I was previously asked to limit my posts and responses to the Gregorian Rhythm Wars series to no more than one per week; otherwise, this would have been published before Charlie’s “brief addendum” of 1100+ words, which appeared two days after the update to his previous post. In another post, I addressed in passing Dr. Jan van Biezen’s interpretation of a cadential figure similar to the one Charlie mentions in his “addendum,” and I see no need to include it again here or devote a separate reply to it. The reply below was composed and finalized before Charlie’s second Rhythm Wars post of the week. Jeff gave me exceptional permission to go ahead and post it today instead of waiting until Sunday.
ARS ARE NOT WON WITH EXCUSES, and repeated questions are not avoided for months on end by accident. Some of my questions require only a yes or no answer, and none of them requires a doctoral dissertation. Although Matthew Frederes’ position with regard to the rhythm remains hazy, Jeff is the only contributor who has ignored my direct questions for months. I was pleased to see Charlie’s very prompt response, which shows an eagerness to keep the debate going. Although I stand by my charge of outdated scholarship, my recent post titled “Mocquereau on Trial” was, in fact, a defense of Mocquereau against Jeff’s accusations. I think all of us need to take a moment to consider chant within the broader context of musical interpretation. Why do we tend to prefer more recent editions of the music of Mozart, Handel, or Palestrina over publications from 115 years ago? We have moved past many ideas from the late Romantic era. Some of the editorial dynamics and tempo markings from 1908 seem foreign to our sensibilities. It truly is a matter of aesthetic judgment.
Admitting Omissions • Jeff wrote that, “were I [Jeff] to submit my edition for approval—something which hasn’t been done in 80+ years—I would quickly fix any missing liquescent notes,” which I understand as an admission that the omission of the liquescent notes is an illicit alteration of the Vatican edition, which was precisely the accusation I made. Along with Charlie’s comments, this suffices to answer my first question. Regarding question 2, Charlie wrote that “a switch between the Carolingian era and the eleventh century can be read as ‘sudden,’” but that was clearly not Jeff’s claim: “Was there a memo sent out to everyone in Europe telling them: ‘Starting on Monday, we’re going to abandon the traditional rhythm entirely’…?” “Let’s pretend this ‘memo’ (written by whom?) was somehow sent to everybody circa 1050AD.” How can these sentences be construed as anything other than an attack on the straw-man claim of a sudden change in the sense of something alleged to have taken place immediately? Jeff argues against an immediate change in the rhythm, not a gradual change over several decades, let alone several centuries. Let’s stop putting words in his mouth and let him tell us himself: WHO claims that there was such a sudden change? The question remains.
Consensus or Not? • Jeff can also answer my other questions for himself. I was invited here to discuss the rhythm of the oldest extant sources. Call it a chronological bias if you like. If a multitude of manuscripts from the late eleventh century agree with each other but unanimously contradict the ninth- and tenth-century sources on some point, the newer manuscripts cannot be considered valid for determining the correct first-millennial reading on that particular point. If there were a consensus among chant scholars in favor of mensuralism, I wouldn’t be here arguing for it. Charlie, would you claim that there is a lack of consensus within the broad community of Gregorian chant scholars as to which notes are relatively long and short? It seems to me that there is, in fact, such a scholarly consensus, and that the only real point of contention regarding the rhythm among those who have studied the oldest sources is the matter of nuances versus proportions. Do you agree?
Hypothetical Parallels • Was there a sudden change to the chorale and psalm tune rhythm, or did it take place gradually? Is there evidence of some “memo” from Geneva, Amsterdam, or Erfurt? Or is there some inherent tendency for religious music to slow down and for the rhythm to even out over time? For the hypothetical “Protestant Hymn Rhythm Wars,” let us suppose that the hymn editor, who draws on sources from several different centuries, insists that the specialist in sixteenth-century performance practice doesn’t know what he’s talking about because the late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century versions contradict the clear indications of the oldest extant sources. Our hymn editor points to two sixteenth-century versions, published only nineteen years apart, and says, “Look! They already contradict each other, and one of them is closer to how we sing it today. I question whether that 1565 version is really as old as you think it is. How do you know the title page isn’t a forgery?” Yet another contributor chimes in to praise the beauty and spirituality of the way Old Hundredth was sung between about 120 and 60 years ago in many churches. That would be a closer analogy for how our Gregorian Rhythm Wars series has actually proceeded. Jeff doesn’t give the oldest sources the respect they deserve because he hasn’t made a serious attempt to understand them.
Under the Magnifying Glass • With his Tu mandasti Communion excerpt, Charlie sees nuances of nuances (in the words of Jan van Biezen), where I see eighteen steady beats. Let’s figure out what’s going on here.
