OR FIFTEEN YEARS—years of crucial importance to the restoration of Carmen Gregorianum—the monks of Solesmes Abbey weren’t allowed to set foot inside their monastery due to increasingly immoral anti-clerical laws in France. Specifically, the monks were kicked out in 1880 and returned on 25 August 1895. (Later on, they would be exiled to England for 20 years.) We have already discussed this “exile” situation at length. For the time being, it is only necessary to understand that for fifteen years (1880-1895) the monks of Solesmes lived inside houses in the town of Solesmes “at the very doors of the Abbey” as Dom Pierre Combe describes it. DR. KATHARINE ELLIS of Cambridge, in her fabulous and ‘Kathartic’ book (The Politics of Plainchant in fin-de-siècle France, 2013), describes the first exile as “fifteen years dispersed in houses within the village” [Ellis p56]. How DOM JOSEPH POTHIER was able to (somehow) single-handedly restore the entire repertoire of Gregorian chant while wandering around the town begging people to let him live there has never been explained by anyone; it’s a miracle.
Dom Bourigaud • Abbat Joseph Bourigaud (d. 1906) at the end of 1892 asked the abbat of Solesmes whether Dom Pothier could be transferred to Ligugé Abbey, since its prior had died. On 10 April 1893, Dom Pothier arrived at Ligugé Abbey to serve as prior. Years later, when Father Angelo De Santi was explaining to Pope Pius X why he believed Dom Mocquereau’s rhythmic theories were “wrong” [Ellis p91], De Santi also opined that “Solesmes had rid themselves of Pothier by giving him an abbey”—to which Pope Pius X responded that it amounted to “a small compensation” [c’était une petite compensation]. For those who don’t know Father Angelo De Santi, he was responsible for ghost-writing the 1903 motu proprio INTER PASTORALIS OFFICII (a.k.a. “Tra Le Sollecitudini”).
Auguste Pécoul • Auguste Pécoul (1837–1916) had been a monk of Solesmes under Dom Guéranger. Even after he was forced to leave the community on account of family circumstances, was still regarded by Abbat Guéranger “as a son” [Ellis p52]. According to Dr. Ellis, the rhythmic modifications of Dom Mocquereau became Pécoul’s bête noires (i.e. things for which he had a particular hatred). Pécoul called them “parasites” or “microbes.” Today, I will speak about these rhythmic signs. Since the 1990s, I faithfully sang from the books containing Dom Mocquereau’s modifications to the official rhythm. For a variety of reasons, I eventually abandoned those “parasites,” adopting instead the official rhythm promulgated in 1905 by my confirmation saint, POPE SAINT PIUS X.
Too Much Repeating • My arguments (from the past) are available for anyone who wants to consult them. I will not repeat them here. Briefly, however, I believe Dom Mocquereau’s rhythmic modifications: (1) distort and disfigure the melodic line; (2) are needlessly esoteric and confusing for those trying to pray by singing; (3) were condemned explicitly over and over again, including by Pope Saint Pius X; (4) contradict the official rhythm in thousands of instances, adding confusion; (5) ignore the evidence from thousands of important ancient manuscripts; (6) misinterpret what the ancient manuscripts say.
DR. KATHARINE ELLIS agrees with me:
The scientific drive for statistical proof that characterizes Mocquereau’s work on pitch contour is replaced, in his work on rhythm and interpretation, by extrapolation from a minute body of comparative evidence and the making of creative leaps in its analysis. Dom Mocquereau provides no equivalent, for rhythm, of the huge body of raw data used in the Paléographie musicale to demonstrate Gregorian melodic unity via Justus ut palma. He cannot. Instead he does the opposite: he elaborates an aesthetically based theory of interpretation which he presents—distilled via carefully selected examples—as both general and normative.
Not Much Success • Over years, various Gregorian scholars, members of ‘traditional’ orders, and even seminary professors have written to us, saying they’d like to write articles defending Dom Mocquereau (or the so-called “semiology” of Dom Cardine). For reasons I don’t fully understand, most of them never followed through; perhaps they are occupied with other matters. I hope they’ll do what they promised and send us those articles. I suppose “only time will tell.” We encourage different points of view. Indeed, I’ve been examining ancient manuscripts for more than twenty years, and I’m always happy to learn more. I have a lot to learn!
Dr. Charles Weaver • One scholar who has defended Dom Mocquereau is my friend and colleague Dr. Charles Weaver. Often, Dr. Weaver has said something akin to the following (if I misquote him, I hope he’ll correct me):
“While the rhythmic method of Dom Mocquereau does include elongations (and eliminates elongations in the official edition) that’s not really the important part about his method. Even if we were to forget about all the horizontal episemata, it really wouldn’t make much difference.”
A Challenge For Dr. Weaver:
If I’ve quoted him correctly—and I believe I did—I would like to “invite” or “request” or “provoke” or “challenge” Dr. Weaver to further explain what he means. Consider the following antiphon (Tecum princípium) from Christmas. Here’s how it appears in the 1924 LIBER USUALIS, with rhythmic markings by Dom Mocquereau:
Now consider how it appears in the official edition, as interpreted by The German School. Notice how it doesn’t contain any “parasites,” to use the phrase by Abbat Guéranger’s spiritual son:
Abbat Bourigaud • Just as Dom Mocquereau created his own version of the official edition, which radically changed the rhythm, let’s suppose Abbat Joseph Bourigaud had done the same thing. Let’s pretend that Abbat Bourigaud added “parasites” to his version, supposedly based upon “a minute body of comparative evidence” (to use the words of Dr. Ellis):
Hypothetical • As I’ve mentioned twice already, the final scenario is a make-believe. Therefore, I could have chosen any name. But since Abbat Bourigaud was the one who brought Dom Pothier to Ligugé, it seemed appropriate to use his name. The point I am trying to make is: what if others had dared to make the same type of modifications Dom Mocquereau did? In other words, what if all the other editors had added thousands of “parasites” (to use the term of Dom Guéranger’s spiritual son)?
My question for Dr. Weaver is simple. If half the singers used the edition by Dom Mocquereau, and the other half used the edition by Abbat Bourigaud, can we really say the rhythmic symbols are insignificant? Can you imagine how horrible that would sound?