IN A RECENT POST on some particular rhythmic markings in the manuscript Chartres 47, Patrick Williams mentions a feature of the Mocquereau method that is worth calling attention to, since it tells us a great deal about the nature of that method and the formation of a performance tradition.
The passage in question looks like this in the Solesmes editions:
As Patrick lays out quite thoroughly, the first two neumes here are given in their longer forms in an impressive array of early sources. That is, in early sources where a two-note descending figure (a clivis) can be drawn in two different ways, one suggesting longer notes and one suggesting shorter notes, these are drawn in the longer way. Now, I don’t want to get into the question of whether this fact should be reflected in modern editions of the chant. Our interlocutors do not agree with each other on this point and nothing I can say here will change that. But what is interesting to me in this passage is that Mocquereau places his marks (episemata) only over the first note of each of these figures.
Mocquereau’s Outlier Interpretation • Almost everyone now writing on the subject agrees that the signs indicating the longer form in the sources listed should apply to both notes of these figures. In the St. Gall script, the shorter form of the clivis looks like an arch, and the longer form has a little tick mark on top, which Mocquereau named the episema. You can see the longer form of the clivis in the yellow circle in this illustration from Patrick’s article, while the blue circle points out the shorter form:
Applying the length to both notes makes sense if you look at some other ways of writing neumes (especially Laon and Chartres). So why does Mocquereau generally put the horizontal episema in his editions only over the first note? Only rarely does Mocquereau extend an episema over both notes, as in the introit of the first Sunday of Advent.
We have to find the answer in a much deeper stratum of the Solesmes method. Many features of Mocquereau’s approach to chant are drawn from the earlier traditions of the abbey. In particular, the second note of a clivis cannot be lengthened in the middle of a phrase without violating the golden rule.
The Golden Rule and the Seamless Garment • In this case, the golden rule is a part of the tradition of free rhythm already baked into the Solesmes tradition before Mocquereau began incorporating the rhythmic features of the St. Gall neumes into his chant editions. The rule goes back to the thirteenth-century monk Elias Salomonis. In his Scientia artis musicae, Salomonis writes:
…there should not be a pausa [when] the next syllable of a word already begun is about to be pronounced anywhere in a chant, except in organum out of necessity. Whoever would make a pausa of this kind offends against the nature of chant and corrupts chant, since it is the purpose of chant to adorn prayer, not to corrupt it. Moreover, such a person sins against the prayer he utters, because he tears it, as if cutting up the seamless tunic of the Lord.”
The translation is Joseph Dyer’s, but I have changed one word where indicated. The upshot of the rule is that, in a chant where a syllable (not the last syllable of a word but a syllable before that) has a neume of more than one note on it, the last note of that neume cannot be lengthened because it places a division in time between the syllables of the same word, which divides the unity of that word.
Pothier promotes this golden rule in his writings. When paired with the idea of the mora vocis, it becomes clear that adding time to a note in the chant in Pothier’s system is a way of distinguishing things from each other that ought to be distinguished, namely figures in a melisma, words in a sentence, and parts of a sentence that should be separated according to meaning. The mora vocis never belongs on the last note of a syllable in the middle of a word, since this would lead the listener to hear the word as two separate words.
The golden rule makes its way into the preface to the Vatican edition:
According to the “golden rule,” there must be no pause at the end of any neum followed immediately by a new syllable of the same word; by no means must there be a lengthening of sound still less a silent beat, for this would break up and spoil the diction.
