F YOU BROWSE through this site under the Gregorian Rhythm Wars tag, you can see that the front has been pretty quiet for a while, with nobody but the indefatigable Jeff Ostrowski having posted here in months. Readers familiar with Jeff’s views on chant will be unsurprised to find a steady stream of articles in favor of performances drawing their rhythm only from the notation of the Vatican edition: spaces in melismas and long notes before barlines. In a recent post, Jeff suggests that while many people have promised to write articles defending Dom Mocquereau or Dom Cardine, they mostly have not followed through. There’s a lot of criticism of both of those figures to respond to; perhaps writing by default from the defensive posture can be overwhelming. For my part, I haven’t written anything here in months; I’ve been busy with some other projects. I continue to read what Jeff has to say with interest, of course, as he keeps the series alive with his occasional critiques of Justine Ward and Dom Mocquereau.
In that same recent post, Jeff presents me with a specific challenge, which I will do my best to answer with this post. More on that in a minute. In the meantime, since I haven’t posted in the series for a while, perhaps it would be wise to summarize the role my articles have served in the series: replying to criticisms of Dom Mocquereau and Dom Cardine and generally standing in for the whole notion of what we might call the nuance theory of Gregorian chant. It is no secret that I admire both of those authors, and my own view sees both of them in continuity in a broader Guéranger-derived Solesmes style, which would also include the work of Pothier.
At the same time, while I’m at least a bit sympathetic to the proportionalist theory propounded by Patrick throughout the series, I’ve also pushed back against Patrick’s certainty on the rhythmic question, which I believe to be based on too little decisive evidence. I know that my position in that regard has not been very convincing (indeed, is probably rather irritating) to the mensuralists who have posted in the series. I can’t offer anything other than my honest assessment that I think their claims go further than what can be supported by the historical evidence. In sum, I’m open to a bunch of different ways of doing things, but I’m also a little skeptical of all of them. I think all are worthy of study, and I would love someday to write a book on all the various different approaches, free from the polemical that usually characterizes this dispute. I sing in the Mocquereau fashion at my church and I am aesthetically and spiritually attached to that style. That attachment was probably heightened by the COVID disaster.
As usual, then, I will now discuss some features of the Mocquereau style that have been open to criticism here. Jeff neatly summarizes his own objections this way:
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.
Some Arguments Answered • Surely all of these items have been answered before in this series! Perhaps blog posts are just by their nature never definitive, and the nature of the medium means we go round and round saying much the same thing each time. On this day and in my current state in life, I would answer these claims this way:
(1) is a subjective choice, which I do not agree with. This argument suggests that our appreciating the melodic line depends on the chant being sung in the basically equalist fashion advocated by Jeff. The great variety of ways of singing chant over the last twelve centuries makes this argument a stretch. Surely the beauty of the melodic line in a chant melody is not so dependent on one specific performance practice.
(2) is also subjective, and of course open to debate based on personal experience. Given the uncertainty of relative note lengths in syllabic chant in non-Solesmes uses of the Vatican edition, I actually think on the contrary that the Mocquereau method is quite simple and easy to incorporate into a schola. I’ve never had any trouble explaining the methodology or its reasoning to any singers.
(3) seems incorrect to me as a matter of history. The Solesmes rhythmic signs were not “condemned explicitly” by St. Pius X. They were occasionally controversial in the first decade or so after the promulgation of the Vatican edition, but they have always been met (then and since) with some degree of official toleration. Dom Mocquereau states that he received verbal permission from the pope to print the signs, and elsewhere it is recorded that this was the basis for the agreement of Solesmes to relinquish its copyright on its editions. This has been discussed before in this series; as far as I can tell, the only way Jeff can get around the obvious liceity of the signs is by suggesting that Mocquereau either misled the pope during this conversation or misrepresented what the permission meant afterwards. Such a claim requires evidence (not supposition), which is completely lacking. The permission given to Mocquereau predates the supposed official rhythm.