Top to bottom: Graduale Triplex, Graduale Novum, Laon 239
Just as the first millennial scribes weren’t infallible, neither are those of our era. The hook in Laon 239, most commonly called an uncinus, and the slightly concave horizontal stroke called either a lineola or tractulus, are rhythmically equivalent as far as I can tell, with the use of one or the other being a matter of convention. In fact, Vollaerts, Murray, and others also call the uncinus a tractulus. It’s not so important whether the scribe writes the fourth note of tua as an uncinus or a lineola, but which kind of note did the writer of L use? If you can tell from the manuscript image, then congratulations—you’re ahead of me! Compare both triplex editions to the manuscript. The penmanship is clearly different, but what else? Other than that fourth note at tua, both copyists do a fair job of reproducing the neumes, but is there a “remarkable variation in size,” as Charlie claims, with “at least three different sizes of uncinus”? Maybe in the Triplex, but to my eye, the variation in the manuscript itself is quite unremarkable. Such variation can be found on every page and in every context: on isolated syllables, within neumes of a few notes, and within long melismata. Judging from the triplex editions, the modern copyists apparently didn’t think the size difference between the uncini at -ta and tu- was significant at all. In the few samples of handwritten cards and notes that I currently have on my desk, I see considerable variation from each writer in the size, spacing, and slant of the letters. Why not scrutinize the words in the manuscript image? There are two instances of manda- to compare. The second of those four a’s looks a little different from the others, doesn’t it? Should we conclude that there’s something special about that syllable?
Surely you see the problem with that line of argumentation. Reading deliberate “nuances” into normal variations in handwriting is a solution in search of a problem. If anyone wishes to interpret that opinion as ironing out and explaining away the differences, then so be it.
Manipulating Evidence? • According to Charlie, the evidence of the score (presumably L, not the Graduale Triplex) says that the note lengths indicated by the uncinus must not be equal to each other. Really? I’m not buying it for a second, but what do the readers say? Is one of us twisting the evidence in our own favor? The largest of the signs in question, at the end of mandata, takes up a mere .084 inches (2.15 millimeters) in either direction. For scale:
For your convenience, here are sheets you can print in both letter and A4 format; be sure not to select reduce, scale, or fit to page in the printer dialogue options. Try copying the eight uncini, which represent the majority of the long notes in our excerpt. Can you do a better job than the copyist of the Graduale Triplex or Graduale Novum? Now ask yourself: Do those signs better serve the purpose of 1. contrasting with the puncta (points) as straightforward long versus short (my position), 2. indicating a limitless range of rhythmic nuances by variations in size so slight as to be hardly perceptible without magnification (Charlie’s position), 3. indicating exactly the same note value as the puncta, cephalici, virgae, and each note of the torculus and pes, and which may be doubled immediately before bar lines or a melismatic mora vocis (Jeff’s position), or 4. indicating a fundamentally short and indivisible note which is occasionally lengthened or doubled (Solesmes method)? The one espousing position 2 explains that the rhythmic nuances allegedly indicated by E contradict the rhythmic nuances allegedly indicated by L, while the one espousing position 1 says that the two sources are in agreement.
Confusing Claims • In the context of a response in which Charlie argues against strict proportion in favor of a highly nuanced interpretation, claims that Laon 239 and Einsiedeln 121 are “local examples” that contradict each other about which long notes are longer than others, and mentions the possibility of considering the punctum a tiny uncinus, it seems incongruous for him to reject Jeff’s opinion. Exactly which part is he rejecting? That the nuances are slight? That they are probably intended for individual cantors? That they agree with each other (among various manuscripts) only by accident? Is the punctum a nuance of the uncinus, or is it the other way around? If we are to take tiny variations in the size of the notes, grammar and syntax, the tonic accent, and the spiritual significance of the text all into rhythmic consideration, we are dealing with nuances of nuances of nuances of nuances. How shocking that no one at the time wrote about any of those rhythmic nuances! What makes Charlie so sure that I base my interpretation primarily “on some theorists who were not scribes of Lotharingian neumes” rather than primarily on the adiastematic manuscripts? It strikes me as a very odd claim, and I’m curious to know what I wrote that gave him that impression. I did not need the testimony of “some theorists” to observe, for example, that short notes typically come in even numbers, or that the oldest sources generally agree about which notes are long and which are short. In fact, doesn’t he base his own interpretation “on some theorists who were not scribes of Lotharingian neumes”? Eleven months in, Charles Weaver has produced no solid evidence in support of “nuanced” rhythm from before 1100, neither from the adiastematic manuscripts nor from the theorists, and he can’t, because there isn’t any. To conclude, I leave you with four YouTube recordings of this chant, sorted from free (soloistic) to strict in terms of rhythm—not to say anything about beauty, musicality, or overall recording quality.
Are you ready to call a truce yet?