UMAN BEINGS are notoriously bad at keeping secrets. That’s one reason I’m skeptical of conspiracy theories: one must always consider how many folks would have to take the secret with them all the way to the grave. In Texas, one of my choir members told anyone who’d listen that crop-dusting airplanes were government agents slowly exterminating the population (by dropping poison disguised as fertilizer). When I mentioned that my relatives are pilots, she instantly responded: “They’re part of the plot, too! But if they reveal it, the government will kill their families.” Below, I share my thoughts on whether a massive conspiracy was hatched circa 1025AD to eliminate the “true” rhythm of Gregorian Chant. Hopefully, it will become clear why I’m talking about this in the context of Father Mathias’ book.
People Pleaser? • Today I release a rare and important edition of the GRADUALE ROMANUM (1909) edited by Father Franz Xaver Mathias. For the first time in history, we’ve had this book professionally scanned—all 1,106 pages! The book shows yet another publication by musicians who rejected the rhythmic modifications of Dom Mocquereau, instead following the official rhythm. In today’s article, I will share some of my beliefs vis-à-vis the rhythm of Gregorian Chant. Years ago, I struggled with being a “people pleaser.” (That means saying whatever will please the person standing in front of you.) I’ve come to understand that I have a right to share my beliefs publicly, although readers remain free to accept or reject my views. Sharing my beliefs does not constitute an attack on anyone.
* Father Mathias • MODERN NOTATION GRADUALE ROMANUM (1909)
—57.2MB • “Epitome Gradualis Romani” (1,106 pages) • Professional Scan (2023)
Note: Corpus Christi Watershed will soon release several more “pure” Editio Vaticana editions. One of them is so rare, I knew nothing of its existence until last week!
Rhythm of Gregorian Chant • When it comes to the rhythm of Gregorian Chant, I believe the correct answer was given by William of Ockham (d. 1347AD), a student of Blessed John Duns Scotus. To him is attributed a famous maxim: “The simplest solution is usually the correct one.” I have come to believe there is no “grand conspiracy” regarding Gregorian rhythm. I’ve carefully combed through plainsong manuscripts for 20+ years. When we consider the entire manuscript tradition—without preconceived notions—the evidence practically knocks one off one’s feet. We find a breathtaking one-to-one correlation of the pitches in more than 95% of the manuscripts. I cannot agree with those who only consider two or three manuscripts, disregarding the other 10,000. Often, the handful of manuscripts chosen by them are particularly clean, beautiful, and complete. Nevertheless, that doesn’t justify turning a blind eye to the other 10,000 manuscripts. At the end of the day, this mind-blowing “one-to-one correlation” is so strong, so powerful, so explicit, and so unambiguous in the manuscript tradition—stretching over so many centuries—I’m not sure there’s much more to be said.
Beyond Dom Mocquereau • After one has learned—and fallen in love with—a piece of music, it’s not easy to cultivate an open mind vis-à-vis new interpretations. As a teenager, I sang through the entire GRADUALE ROMANUM each Sunday (including the lengthy Graduals and Alleluias) year after year according to the rhythmic signs of Dom Mocquereau. In the early 2000s, I conducted extensive interviews with a priest who was Dom Cardine’s boss for half a decade at PIMS (Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music). He introduced me to various interpretations of Gregorian Chant, including the “untouched” Vatican Edition, which is the system of rhythm mandated by the Congregation of Sacred Rites under Pope Saint Pius X.
Jeff’s Pentecost Sunday Realization • For years, I was intrigued by the possibility of using the official rhythm—but I was scared to “take the plunge” because books containing Mocquereau’s modifications were so pervasive. Finally, I made the switch, and I’m currently in the process of creating an edition (called “Guillaume Couture Gregorian Chant”) using the official rhythm. However, I’m only about 50% finished so far. [By the way, the draft currently posted is a very early version. I keep meaning to update it, but then I decide to wait until the entire book is finished.] On Pentecost Sunday, which was last Sunday, it struck me in an overwhelming way that the official rhythm is what should be used. The reason is because an edition should be sung the way it was intended to be sung by its creators.
