Y THEIR NATURE, SUBJECTIVE ARGUMENTS are more difficult to address than logical arguments based on fact. So far in this series, I have based my arguments primarily on evidence directly from the oldest manuscripts themselves, Jeff Ostrowski has based his primarily on ecclesiastical legislation, and Charles Weaver has based his primarily on aesthetic considerations and the Solesmes theorists. In his latest contribution, Charles wrote the following:
We could . . . 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. . . . 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.
Mocquereau was wrong, and there’s no probably or perhaps to it. As for the why, subordinating clear evidence to contradictory a priori principles strikes me as a greater cause for concern than subordinating the same evidence to personal preference pure and simple—however egregious the latter may be. We ought to know better more than a century later. I have no doubt that many cling to outdated scholarship and an anachronistic aesthetic, invariably described in spiritualized prose, in good faith, with the utmost sincerity, but that doesn’t change the bare fact that it’s outdated scholarship and an anachronistic aesthetic.
Technically Deficient but Spiritually Superior? • Many still believe that the Solesmes method represents how chant was actually sung a thousand years ago. Anyone who has followed this series should be familiar enough with the evidence by now to reject that idea entirely. The better educated and more honest defenders of the Solesmes method present a type of argument that can be caricatured—if not summarized—as follows: This isn’t how it was actually sung a thousand years ago, but don’t you hear and feel how holy it is? I don’t mean to mock my colleague’s piety or anyone else’s, but I have a serious problem with three assumptions underlying that position: 1. that a devout but rhythmically inaccurate rendition is superior (or at least preferable) to a rhythmically accurate one; from which it follows 2. that a rhythmically accurate performance is not conducive to piety in the same way as the Solesmes method, and therefore, 3. that the Solesmes style is an improvement over the rhythm that was handed down from the Fathers of the Church. How can the technically superior performance not be more effective in moving the listener to prayer? If the performers themselves are not similarly moved, that’s their own personal problem; it is not our place as musicians to judge subjective spiritual dispositions or to gauge the quality of a performance by how it stimulates our own religious sentiments. (After all, many Catholics find the contents of the Glory & Praise and Gather collections more meaningful and edifying than any chant interpretation.) If the words and music themselves are insufficient to move the hearts of the singers and hearers, the composition is unworthy of the liturgy in the first place.
A Challenge to Charles • As for Dom Gajard’s claim that the horizontal episema represents “an invitation, not to external display, but to enter into one’s soul and there to find the indwelling Guest,” I challenge Dr. Weaver to explain how a doubling of the notes in question fails to achieve the same effect (or should I say affect, or Affekt?) as a less-than-double agogic nuance. The Solesmes method rarely lengthens a note that is written short in the oldest manuscripts, but there is one case in which it unfailingly does so: the salicus. The Solesmes Rules for Interpretation state that the horizontal episema would have also been used for the salicus, were it not for the difficulty of writing it (Liber Usualis, English edition, p. xxviij). Is the lengthening of the middle note of the salicus also an invitation to enter into one’s soul and there find the indwelling Guest? Why or why not? Apart from the salicus aberration, a comparison of my edition of nearly any chant will reveal more such “invitations” than in the Solesmes edition. Are more episemata inconsistent with the invitation to look within and with “effects that radiate outward in time and color the entire passage”? Chant in proportional rhythm not only offers more invitations to look within, if that is the meaning one wishes to give the episema, but it better preserves the spiritual impulse behind the original composition. It is truly a restored tradition, neither an alteration nor a misinterpretation of the sources.
Golden Rule . . . • According to the preface to the Vatican edition, the “golden rule” states that “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” (Liber Usualis, p. xiij). What can be meant by a “silent beat” other than a rest? The “lengthening of sound,” however, refers to the mora ultimae vocis, which will be discussed below. In the previous paragraph of the preface, pause is contrasted with breathing; therefore, it appears that the “pause at the end of any neum” means “a lengthening of sound,” not a breath or rest. In the Solesmes Rules for Interpretation, the rule is restated as, “Never take breath just before a fresh syllable of a word” (p. xxxix), which is entirely sensible. This golden rule concerning “pauses” between syllables within a word, apparently not written anywhere before 1274, is some four centuries removed from the oldest extant sources. In early Solesmes publications, it was applied so stringently that the neumed, “chantified” versions of hymns from later centuries were corrupted to remove most long notes before new syllables of the same word, resulting in such absurdities as these:
The latter is marked rhythmus usu receptus! In the former, long notes do occur before new syllables of the same word, at adeste and adoremus, but they are printed as a distropha (two puncta) instead of a single punctum with dot or episema. These editorial “improvements” were mercifully reversed in later editions, where these two hymns are printed in modern notation instead. An exceptional case involving the golden rule remains intact in the hymn Adoro te devote, where a footnote cautions the singer: “In verses 2 and 6 no pause in last line.” In the Proper of the Mass, we don’t have to look far at all for examples of the distropha before a new syllable, as they abound in the first Mass of the liturgical year. Here’s just one example with two such occurrences:
In fact, Do- and da- are not only doubled notes, but doubled long notes in the manuscripts:
Surely our readers would benefit from an explanation of how these lengthenings don’t violate the golden rule, especially when the two notes are tied together. I know I would!
