Guest article by
Fr. Stephen Concordia, OSB
of Saint Vincent Archabbey
An Initiation to Gregorian Chant
by Monsignor Alberto Turco.
I. How this book came to be
This new book—“An Initiation to Gregorian Chant”—was written by Monsignor Alberto Turco at the request of the Preside (Dean) of the PONTIFICAL INSTITUTE OF SACRED MUSIC (PIMS) in Rome. Aware of the growing number of disciplines involved in the study of plainsong nowadays, the Preside saw the need for an up-to-date yet succinct volume that would provide new students at PIMS with a broad foundation with which they would be better prepared for the formal curriculum in Gregorian chant. He may have recognized, too, an advantage of a book of this type, in that it presents a synthesis of the thoughts of one scholar on many topics about which that scholar has been thinking, teaching, and writing, for a very long time. This book is also the first in a new series of publications by the PONTIFICAL INSTITUTE OF SACRED MUSIC in collaboration with the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (Vatican Editions).
II. Introducing Msgr. Alberto Turco
Monsignor Alberto Turco, of the Diocese of Verona, Italy is a Professor Emeritus of PIMS, Rome. He completed his doctoral studies in Gregorian chant at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Milan, writing his dissertation under Dom Jean Claire, OSB (d. 2006), the legendary choirmaster of the Abbey of Solesmes. Monsignor Turco remains a devoted disciple of Dom Claire and continues to carry forward Claire’s own research on the science of Gregorian modality. In his home city of Verona, Monsignor Turco founded the Dom Jean Claire Center for the Study of Gregorian Chant and Other Liturgical Monodies. This organization, under Monsignor Turco’s direction, includes a team young scholars, singers, and instrumentalists who have produced numerous CDs and a variety of other publications, e.g., the Liber Gradualis. For decades now, the Jean Claire Center and Monsignor Turco offer summer chant courses throughout Italy, Europe, and beyond. Monsignor Turco, in addition to teaching and regularly publishing his research on Chant, has throughout his life been an active practicing church musician. In 1965, he was named choirmaster of the Cathedral of Verona, resigning only a few years ago. He was one of the original members of the “Nova Schola Gregoriana” founded in the 1960’s by Don Luigi Agustoni. Monsignor Turco assumed the direction at Don Agustoni’s retirement and continues to lead the renowned Schola in concerts, tours, and on recordings. Monsignor Turco founded and directs the Women’s Schola “In dulci Iubilo.” Monsignor Turco, at 85, shows no sign of slowing down.
III. A selection of themes
and author’s points of view in
“An Initiation to Gregorian Chant”
(a.) At the very beginning of his book the author states his perspective on the essence and function of Gregorian chant.
Gregorian chant is the chant of the “Word” of the liturgies of the Roman Church; the chant not of just any word, created by humans, but of the “Word of God”, the chant of the VERBUM who in the fullness of time took on a human appearance: “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh”. In principio erat Verbum…et Verbum caro factus est (John 1: 1). The primary function of chant, then, “is to be a ‘vehicle’ by which the VERBUM communicates with His people.”
(b.) Prof. Turco asks his students to become well-acquainted with the chant repertory, by which he means to grow in appreciation of the following:
1. the different liturgical-musical forms of Gregorian chant, and the circumstances of their appearance in church history. For example, the liturgical-musical form of the Introit came into being when there was a liturgical need to accompany the entrance of the celebrant (Pope, Bishop) into a Basilica or Cathedral. In earlier centuries, when the Eucharist was celebrated in a private home, or in the Catacombs, there would not have been need for, or even room for the solemn ritual entrance of an Introit.
2. the presence, throughout the repertory, of the three melodic genres of Gregorian chant. syllabic (also known as declamatory), ornate, semi-ornate, and the connection of each liturgical-musical form to a corresponding melodic genre. For instance, the Introit and Communion Antiphons are in semi-ornate genre, while the Celebrant’s prayers, and the readings at Mass are chanted in syllabic, (declamatory) genre. More than one genre can appear in a single chant, as in an Introit or Communion Antiphon. The Antiphon is chanted by the Schola in semi-ornate genre, while the psalm Verse is typically chanted by a soloist in syllabic genre. These are not trivial distinctions, as each melodic genre creates its own distinct relationship to the sacred text.
3. Another distinction observed in the Gregorian melodies illustrates the various compositional procedures employed by the composers of chant. One such procedure is the “melody type” wherein a single melody is used for more than one text– a kind of “recycling” of a melody. The use of melody types would have answered the need for new antiphons in a period of geographic and liturgical expansion of the Church. Other compositional procedures with identical melodies are “modal templates” and “centonizations”. There are “original” melodies as well, in Gregorian chant, without any melodic resemblance to other chants in the repertory.
4. There are three types of Psalmody in the Gregorian repertory, a fact which suggests an historical evolution of Psalmody. The most ancient is Psalmody in directum, typically sung by a soloist, appropriate to a phase in Church history when there were few literate, competent cantors. Responsorial Psalmody answered a different need in the Church, namely, a desire for more participation of the assembly. Antiphonal Psalmody became possible only when a sufficient number of trained cantors were present, as in a mature monastic community.