Sugary Drinks • Some people are addicted to sugary drinks. It’s hard to stop, but once they do…they never want to go back! After a while, the idea of constantly drinking sugary drinks becomes unthinkable. The same holds true for Cantus Gregorianus. After one gets used to singing the Vatican Edition the way it was intended to be sung by its creators, doing anything else becomes unthinkable. For example, last Sunday the COMMUNION ANTIPHON was Factus Est Repénte. Here’s how it appears in the official edition:
You can see that Father Mathias correctly notates the only “MMV” pause, which comes during the word “magnália”:
There’s nothing special about what Father Mathias does. Everyone who adheres to the official rhythm (described in the Editio Vaticana PREFACE) does the same thing. For example, here is the 1910 edition by Monsignor Franz Nekes (d. 1914), who was called “The German Palestrina”—although I personally think his Gregorian harmonizations are pretty crummy:
And here’s how that same passage occurs in the NOH, created by the Lemmensinstituut in the 1940s:
Not Just A Handful • Below, I provide a few ancient manuscripts in order to show how the Editio Vaticana represents broadly speaking the entire manuscript tradition. Remember, the Vatican Edition—created by the Vatican Commission on Gregorian Chant—is a CENTO, which means it represents the entire manuscript tradition, not just 2-3 manuscripts for which certain people have a predilection. When the Editio Vaticana was being created, certain members (referred to as the “archæology and nothing else” school) urged the pope to let them give greater weight to a handful of their favorite manuscripts. However, Pope Pius X rejected their idea, because he said the entire legitimate tradition should be represented. Click on the following image:
Who Signed The Contract? • When Dom Pothier published the “restored” chant books of Solesmes, such as the groundbreaking Liber Gradualis (1883), it was necessary to sign an agreement with the Desclée publishers. Normally, such a contract would be signed by the abbat of the monastery, but ABBAT COUTURIER did not sign the contract. Instead, it was Dom Pothier who signed the contract. According to Katharine Ellis, a professor at the University of Cambridge, this strange arrangement was done at the request of Desclée. The first signed agreement—as far as I know—between the Abbat of Solesmes and the Desclée firm was in 1902. That was around the time Solesmes transferred their printing press (“Imprimerie Saint-Pierre”) to Desclée, since it could no longer exist in light of the anti-clerical laws passed in 1901 by the French government. In a letter dated 27 October 1901, Dom Pothier asked Msgr. Respighi: “What will be the consequences of this sudden transfer, done hastily before the dispersal of the community? I have no idea.” Since Abbat Pothier was the one who had signed the contract with Desclée in 1883, Pope Pius X needed him to give up his copyright for the Liber Gradualis, which was to serve as the basis for the Editio Vaticana. (For the record, some—such as Dom Noetinger, cellerar of Solesmes Abbey—have attempted to make the case that the copyright did not belong to Dom Pothier, in spite of the signed contract.) It’s possible that one reason Pope Pius X appointed Abbat Pothier as president of the Vatican Commission on Gregorian Chant was to show appreciation for his gift (to the Vatican) of his copyright over the “restored” chants which had taken the world by storm.
Mocquereau’s Modifications • Today I am not speaking about Mocquereau’s ICTUS. I already spoke about the ICTUS at length (pardon the pun!) in March of 2023. If anyone doubts that the ICTUS has been controversial since its invention, let him pay special attention to page 98 in this 1906 article from a church music journal published in Philadelphia. Today, I am speaking of the thousands of places Dom Mocquereau contradicts the official rhythm by elongating notes which are not supposed to be elongated or by deleting elongations which are supposed to be there. Consider the passage we looked at above:
Here’s how most choirs sing the version with those added elongations by Dom Mocquereau:
Why Did Mocquereau Add Them? • Why did Dom Mocquereau modify the official edition? He was attempting to improve (!) the official edition—in spite of the fact that nobody was allowed to alter it—by adding nuances which, in his view, could be found in some of his favorite manuscripts. At least that’s what he claimed…but there are many problems with such an approach. For example, he added thousands of modifications to pieces which didn’t exist in his favorite manuscripts. I’m talking about feasts like the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION, THE HOLY NAME, the 1954 revision of the ASSUMPTION, CHRIST THE KING, THE HOLY FAMILY, and SAINT JOSEPH THE CRAFTSMAN, whose propers are not ancient. Mocquereau modified pieces composed in the 19th century. Mocquereau modified pieces composed by Abbat Pothier. Mocquereau modified pieces written by Dom Fonteinne. Mocquereau modified antiphons created in the 20th century (to correspond to the Breviary alterations made by Pope Pius X). It’s beyond foolish to try to make a 19th-century piece more “authentic” by adding markings which come from a different piece. For example, we don’t make a Bach Chaconne more “authentic” by adding pedal markings taken from a Brahms Rhapsody.
