Gregorian Rhythm Wars contains all previous installments of our series.
OBODY CARES. I have entered into these discussions with you, Mæstro Williams, with the fervent belief that nobody cares what I say: they care about what I can demonstrate. Whether it be Dom Eugène Cardine (d. 1988), Georges Louis Houdard (d. 1913), Dom Jules Jeannin (d. 1933), Father Jan Vollaerts (d. 1956), or Dom Joseph Gajard (d. 1972)—their opinions don’t matter. The only thing that matters is what they can demonstrate. I doubt our readers care what we say about Gregorian rhythm—they’re only interested in what we can demonstrate.
Origins Of Rhythm Wars • My hope for these discussions was that they would be a source of mutual delight and—more importantly—mutual elucidation. I believe, Mr. Williams, that you’ve been honest in everything you have written. I, too, will be honest. I am considering breaking off (“terminating”) our discussions for two reasons. Firstly, I was disturbed to learn that you do not use the mensuralist theories you propound in real life with your choirs. If you lack the “courage of your convictions,” I’m not sure it’s proper to discuss these matters. After all, we as church musicians are trying to make a difference in the real world. Secondly, I have suggested to you that (out of respect for our readers) we narrow our subject. I feel you have branched out into a million other topics to avoid my sharp questions.
Shall We Continue? • I have considered how best to respond to you, Mr. Williams. You’ll notice that I’ve not given a “knee-jerk” response. Here is the decision I have come to. I am willing to continue our colloquy. Indeed, I have much more to say. But I can continue only on condition that you (kindly) demonstrate or prove or bolster or sustain the accusation you made, when you said I “misread” 47chartres|957.
Brief Recap • Out of the thousands (millions?) of examples that might have been selected, I designated “our specimen” to be the INTROITUS known as Si Iniquitátes. I had a lot to say about the rhythm of that INTROITUS in my article dated 1 November 2022. We continued to discuss this INTROITUS, and I had more to say about it in my article dated 12 November 2022. I spent a lot of time on both those articles. I proffered more examples and explanations (vis-à-vis that same INTROITUS) in my article dated 6 December 2022. I believe any sincere reader will admit that I’ve been narrow in my articles. I have not allowed myself to prattle on about multifarious items. I have been focused.
Please, Tell Me! • Mr. Williams, you have accused me of “misreading” 47chartres|957. Specifically, click here and scroll down to the paragraph called 11 November B. I ask you to give evidence for why you believe those symbols mean a lengthening. If you provide me with pointed and narrow and specific reasons, I will continue these discussions. If you feel you have already done so—and perhaps I was too dumb to realize it—then kindly reiterate your evidence in the clearest and most succinct way you can.
It’s Not Enough • Suppose I tell you that particular symbol (in a particular codex) means the singer must flap his arms like a mockingbird. Someone with a brain will ask: “What’s your evidence for such an assertion?” In other words, Mr. Williams, me saying what that symbol “means” is not enough. I must be able to provide evidence. And this is what I’m asking you regarding your assertion vis-à-vis 47chartres|957.
Go Read? No! • You told me, in your article dated 19 December 2022, to read Chapter 1 of Father Vollærts’ Rhythmic Proportions in Early Ecclesiastical Chant. Mr. Williams, it’s not as simple as reading! In that chapter, Vollærts cites numerous manuscripts—and gives few (or precious few) examples. It is necessary to examine them! It’s necessary to see whether his assertions are correct. Candidly, I don’t have time to examine all the manuscripts cited in that article. Father Vollærts had an obligation to provide examples and—perhaps by design—he failed spectacularly. Moreover, many of the symbols cited in those manuscripts are disputed (even 70+ years after Vollærts published his work). Indeed, I noticed some errors by Vollærts in that enormously lengthy chapter you wanted me to read—and that’s just one more reason it’s incorrect to tell somebody to “read XYZ.” It’s not a matter of reading, Mr. Williams. It’s a matter of reading along with verification.
Your Questions • I know that you have asked me some questions. I am not opposed to answering some of them. [Because of my various obligations, I cannot promise that I will answer every question.] In the spirit of charity, let me (briefly) try to address as many as I can, and stop when I need to stop.
Patrick Williams asks: Is MS age important? [Q#8]
Of course manuscript age is important. However, I don’t subscribe to the belief that a handful of manuscripts are important while the other 10,000 are garbage and can be ignored. Moreover, I find it virtually impossible to accept the theory that CANTUS GREGORIANUS was sung mensurally by everyone everywhere, but then—in a short span of time, perhaps fifty years—that method completely vanished without a trace, although all the notes (“melody”) stayed the same.
