OR MANY YEARS, I was completely unable to understand the famous words of Sergei Rachmaninov who—asked by Robert Croan why he never gave interviews—had responded: “I was brought up never to lie; but I cannot tell the truth.” Eventually, I realized what he meant. One can’t tell the truth when it might hurt feelings; e.g. if Rachmaninov thought Artur Schnabel was a terrible pianist, he would naturally balk at saying so publicly. But there are other reasons why one cannot tell the truth. Some people aren’t ready for the truth. Furthermore, some will never possess the capacity to understand certain things, rendering all explanations pointless. “If you know, you know.”
Talking Turkey • Recently—being reminded once again of how Dom Mocquereau was unwilling to keep his hands off even the most straightforward of chants—something struck me in a powerful way. I believe that 120 years of beating around the bush must come to an end. I’m not somebody who spends his time wishing to pick fights or needlessly annoy others; I just feel like 120 years is enough. If anyone desires to “challenge” or “correct” or “take issue with” what I write below, I’m all ears. What I cannot accept is silence.
An Outright Lie • The LIBER USUALIS begins by including the Preface from the official edition—produced by the Papal Commission—as you can see by this screenshot:
Did You Catch That? • Notice how the LIBER USUALIS explicitly says:
The place of honour in this Solesmes Edition of the Vatican Official text is given to the Vatican Preface. Its wise counsels and general Principles of interpretation are embodied, elucidated and enlarged upon in the Rules given further on.
When it comes to the rules about “blank spaces” equal to (or exceeding) the width of an individual note-head, the LIBER USUALIS wasn’t ashamed to include them for all to see!
Readers of this blog know very well the LIBER USUALIS does not “embody, elucidate and enlarge upon” the official rhythm; it does the opposite.
Jeff Ostrowski suggests the following
Any reprints of the famous LIBER USUALIS of Solesmes should include the following modifications, proposed by Jeff Ostrowski on 18 December 2023:
We who publish the LIBER USUALIS feel obligated to make the following clarifications. Although we boldly claimed that our modifications “embody, elucidate, and enlarge upon” the Preface to the EDITIO VATICANA, nothing could be further than the truth. We have added thousands of elongations which contradict the official rhythm. We have also eliminated thousands of elongations mandated by the official rhythm. Consider what we did to the ALLELUIA (“Ave María”) for the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March:
Notice how our LIBER USUALIS adds elongations where they don’t belong and deletes elongations which are supposed to be there. Because of our modifications, you won’t be able to sing with anyone using the official edition:
Those who sing from our LIBER USUALIS won’t be able to use any of the organ accompaniments produced by the LEMMENSINSTITUUT, because they follow the official rhythm:
Father Franz Xaver Mathias (who founded The Saint Leo Institute for Sacred Music in 1913) produced an edition of Carmen Gregorianum, but you won’t be able to sing along with it from our LIBER USUALIS. That’s because Father Mathias adheres to the official rhythm:
You won’t be able to use the plainsong accompaniments composed by August Wiltberger (d. 1928), because they follow the official rhythm, mandated for the Latin Rite by Pope Saint Pius X when he promulgated the EDITIO VATICANA:
Perhaps you want to sing from the edition produced in 1932 by the protégé of ABBAT JOSEPH POTHIER, selected by Pope Saint Pius X to serve as president of the Vatican Commission on Gregorian Chant. Dom Pothier (a monk of Solesmes) had been chosen by Abbat Guéranger to produce thousands of pages of Gregorian Chant books. Pothier’s protégé was Dom Lucien David, of Saint Wandrille Abbey. You won’t be able to sing with our LIBER USUALIS, because Dom Lucien’s edition follows the official rhythm:
Some might ask why our LIBER USUALIS has thousands of markings which flagrantly contradict the official edition. Indeed, we often add so many modifications that more notes contradict the official edition than match! An example would be the following antiphon:
Moc’s Fantastic Four (A) • Many reasons could be given to explain why we decided to make so many modifications. One reason has to do with Moc’s Fantastic Four, which is shorthand. It refers to the fact that Dom Mocquereau—the monk who invented, circa 1900, the rhythmic signs—had a handful of manuscripts he really liked. The number (roughly speaking) is four. It’s not possible to specify the exact number because not all chants occur in all the manuscripts for which he had a predilection. Indeed, Dom Mocquereau added hundreds of rhythmic modifications to pieces of plainsong composed (!) in the 19th century. Mocquereau believed that adding (supposedly) ancient rhythmic signs to Neo-Gregorian compositions which arose during the 1900s somehow made them more authentic. Our LIBER USUALIS even claims that such modifications are necessary “for proper execution and interpretation.” At the same time, the Abbey of Solesmes in 1957 claimed copyright (!) over “the rhythmic signs and the rhythm they represent.” We admit that’s an astonishing claim!
Moc’s Fantastic Four (B) • It is true that Dom Mocquereau applied his rhythmic theories based on Moc’s Fantastic Four. By so doing, it was necessary for him to “discount” or “ignore” or “disregard” or “consider as worthless” thousands of ancient manuscripts which undeniably constitute powerful and precious witnesses to the authentic Gregorian tradition. Some may ask how such a thing was ever accepted, but let’s recall that 100 years ago the internet didn’t exist, meaning most people had no access to Gregorian manuscripts. Before the internet, Dom Mocquereau’s cadre often spoke of “the school of Saint Gall.” Now that the Saint Gall manuscripts have been digitized and placed on the internet, we can see it was a lie to refer to the “school” of Saint Gall. Often, Mocquereau’s cadre actually meant one (1) manuscript from Saint Gall, and that single manuscript was often contradicted by other manuscripts from Saint Gall. But everyone would agree that it sounds much more impressive to say “the school of Saint Gall” whereas it doesn’t sound impressive to refer to “one manuscript out of hundreds.”
Moc’s Fantastic Four (C) • We admit that it’s never been explained why Dom Mocquereau thought it was acceptable to attach importance to his Fantastic Four, while deeming worthless—and casting aside—the testimony of virtually the entire Gregorian manuscript tradition. Moreover, if Moc’s Fantastic Four were really as marvelous as he claims, why didn’t the scribes who came later reproduce them? In other words, if Moc’s Fantastic Four were so much more important than all other manuscripts, why were their unique features studiously ignored by contemporary scribes? Can we really believe that Dom Mocquereau—who wasn’t born until the 19th century—knew better than (virtually) all the scribes who ever lived? Such a notion beggars the imagination.
Wrapping Up • Needless to say, our rhythmic modifications caused incalculable damage to the universality of the official edition. Was this ‘sabotaging’ of the official edition desired by POPE SAINT PIUS X? That question is answered exhaustively and explicitly in the famous Martinelli Letter (18 February 1910) issued by Sebastiano Cardinal Martinelli (d. 1918), who served as Prefect for the CONGREGATION OF SACRED RITES under Pius X. Furthermore, the president of the Vatican Commission on Gregorian Chant (formed, nurtured, and protected by POPE SAINT PIUS X) wrote in January of 1906:
These rhythmic signs, easily confused with the traditional notes … bring about a grave alteration of the melody. Moreover, these supplementary signs have nothing traditional about them, nor have they any exact relation with the well known Romanian signs of the Saint Gall manuscripts of which they profess to be a reproduction. Even were these signs (of Saint Gall) faithfully represented, inasmuch as they belonged to a particular school, they would have no right to impose their special ideas on the universal practice in a typical and official edition.
Article Conclusion • There you have it. Those are my suggestions. I offer them completely free of charge; this was done pro bono. If Solesmes Abbey takes me up on my proposal, you’ll be the first to hear about it! 😇