“As Many As Possible” • Katharine Ellis has suggested that Prior André Mocquereau may have had a financial incentive to make his monastery’s editions “special” or “proprietary” or “distinctive.” Specifically, when Dom Mocquereau learned that other companies might attempt to superimpose proprietary symbols over the official edition, Mocquereau was advised to “put as many rhythmic signs as possible in the Gradual and Antiphoner.” In spite of the Vatican decrees, he did precisely that! Indeed, when the GRADUALE appeared (12 march 1908) followed by the ANTIPHONALE (20 December 1912), Dom Mocquereau added so many modifications, many melodies became unrecognizable.
Like A Broken Record • I know I’ve said this a million times, but it bears repeating: Due to the paucity of MMVs, the KYRIALE editions by Dom Mocquereau are virtually identical to the official rhythm. Another way to say the same thing would be: Dom Mocquereau’s major alterations are seen in the GRADUALE and the ANTIPHONALE, not the KYRIALE. This is crucial to remember. For example, circa 1906, an author using the fake name of “Episema” attempted to prove that Dom Pothier and Father Mathias supported (!) the rhythmic signs of Dom Mocquereau—but we must take careful note of the dates! The quote by Father Mathias was speaking of the KYRIALE (1905), not the GRADUALE (1908) or ANTIPHONALE (1912). Furthermore, the quote attributed to “the President of the Pontifical Commission” (viz. ABBAT POTHIER) was written several years before Pope Pius X decided to create an official edition. Here’s what Abbat Pothier wrote in 1902:
“This superabundance of written signs or of practical hints may have its uses, and even become a kind of necessity for certain classes of singers or readers, and may be allowed in certain books, such as primers, manuals, or little Paroissiens.”
By that statement (“may have its uses…”) Pothier hardly condones thousands of unauthorized modifications to an official edition which would reach completion ten years later!
They Don’t Belong! • My basic argument is rather simple. The rhythmic modifications by Dom Mocquereau don’t belong. They severely damage the melodic line. They caused immense confusion for people attempting to sing from the official edition. Dr. Peter Wagner, a member of the Vatican Commission on Gregorian Chant, called Mocquereau’s rhythmic signs “an untraditional garment draped over the melodies.” They often cause a ‘mechanical’ performance because the singer naturally looks at giant dots, rather than considering how pronounced each rallentando should be (based on the type of barline, melodic line, and surrounding text). Dom Mocquereau’s modifications often sabotage the breath marks indicated by the official edition, because tons of extra elongations make it harder for singers to “get through” on one breath. The Editio Vaticana should be sung as it was intended to be sung by its creators. I am unaware of a single person who’s demonstrated what is defective or deficient about the official edition—it’s gorgeous! Indeed, Mocquereau’s modifications often destroy the meaning of the chants. For instance, notice how in the SEQUENCE on Easter Sunday, Dom Mocquereau adds a pause after the word “reconciliávit,” fracturing what should clearly be one gesture (“reconcileth sinners”):
David Hiley’s Testimony • In WESTERN PLAINCHANT (Oxford University Press, 1993), the famous scholar David Hiley says on page 399: “It has to be admitted that we know very little about the performing styles of medieval chant. […] The musicologist has the luxury of not having to decide on what is ‘right’, indeed cannot even see the problem in such terms. My book stresses rather the variety which is to be found in mediæval (and later) chant-books. If one seeks to recreate a particular melodic or rhythmic tradition (say that of Saint Gall) for modern use, that is to select but one tradition out of a multitude.”
