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X”? What kinds of things would a more critical edition need to address? The Latin text? Note grouping? Bar lines? If that’s all, then why has such an edition still not been completed more than 60 years later? These are absolutely not rhetorical questions. Those who treat the Vatican edition as inerrant—and a fortiorti the Solesmes edition based upon it—are going to have to come to terms with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy sooner or later. As I said previously, “If and when the more critical edition is ever promulgated, it will be the standard by which other editions and interpretations ought to be evaluated.”
Terrible Examples • Mr. Frederes proffers three examples from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, two partial and one complete, which he claims are consistent with the Vatican edition of the introit Puer natus est, but are they really? I see the interval of a fifth notated at et in each of them. Did he examine them further? Perhaps he assumed his readers wouldn’t bother to check. Guess what? At least one of them did—and he was shocked at what he found!
In the first example, from Bellelay, I spot nineteen discrepancies from the Vatican edition, two of which agree with the Novum; in the second, Laon 240, twelve discrepancies, again two of which agree with the Novum; and in the third, Laon, 241, four—a total of 35 discrepancies in three examples furnished in support of the Vatican edition!—and I only examined the images he actually posted, not the whole chant, and not including the psalm verse. Furthermore, all of his examples contradict the Vatican edition at the first note of -pe- of imperium, -me- of humerum, and the third note of the first ejus—hardly a testament to the Vatican edition representing an uninterrupted melodic tradition! I daresay the Dominican version has a stronger claim in that respect. Judge for yourself:
Compare also three other “restored” editions:
Kainzbauer (Graduale Synopticum)
Hakkennes (Graduale Lagal)
as well as a so-called Old Roman version:
All of the restored versions including the Graduale Novum deviate less from the Vatican edition than the twelfth-century example Mr. Frederes shared from Bellelay. What was his point again?
Rallying the Troops • Mr. Frederes’ “prayer” that the Graduale Novum will never be approved as an official edition is accompanied by a metaphorical call to arms:
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.
Here, it is unclear whether his solicitude is only for the Vatican edition or also the Solesmes rhythmic markings and method. Regardless, it falls on deaf ears as far as I’m concerned. Having perhaps a couple thousand hours of study of the oldest manuscripts under my belt at this point, I have verified a lot of things for myself that I no longer have to take at anyone else’s word, nor do I expect anyone to take my word on anything. Have I not consistently encouraged everyone to study the sources for themselves? Those sources have their own inherent authority. They do not need my stamp of approval, yours, or that of any monk of Solesmes, Fontgombault, Triors, or Clear Creek, let alone anyone in the hierarchy lacking the proper formation to adjudicate musicological matters. Just as I have rejected the equalist rhythm of the High and Late Middle Ages in favor of the proportional rhythm of the Early Middle Ages, I likewise reject the premise that the melodic alterations apparent in later manuscripts represent a more mature version of the chant.
Cherished Expressions? • Let’s be honest for a moment about the idea that the Solesmes chants are so beloved that any deviation from the Liber Usualis is practically akin to altering the deposit of faith. In my parish, there are men who have complete Masses memorized but have serious difficulty reading an unfamiliar Mass (a Lenten feria, for example) at sight. We have other fine singers, fairly new to chanting the propers, who will read the restored editions without difficulty, with no sentimental attachment to the Solesmes version. Occasionally, someone in the congregation will ask me after Mass where I found a particular “hymn,” in reference to some part of the Proper sung right out of the Liber. My parish now has two Sung Masses on Sundays, one of which was previously a Low Mass. The congregation at that Mass has been reluctant to participate in singing the chants of the Ordinary, despite the hymnals in the pews, bulletin announcements, pulpit announcements, and solid leadership from cantor, choir, and organ. Some of our people have been going to the Latin Mass their whole lives. If the Solesmes chants, now in continuous use in many places for 115 years, are still not familiar enough for the faithful to join enthusiastically in singing Credo I, we have bigger problems to deal with than a few melodic corrections here and there.
Sacred Snoozefest? • There are signs of boredom and restlessness not only among run-of-the-mill Latin Mass-goers, but even among our most devoted Catholic musicians. This subject could take up a separate article, but be on the lookout for an incessant and insatiable thirst for variety and, yes, novelty (as opposed to restoration) in liturgical music. See, for example, the same article by Dr. Kwasniewski that was quoted by Frederes:
Aside from the specific selections, another way the disposition toward theatrical performance is manifest in parishes today—even when the music is traditional and beloved—is through the use of manneristic (overdone) interpretation, attention-getting alternation between different sections of the choir, or the contrast of choir and soloists. (When I speak of alternation here, I am not referring to the customary alternation of, e.g., cantors and omnes for the Gloria & Creed.) Although alternation between chant and polyphony in the same piece and the use of falsobordone, organum, or droning can all be done tastefully and appropriately, they should not be so frequently employed that the purity and simplicity of the Gregorian chant is stifled or compromised. It is best to use such things as ornaments or enhancements for greater solemnities.