Patrick Williams asks: What are the sources for your MS dates? [Q#9]
I use a variety of sources. Sometimes, the library where the manuscript resides provides an indication of the century in which the manuscript might have been created. Under normal circumstances, I have no reason (or ability) to question such things. Broadly speaking, the science of “palaeography” compares a bunch of different manuscripts in an effort to assign dates to their creation. Is this messy? Absolutely. Is this often inaccurate? Certainly. However, palaeography is (broadly speaking) an excellent tool in determining the approximate age of any given MS. We almost never have reliable dates of when a manuscript was created—and this is a source of endless frustration. Indeed, sometimes historians attempt to turn a “wish” into reality. Some historians have such a strong desire to know when a particular manuscript was created (and I share this desire), they start to believe that if they look at the specimen and think about it hard enough, someday they will get closer to the answer. The reality is, when it comes to most manuscripts, someone can think and think and think for their entire life—but at the hour of death, they will be no closer to the true date of the manuscript’s creation. Even if they were able to get closer to determining the precise date of creation, there’s usually no way to verify this. People who live in our century (with computers and iPhones and iPads) struggle to understand why manuscripts from 1,000 years ago have no date assigned. Living in our current age, we forget what life was like in those days, when so few were literate and “paper” (animal skin) was incredibly rare. Furthermore, many of these manuscripts were created over a period of decades. Sometimes, one scribe drew the pictures, another scribes wrote the lyrics, and another scribe wrote the adiastematic neumes. Sometimes, various manuscripts were bound together in the same book (perhaps centuries after their creation) and that confuses things even more. Scholars alive today utilize a variety of “clues” in an effort to guess or surmise the provenance of manuscripts. For example, if the Graduale has an elaborate feastday of a saint who lived in a particular town, scholars surmise that (perhaps) the MS was created near that town. Scholars sometimes look at the pictures of the noblemen or kings, attempting to guess their name. If they can figure out who the king was, they often speculate that (perhaps) the manuscript was created during his reign. To summarize, scholars use a variety of clues in an effort to provide a DATE RANGE. Often, the scholar will say “10th century”—which means that a particular manuscript might have been created in the 10th century, which is 900AD to 999AD. At the same time, it’s entirely possible that same manuscript was created in 892AD or 1007AD. Without question, the attempt to date manuscripts is the bane of a musicologist’s existence. I always use the word “circa” when referring to manuscripts, as a reminder that we cannot know for certain when they were created.
Update (18 July 2023):
David Hiley seems to agree. He wrote: “The biggest problems are often posed by the provenance of the source. A threefold distinction may be observed here, between: (1.) the derivation of the source, that is, the liturgical tradition to which it belongs; (2.) the place where it was prepared, which may be different from (3.) the place where it was used.”
Patrick Williams asks: Is there a scholarly consensus as to which MSS are the oldest? [Q#10]
The answer is: “sort of.” There is broad agreement that some manuscripts are (probably) more ancient than others. However, the situation becomes troublesome really quickly the moment somebody asks: “What specific evidence do we have to assign such-and-such a date to this manuscript?” As I’ve said already: the attempt to date manuscripts is the bane of any historian’s existence.
Patrick Williams asks: Are those same MSS for the most part legible and clear in their rhythmic indications? [Q#11]
Absolutely not! The oldest manuscripts often contradict one another. The Romanian letters are “explained” by an ancient document, but what exactly did they mean? When we consider the subsequent manuscripts, it seems probable those Romanian letters were (most likely) nuances, referring to how certain monks sang in certain monasteries during a particular epoch.
Patrick Williams asks: Is it reasonable to judge later manuscripts and editions in light of the oldest sources? [Q#12]
It depends on what one means by the notion of “judging” a particular manuscript. For myself, having looked at manuscripts for 20+ years, it’s obvious to me there is no “super-secret mystery” that requires deciphering. Rather, there is a one-to-one correspondence of the neumes lasting at least 600 years. Indeed, that conformity is miraculous—and nobody has been able to explain how it was possible.
Patrick Williams asks: Is it reasonable to judge the oldest MSS in light of later or less authoritative sources? [Q#13]
That depends upon whether one believes in the idea of “less authoritative sources.” For myself, looking at the entire manuscript tradition (and not just two or three codices that are particularly clean and accessible) we see the most astonishing, breathtaking, and mind-boggling correspondence between the various manuscripts. This happens in different countries (!) throughout different localities (!) over at least 600 years. Nobody has been able to explain how such a thing occurred. The correlation is miraculous. Nobody has been able to explain why the melodies didn’t become more and more corrupt with each passing generation.
Conclusion • I hope we can continue these conversations! You asked excellent questions, which I hope to answer in full when my schedule allows. I also want to address the medieval theorists. But before I go, I’d like to give you something to ponder. You spoke about a melody (“O Sacred Head Surrounded”) which seems to have been 3/4 originally and then changed to 4/4 time. This often happens with hymns. When I am playing a hymn as an interlude, I often change 3/4 to 4/4 or vice versa. In its footnotes, the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal lists a whole bunch of hymn tunes that are “interchangeable” vis-à-vis Quadruple vs. Triple time. For example, the ICEL Resource Book (1981) uses Breslau in Triple, whereas the more common setting is Quadruple. Indeed, some hymns even modify individual measures, changing between Quadruple and Triple. For an example of this, compare Brébeuf #782 to Father Knauff’s #112. However, altering a hymn tune’s meter is one thing. It is quite another thing to say that the most gargantuan repertoire of all time—in an age before the automobile, the internet, and the telephone—magically switched its fundamental rhythm practically overnight, without a trace. Were such a thing to have happened, I’m absolutely convinced there would be millions of traces (“intermediary steps”) of such a massive change. Moreover, it seems virtually impossible that whilst this change was taking place, the melody notes would all remain virtually identical—throughout all the countries—while the rhythm was fundamentally and irreparably altered on a global scale. For such a thing to happen without a trace is far too much for a sentient being to accept. Furthermore, surely some of the thousands of manuscripts would have accidentally betrayed this massive switch. Surely, while writing those millions upon millions of neumes, one (or more) of the scribes would have “slipped up” and accidentally betrayed the former method.
Housekeeping Note • Mr. Williams, notice how I waited quite a while to respond to you. I would urge you to wait a minimum of five days before responding to my article—for the same reason it’s not good for someone to eat Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner all at one time!