HAVE NOW COMPLETED WHAT I WISH TO SAY IN THE GREGORIAN RHYTHM WARS SERIES, but I am not the first to say most of it! My position is essentially that of Jan van Biezen, which is essentially that of Jan Vollaerts, Gregory Murray, and John Blackley, which is essentially that of the medieval theorists. Throughout this series, the mensuralist position, proportional rhythm, has withstood every objection and bombardment! Several contributors, incapable of interpreting a triplex edition for themselves, are totally unqualified to address some of my arguments, and they’ve often ignored the ones they are competent to discuss. This is likely their first confrontation with mensuralism. If they take my arguments seriously, their convictions will be shaken, just as mine were when I realized that Luca Ricossa actually knew what he was talking about. Willfully provoking such disillusionment in no way demonstrates a lack of charity, but quite the opposite.
To misconstrue my arguments as a blanket condemnation of the way antimensuralists sing chant is inaccurate and unfair—after all, I still use and teach the Solesmes method myself! What I condemn are the implications or outright claims that chant was sung that way in the first millennium or, worse still, the attitude that how chant was sung then is irrelevant to how we should sing it today. That isn’t genuine scholarship, and those ideas can’t be rejected forcefully enough. In a fitting context, I enjoy some of the later reorchestrations of the music of Bach and Handel, but only a fool or an imposter would pass them off as authentic Baroque performance practice—and reorchestration is a much less fundamental change to the music than wholesale rhythmic alteration! Pluralism has its place, but it also has its limits.
Perhaps my only original insight in the whole series has been my comparison of the rhythmic alteration of Gregorian chant to that of the Reformation-era chorales and psalm tunes; if such comparison has previously been made and written about by someone else, I’m unaware of it. Jeff has steadfastly ignored this part of the discussion, to his own detriment. Why should it be unfathomable that the rhythmic decay from proportional to equal note values that occurred in the sixteenth century also happened in the eleventh? Alas, Charlie, too, has flippantly dismissed the question as having no weight to it, but the evidence points to the same kind of change having taken place five centuries earlier. Of course, Jeff and Charlie can’t admit that without weakening their own positions. “We don’t know what a long time means” and “It is kind of interesting over time how some rhythmic differentiation can disappear over time with repeated singing” were the best replies I could get out of them. It’s kind of interesting indeed!
It comes as no surprise that every evidence-based argument for first-millennial practice has been downplayed on the grounds that the rhythm indicated by the adiastematic chant manuscripts, literally older than Methuselah, is primitive, heavy and plodding, and somehow illicit for liturgical use today, even though singing from ancient manuscripts is lawful (Jeff), unknowable and/or merely local (both Jeff and Charlie), and less likely to move affections of piety than the Solesmes method or Cardine’s nuances of nuances (Charlie)—as if our chant fostered or flowed from some kind of defective spirituality before the nineteenth century, along with all the chant of the Eastern Churches to this very day! Besides the copious arguments and evidence I’ve presented in favor of short and long notes in simple 1:2 proportion with a steady beat as the most probable reading of the oldest extant manuscripts, I hope my enduring words of wisdom are to study and compare the sources for yourself and don’t take anyone’s word for anything! It is all too easy to be lured away from a common-sense interpretation of the oldest sources by the siren song of beautiful, polished performances according to Mocquereau and Gajard’s Solesmes method, Cardine’s semiology, or the whims of a virtuoso singer. Stay the course! The oldest sources remain reliable. “Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15).