Dear Reader, do you belong to a parish, chapel, or oratory where you haven’t heard an entire Mass chanted “straight” for some time—without “drones,” organum, alternation between men’s and women’s voices (not to be confused with antiphonal singing between the schola and congregation), or too-elaborate organ accompaniments with descants that overwhelm the melody? I don’t at all mean to suggest that the experience of Sunday High Mass in the parish should have exactly the same feel as in a monastery, but it simply isn’t necessary to “augment” the chants in such ways. If every serious Catholic musician were to study the sources, the chants would reclaim some of their original rhythmic vitality and nobody would feel a need to gussy them up in the ways that are all too often heard at Latin Masses nowadays. Catholic sacred music should sound like neither a dirge nor a carnival! Gregorian chant has its own inherent variety of forms and styles, which should be respected. It’s the proper music of the Roman rite and there’s no need to make it foreign sounding.
The Mind of the Church • I am grateful for the reminders from the preface to the Vatican edition. One sentence in particular stood out: “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.” How does that jibe with an apotheosis of the 1908 Vatican edition as complete, perfected, immutable, and impervious to the scholarship of subsequent decades? Was Sacrosanctum Concilium’s call for a critical revision not a definitive expression of the mind of the Church in the matter? Again, not rhetorical questions! As for the mischaracterization of the restored chants found in the Gradual Novum as “novel versions of the chant with crippled melodies emanating from those who appear to seek ‘archaeology and nothing else,’” “disruptive changes,” and “blatant antiquarianism,” I’m afraid the author has taken several steps in the wrong direction—away from the oldest extant sources and away from the sounds of Catholic worship in the first millennium. As I have mentioned elsewhere, once something has been tampered with, whether deliberately or accidentally, it is an alteration and no longer truly representative of tradition in its fullness. Consider a few facts: the completion of the Vatican edition was very rushed; the Pope wanted about 50 years of work compressed into a mere five. From the outset, the monks did not have all of the manuscripts at their disposal that we now have, or that they themselves would have a couple of years into the project; unfortunately, their editorial principals had already been solidified. They similarly had only incomplete or defective copies of the medieval theoretical writings available to them. Although not perfect, the Graduale Novum is a great advance in the right direction toward restoration of the chants “in their integrity and purity according to the testimony of the oldest manuscripts,” according to the desire expressed by St. Pius X. There were other official editions before the Vaticana, and there will be others after it.
Addendum (March 8, 2023) • Just yesterday, Matthew Frederes posted his February 27 article to Facebook with the following comment:
The Vatican Edition of Gregorian Chant, as well as the work of St. Gregory the Great it sought to replicate, were both a cento (“patchwork”) based on a broad sampling of the plainsong tradition. New editions vying for attention are making drastic changes based on only two or three manuscripts. The end result is merely an archaic reversion that artificially breaks tradition. I ask, do we need a beautiful cento, or an archaic reversion?
Such an egregious claim demands a public response, which I provide here for the benefit of any readers not active on Facebook, although the post is public and should be visible here even to those without an account.
The fact of the matter is that the editors of the Graduale Novum consulted 131 manuscripts—not “only two or three.” A comprehensive list appears in Beiträge zur Gregorianik, vol. 57. For the introit discussed above, besides the two sources mentioned by Mr. Frederes, the melodic restorations are supported by an additional ten manuscripts: Albi, Bamberg 6, Einsiedeln 121, Klosterneuburg/Graz, Rouen/St. Petersburg, St. Gall 339, St. Gall 376, St. Yrieix, Thomaskirche Leipzig, and Verdum 759. Including Laon 239, that amounts to thirteen manuscripts. No serious musician insists upon singing only from century-old editions of polyphony—let alone Bach or Handel—when more recent and better scholarly versions are available. Only with Gregorian chant have I found such an intransigent attachment to outdated editions. Subjective assessments aside, we owe our readers an honest account of the editorial basis for the newer editions. As a colleague recently reminded me, “We are entitled to our own opinions, not our own facts!”