Mocquereau’s Compromise • In spite of some of the controversy engendered by the rhythmic signs, there are compelling reasons to view the development of Mocquereau’s theory of rhythm as part of a larger and continuous tradition at Solesmes. Mocquereau worked under Pothier for many years, and continued to write with great warmth and reverence for Pothier even into his last years. With regard to the clivis with episema, Mocquereau seemed to change his mind somewhat. In some early essays in the Paléographie musicale series, Mocquereau transcribes the neume with the episema extending over both notes. But when he comes to place these neumes within their textual and melodic context, he almost invariably places the horizontal episema only over the first note. In Paléographie musicale vol. 10, Mocquereau gives his reason for doing so by referring to this passage:
Mocquereau writes: “The small line is on the first note of the clivis only, because the regula aurea [the golden rule] does not allow a mora vocis on the second note of these four neumes.” Elsewhere the same sign in the St. Gall neumes is interpreted with length on both notes in the Solesmes editions, especially either at the end of a phrase or within a longer melisma, perhaps before a quilisma. In other words, the editorial method is flexible, interpreting the same sign a number of different ways according to context:
Thus, all the Solesmes interpretations of the unique and identical St. Gall clivis conform both to the rules of musical rhetorical rhythm and to the rhythmic directions of the St. Gall manuscripts.
We could unpack this a little further, and say that the interpretation of the signs from St. Gall or the other early sources is definitely not the foremost part of what Mocquereau is doing in this or in any passage of chant. The sign is something that Mocquereau consults, but then his editorial practice subordinates to that information to his broader editorial and interpretive program, based on his principles of rhythm. In this case, the information is subordinated to the golden rule, a part of the tradition inherited from Dom Pothier and ultimately from Elias Salomonis. Say what you like about Mocquereau, but I think a clear-eyed view of the Mocquereau method shows us precisely this: a sensitive and musical scholar working within a particular tradition and consulting a lot of manuscripts in the process. He does not treat those manuscripts with the same weight as would his younger Solesmes confreres Cardine and Guilmard when crafting a chant interpretation.
Adding Some Nuance to the Nuance • What is the practical result of this theorizing? Jeff argues for short-short short-short, Patrick argues for long-long long-long. Am I offering a middle way, long-short long-short? No, not really. I am perfectly happy to sing the chant according to the methods of either Ostrowski or Williams and can see arguments for adopting either. When singing in the Mocquereau way, as I am privileged to do on most Sundays and feasts, I try to constantly remind myself of the spiritual nature of these signs as approached in that tradition. I’ve already quoted Dom Gajard on this subject in my first foray into this series. But let’s get a little more detailed and turn to Gajard once again to muddy the waters. He is writing about this passage:
Gajard gets rather poetic (not to say vague) in a way that is sure to displease my interlocutors:
Theoretically speaking, the episema affects only the first note of the clivis—this is an important point to which I can merely draw attention here—but the second note also comes under its influence. Moreover, the whole passage is here indirectly affected by it: the words peccata mundi acquire an incontestable gentleness and restraint and sense of confidence.
The horizontal episema is thus a shade of expression, which means that its value is in no way mathematical but depends on numerous factors based on no fixed rules. The interpreter will have to choose the shade of color he thinks best for it. Speaking generally, it is best treated gently. It is an invitation, not to external display, but to enter into one’s soul and there to find the indwelling Guest. It is one of the elements which greatly help to give our Gregorian melodies their contemplative value.
I can already hear the sounds of laptops being slammed shut in disgust on desks in Los Angeles and Phoenix, and probably elsewhere besides. How does one argue with this? The signs (St. Gall and all the rest) show what they show. Perhaps Mocquereau was wrong with his interpretation of these signs (as Patrick asserts), but he was wrong for a specific reason having to do with the tradition of rhetorical performance. Perhaps Mocquereau and Gajard are disobedient with their use of the episema (as Jeff asserts), but all the teeth are removed from this disobedience if we remember that each one of these expressive signs is an invitation to look within. This is not just a solitary act, either. How lovely the effect when every one in the schola turns within to see the same Guest, giving rise to the corporate utterance: omnis spiritus laudet dominum. Furthermore, each one of these expressive signs and episemata has effects that radiate outward in time and color the entire passage. What a beautiful image! Quantizing a passage sung in this way to some combination of long and short values misses the point entirely.