OST ENGLISH SPEAKERS have the notion that chanting is something fundamentally different than singing. The words we use have a tremendous effect upon the way we think. People who are fluent in more than one language sometimes have the experience of a slightly different personality taking over when they switch between languages. Many (most?) languages lack separate verbs for chant and sing; some also lack separate nouns for chant and song. Similarly, the singers of Western Europe in the Early Middle Ages would have had no words for arsis or thesis, and probably the only thing they would have known approximating upbeat or downbeat would have been the levatio and positio of the hand in marking a steady beat. Fast-forwarding a millennium, it seems reasonable to say that nobody living today was brought up with a proportional rhythm interpretation of Gregorian chant. Those of us who embrace it got to this point because we questioned unfounded claims. Like most people who learned either the Solesmes method or semiology, it was drilled into us that mensuralism was to be avoided at all costs. That evasion was something we had to accept on the authority of our teachers, choirmasters, and various authors, without proof.
Analysis • I encourage everyone to study the sources for themselves, and I make the resources available to them to do so. Now let’s study together. We’re going to examine just two words and eighteen notes from the gradual for the third Sunday in Lent. I have doctored the sources only to the extent it was necessary to place the syllables on the same line, remove the neumes of other syllables, and, where appropriate, show the clef. Compare which figures (neumatic signs) are used interchangeably among the various manuscripts.
St. Gall 339:
Graduale Restitutum (Stingl):
Graduale Renovatum (Nickel):
Graduale Lagal (Hakkennes):
Graduale Authenticum/Synopticum (Kainzbauer):
Comparative table (Kainzbauer):
My edition with numbered notes for ease of identification:
- uncinus in L; plain virga in all SG sources
- cursive torculus initio debilis in L; cursive torculus in all SG; first note marked with c in C
- uncinus in L; virga with episema in E & C; plain virga in Bam; tractulus (with episema?) in 339
- cursive clivis with oriscus plus virga in L; cursive clivis plus pes quassus in all SG; C & Bam add c above the clivis; Bam & 339 add an episema at the end of the neume
- uncinus in L; tractulus with episema in C; virga with episema in E; plain tractulus in Bam & 339
- short-short-long climacus in L, C, & E; entirely short climacus in Bam* & 339
- non-cursive clivis (=two uncini) in L; clivis with t in C; clivis with episema in all other SG
- short-short-long climacus in L; short-short-long climacus in C, with c above first note; entirely short climacus in E with st before first note; entirely short climacus in Bam*; long-short-short climacus in 339
*In Bam, it is often difficult to determine whether the last note of a climacus is a short punctum or long tractulus.
I tend to go with the most straightforward reading of anything ambiguous. Because of the rounded clivis in L and the letter c in C and Bam, I offer an alternative interpretation:
Conclusions • The Graduale Novum incorporates two instances of neumatic disaggregation not found in the Vatican edition, which are undoubtedly an improvement to the square notation. Special forms for the weak beginning note and the oriscus appear in some of the other editions. Hakkennes and Nickel appear to interpret the special torculus as a long torculus initio debilis, i.e. a long (non-cursive or episematic) clivis preceded by a lower auxiliary grace note. The reading of the second and third notes (#3–4) as long is a mistake apparently originating with Cardine (see Gregorian Semiology, pp. 51–58). The adiastematic manuscripts are generally in agreement with one another in their use of either the short or long form. In the short, cursive form, the second and third notes are long only relative to the weak beginning note. They each have the usual short value of half a beat. Yet again, we encounter a false ictus at the third note of -le- (#12), which must be rejected as incorrect, unhistorical, and unmusical. The unmarked ictus on the first note of prae- (#2) must likewise be rejected.