5. As you may have guessed by now, on most every topic, there will likely be some historical commentary to be made. This is yet another aspect of chant study about which Professor Turco asks for our growing appreciation. As Catholic Church musicians it is, after all, a deepening of appreciation of the history of our work. The importance of the historical perspective is to be expected with a history as extensive as that of Gregorian chant. Although this book does not pretend to be a history of Gregorian Chant, it does provide an up-to-date, differentiated frame of reference.
IV. Section Four: Text and Rhythm of Gregorian Chant
This section begins with a second statement on the ‘essence’ of Chant:
“Gregorian chant is, essentially, a text in the Latin language, inextricably linked to a melody. From that text, which is primarily a prayer, the composer draws inspiration for the melody, submitting that melody to the rhythm of the word.”
Note on Gregorian Semiology • In “An Initiation” Monsignor Turco does not offer a chapter on Gregorian Semiology. There is an introduction to the Manuscript sources, in which the basics of musical notation in “neumes” are explained, but the application of this knowledge to an interpretation of a specific chant is not offered. One explanation for this choice of Monsignor Turco can be found in an earlier book of his, where we read:
The Gregorian composers spoke Latin: they knew the meaning of the words and their grammatical, logical, and stylistic functions. Above all, they knew the rhythm of the text, its rhythmic unity, and its rhythmic equilibrium. For them, verbal style constitutes the foundational layer of the musical composition. Today, this knowledge and practice of Latin—essential presuppositions for a correct interpretation and performance of Gregorian chant—are not at all familiar. Filling in this gap, at least in part, before undertaking the specific study of paleographic Gregorian notation [semiology]…is obvious.1 Semiology is at the service of the text. If the word, if the phrase, do not flow from the process of accentuation…every semiological detail added to this absence of linear direction will inevitably bear false results.” 2
In place of a presentation of Gregorian Semiology Monsignor Turco offers that which he maintains should precede the study of Semiology. This very substantial chapter is Interpretation in Verbal Style. Essentially, the chapter is a proposal of criteria for chant performance practice.
Chapter Four presents fifteen (15) pages of “examples of textual, melodic-modal and rhythmic analysis.” Each example, is meticulously clear, and logical. Having said that, I hasten to add that working through each example, striving to assimilate all the parameters and elements of “verbal style” in the singing of each example, is a challenging exercise in music analysis and more importantly, exercise of ear-training. This will be true even for experienced, trained musicians. The examples consist of a cantillation of a reading, a proclamation of a psalm tone, and a selection of eight Office antiphons in both syllabic and semi-ornate genres. The analyses presented here can serve as models for students to practice with other antiphons of the repertory and for schola directors to apply to score preparation. The structure of the Liturgy, the Mass and of the Divine Office presents the up-to-date forms of square notation.
There are many other important and useful topics presented here by Monsignor Turco which I will only name, leaving for you the experience of discovering them.
Section Five, on The Octoechos, presents the Gregorian Modal System, including the “Archaic Modes”, which appear in the newest books of chant prepared by Solesmes. Monsignor Turco, with his Maestro, Dom Jean Claire, O.S.B. are largely responsible for the research which allowed the recovery of these more ancient modes, bringing them back to be sung in today’s Liturgical prayer.
Section Six presents a pedagogy of the practice of Psalmody with explanations of the formula of each Psalm Tone, and how to apply them to texts of the psalms.
The Tones presented are the following:
Psalm tones of the Octoechos (Modes I-VIII and Tonus Peregrinus)
- Psalmtone C
- Psalmtone D
- Psalmtone E
- Psalmtone II*
- Psalmtone IV*
An Initiation to Gregorian Chant
By Monsignor Alberto Turco
Translated by Stephen Concordia, OSB
Published by Vatican Editions (Rome, 2023)
and printed in the USA by Archabbey Publications.
You may also purchase at Saint Vincent College Bookstore. While the retail price is $35 USD, discounted copies are available to readers of CORPUS CHRISTI WATERSHED for $20 USD. (Contact the bookstore for details.)
We hope you enjoyed this guest article
by Father Stephen Concordia.
Father Stephen Concordia, O.S.B. is a monk and priest of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. He received a B.M. in piano and an M.M. in Theoretical Studies from the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, and a Licentiate/Diploma in Organ, and Licentiate/Diploma in Gregorian Chant from the PONTIFICAL INSTITUTE OF SACRED MUSIC in Rome, where his chant teachers were Nino Albarosa and Alberto Turco. His activities in the field of Gregorian chant include recordings with the Monastic Schola of the Abbey of the Montecassino (FONÉ/Pisa), and with the Schola Cantorum of Holy Family (JADE). He conducted the Saint Vincent Schola Gregoriana in performances with Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall in 2009 and 2012. He taught Gregorian chant at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute ‘Sant Anselmo’, Rome (1998-2000), Saint Vincent College (2008-2018) and—while interim Coordinator of the Sacred Music Program—at Franciscan University of Steubenville (2018-2020). Since 2008, Fr. Stephen is the Director of the Saint Vincent Camerata, a semi-professional chamber choir whose recent performances include collaborations with the Schola Cantorum Franciscana of Franciscan University in performances of the “German Requiem” of Brahms (2019) and the world premiere of the “All-Saints Requiem” by Douglas Starr (2020). He serves on the faculty of the Saint Gregory Institute of Sacred Music.
1 The Gregorian Melody, The Expressive Power of the WORD page 18.
2 Cf. J.Claire, “Dom Eugene Cardine,” Études Grégoriennes 23 (1989): 22, ibid.