Or Golden Exception? • In the two introits that have been analyzed in detail in this series, namely Si iniquitates and Omnes gentes, I count a total of 41 syllables that are neither word finals nor monosyllabic words. Of those 41, only seven of the neumes end with a note that is definitely short, and one of those is a doubled note (torculus strophicus). Another six, most of them discussed here, could be interpreted as short. The rest are long. The so-called golden rule isn’t much of a rule at all if the oldest manuscripts have to be ignored 68 to 85 percent of the time in order to observe it. Rather than affirming Mocquereau’s interpretation of the golden rule, the oldest sources refute it. (The Solesmes apologists are almost certain to say that such methodological rigor entirely misses the point. How convenient, and how ironic to reproach those who would dare to quantify the rhythm in the context of an article about avoiding pauses and silent beats!) In my editions, double-long notes, marked with both horizontal episema and punctum mora dot, appear at the end of phrases coinciding with a period, question mark, or colon in the text, sometimes a comma, and followed by a bar line. I’ve chosen my words carefully in order to be crystal clear about the distinction between doubled long notes and double-long notes. Doubled long notes are two long notes at the same pitch on the same syllable, as in the Dominus dabit example. Double-long notes are ordinary long notes such as the tractulus, uncinus, or virga (in most contexts), which are doubly augmented at the end of a phrase. This mora ultimae vocis is much like a fermata in modern music. As a rule, these double-long notes occur in chant at the end of a word, not within the word.
Semiology • The 1983 Liber Hymnarius contains detailed rules for semiological interpretation, comparable to those of the Liber Usualis for the Solesmes method. That part of the preface was inexplicably removed from the 2019 edition, along with the rhythmic markings. In a scathing review of that revision, Prof. Franz Karl Praßl wrote the following:
Behind the minimizing and euphemistic statement that the “rhythmic signs” were removed is concealed the surprising and shocking observation that anything that in any way could recall the interpretation of chant in light of the oldest manuscripts has been obliterated. . . .
The lifegiving power of the melodies in their differentiated rhythmic form and theological proclamation has been castrated by the removal of the various types of dots and episemas. . . .
One can only deeply regret what happened with this edition. Distinguished Solesmes chant scholars such as Pothier, Mocquereau, Claire, and Cardine were always at the cutting edge of scholarly advances in questions of restitution and interpretation. Today, regression and retrospective dominate. That pains the heart. One wonders what is behind this and how we could have arrived at this point.
Although my understanding differs from that of the semiological school of interpretation, I share Praßl’s concerns, and so should you. That 1983 preface states that notes at the end of an otherwise short, cursive neume regain the normal syllabic value, which is called the recovered syllabic value (valor syllabicus recuperatus). The recovered syllabic value applies not only at the end of a word or phrase, but at the end of syllables within a word, which is clear from the wording of the preface and the musical example included in it. If pausa in the quote from Elias Salomonis is taken to mean the mora ultimae vocis rather than an ordinary long note (the normal or recovered syllabic value in the terminology of the semiologists), then there is no difficulty in applying the golden rule to proportional rhythm, semiology, the Solesmes method, or any other style of chant, and likewise if it may be understood primarily as a prohibition against breathing between syllables of the same word, which is indeed sage advice. If, on the other hand, pausa is understood to apply to the ordinary long note (normal or recovered syllabic value), then the quote underscores the reality that the authentic rhythm was long lost by the thirteenth century. What do contemporary sources say? This sentence from Engelbert of Admont (ca. 1250–1331) is unambiguous: “The pausa is actually a medium silence of breathing between made distinctions” (De musica, tractatus quartus, cap. XL: “Pausa vero est inter distinctiones factas medium silentium respirandi”). I would say, “Case closed!” but even that clear definition of pausa is unlikely to appease those who are determined to preserve nineteenth-century performance practice at all costs. At any rate, it describes performance practice in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, not the late ninth or early tenth. The oldest manuscripts have an inherent authority that is greater than that of any theorist from a later century. I have played along for the sake of argument, but if we’re judging ninth- or tenth-century manuscripts according to the doctrine of thirteenth-century theorists, we have it backwards.
Universal or Particular? • I question why a style of singing, which was used by a particular congregation of Benedictines from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, should be idealized as the best interpretation for universal use in the Latin rite today. The Solesmes method was in more general use only for about six decades, and even during that time, it wasn’t used everywhere. In fact, it’s no longer used where it started. What style of chant was “traditional” in Rome at the end of the nineteenth century? Finally, insistence upon a nuanced interpretation of chant—whether the classic Solesmes method, or semiology with its limitless range of agogic nuances—excludes all of the traditional chant of the Eastern churches. Is there any Eastern church that uses chant with a rhythm anything like the Solesmes method or mainstream semiology, without a steady beat? (Readings, priest’s prayers, and other instances of liturgical recitative or cantillation are not under consideration.) Is measured rhythm prayerful for the Eastern rites, just not the Latin rite? If so, then why not rob the works of Palestrina, Victoria, Haydn, or Rheinberger of their authentic rhythm too? I ask Charles and Jeff both: What is to be gained from outdated scholarship and an anachronistic aesthetic that cannot be better accomplished by a return to the oldest sources?