Willi Apel’s Testimony • In GREGORIAN CHANT (Indiana University Press, 1990), Willi Apel spoke of the so-called “rhythmic manuscripts” (a misnomer): “They are extremely limited in number and locale, their importance as testimonials of the ‘true chant’ has been contested, and their indications more than anything else have been the source of disagreement and controversy among scholars. The latter remark applies also to the few hints about rhythm that have been found in mediæval treatises. Every one of them has been interpreted as evidence of opposite theories.”
Mary Berry • In the 1980s and 1990s, a certain cadre of Gregorianists promoted an approach called “semiology.” Around the same time (broadly speaking) a monk named Dom Saulnier was promoting similar theories at the Abbey of Solesmes. [Later, Daniel Saulnier would abandon monastic life and the Abbey of Solesmes would revert to the more ‘classical’ approach under Dom Bruno.] When I was in graduate school studying musicology, I went to meet a Cambridge professor named Mary Berry. I listened to her lecture, met privately with her, and (later on) was paid to transcribe private audio recordings by Mary Berry, in which she spoke about her work and—singing solo—provided audio examples. (These tapes have never been released to the public; perhaps someday I will release them.) Professor Berry was regarded highly by the semiology community at that time, and I would assume she still is. Listening to her speak, I remember that her assertions struck me as highly conjectural, unpersuasive, and rather flimsy. But since I was just a lowly grad student, I kept my mouth shut. Twenty years later, having examined massive amounts of manuscripts which Professor Berry never had access to (since she died in 2008), my initial impressions have been strengthened. Needless to say, Mary Berry is just one semiologist whose output I studied. I wanted to see whether there was any “there” there because I don’t believe in condemning things one has never examined. On the other hand, those who embrace semiology—in my humble opinion—have yet to provide concrete evidence which supports the theories they hold.
The “Moslem Approach” • According to one of her students, Mary Berry came to embrace (or at least feel sympathetic toward) what I call the “Moslem approach” to plainsong. The argument for the “Moslem approach” basically goes like this: (a) Plainsong is ancient; (b) the Islamic religion is ancient; (c) therefore, whenever we sing plainsong, we should mimic how Moslems sing. There are numerous flaws with this approach. For one thing, Christianity is more ancient than the Islamic religion! In one of my videos, I mentioned BRUNO DE LABRIOLLE. From what I can tell, Bruno embraces the “Moslem approach” to plainsong. I would strongly urge readers to search for Bruno’s recordings on YouTube. (He has made them widely available.) Judge for yourself whether I’m exaggerating. Here’s a sample of Bruno de Labriolle:
Did Mary Berry’s student convey her beliefs accurately? Was the “Moslem approach” really something Professor Berry embraced? It’s hard for me to believe. Moreover, it wouldn’t be first time a student has misrepresented—and therefore defamed—a teacher.
Questions For The Semiologist • In my opinion, it’s time we start challenging the semiologist assertions. For instance, when a semiologist claims that a particular manuscript is “more important” than another, ask what specific evidence he has supporting such a claim. A prominent semiologist—who shall remain nameless!—in one of his presentations said that a particular symbol “sometimes indicates a shortening but other times indicates a lengthening” (!) Does common sense tell us that’s a useful symbol? Whenever a semiologist tells you a particular symbol means something, immediately ask: “How do we know that?” If they insist that a gesture, such as lifting the pen, denotes a particular interpretation, ask: “How do we know that?” If they claim that a particular symbol means a note is “more important and should be emphasized” or means certain notes should “proceed lightly” or “rise quickly” or represent the melody’s “point of departure” or demand “an expansive melodic gesture”—ask them forcefully: “How do we know that?”
Photographs • Since this post is ultimately about the GRADUALE of Father Mathias, it seems appropriate to close with a few photos of it. For myself, I cannot sing Cantus Gregorianus from modern notation; I much prefer the mediæval notation. Nevertheless, when it comes to understanding how the Editio Vaticana was interpreted, the modern notation editions are invaluable.
Addendum • The book is called Epítome ex Editióne Vaticána Graduális Románi, which means: “Abridgment of the Vatican Edition of the Roman Gradual.” I’m not really sure why it’s not considered the full Graduale, because it doesn’t simplify the lengthy chants (as fas as I can tell). This “abridged” title would seem much more appropriate for the book by Max Springer, who did simplify many of the difficult chants.