(4) also depends on the idea of that there is a single “official rhythm” that is not the Mocquereau method, and that this rhythm is a form of equalism with a few very rare exceptions shown with spaces and with barlines. This claim is at least debatable on several points. One can interpret the instructions of the Vatican Edition preface as a sort of equalism like Jeff proposes or as a sort of free rhetorical rhythm as Pothier himself wrote about (and I do not believe these two are the same thing). Either way, as long as there has been a Vatican Edition, there has also been a separate version of the Vatican Edition issued by Solesmes with the rhythmic signs, generally tolerated in official channels and widespread in practice. The historical facts just do not support the idea of the rhythmic signs as some kind of later addition to the pure rhythm. Solesmes signs and the Vatican Edition are coeval.
I suppose that (5) refers to the apparent equalism of many Gregorian manuscripts, including the entire body of later sources using a musical staff, and, consequently, the overwhelming majority of historical manuscripts. This is at least the first point that puts forward a legitimate argument. The problem of dealing with rhythm from the manuscripts is both fundamental and also extremely interesting, because clearly some manuscripts suggest rhythmic differentiation between notes while others do not. Thus, an editor will have to choose which of these two approaches to follow in an edition. Making an editorial choice does not mean that the editor is “ignoring” the evidence of the other option. Either your edition will have the rhythmic differentation, which is well attested in several early manuscripts, or it will not. Obviously Pothier and Mocquereau made different choices, but choices involve, well, choices! Mocquereau is not ignoring the the equalist manuscripts any more than Pothier is ignoring the non-equalist ones.
(6) is an interesting and more serious argument, because it echoes a critique of Mocquereau leveled primarily by the later generations of musical paleographers. More recent examination of the evidence suggests pretty conclusively, for instance, that the most common long form of two-note neumes should affect both notes, whereas Mocquereau generally put his sign only on the first. I have offered some reasons in the past why Mocquereau interpreted this sign the way he did. Anyway, there’s much more to say there, but such critiques hardly argue in favor of pure equalism as the only allowable interpretation, even when it can be demonstrated that Mocquereau was probably wrong on a particular question. You can read Patrick’s many contributions to the series to see some of those critiques fleshed out.
To the Question • There is a lot more in Jeff’s post that I respectfully disagree with. I don’t want to spend any more time quibbling with it, though. The point of this post is to answer a very specific question put forward by Jeff. Namely, Jeff attributes the following idea to 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.
Of course, I wouldn’t put things in this way; see my remarks above and elsewhere about the so-called official edition. But Jeff is referring to something I have often said, which is that the rhythmic signs that have been attacked here so frequently are a small part of Mocquereau’s theoretical project. This has been a recurring theme in much of my writing here and elsewhere over the last year, so let me state it again: I believe that Mocquereau is a music theorist, in that a primary goal of his life’s work is to write about the phenomenon of musical rhythm in a theoretical way. And as someone who spends a good deal of time reading and reflecting on music theory, I think Mocquereau is actually a very fine theorist, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for his body of theoretical work.
Mocquereau in a Nutshell • What did that work consist of? It’s impossible to summarize any author’s work in a single paragraph or even a single post; here is an attempt. Mocquereau defines musical rhythm as the bringing of order to musical motion, which is a phenomenon that we all experience at least metaphorically. This supposed motion is accomplished through differentiation in dynamics, tone color, pitch, and duration. Mocquereau examines all kinds of music, but he focuses on Gregorian chant as belonging in its own class in its rhythmic perfection, since it is not dependent on any kind of steady beat (what theorists now call isochrony) but rather on a free and fluctuating rhythm based on principles from ancient Greek and Latin metrics like rise and fall. Much of these ideas are based on those of his mentor Pothier. Like many other musical thinkers of his era, Mocquereau relies a lot on classicists like Westphal and Gevaert. He blends their ideas with the theory of expressive performance (accent, dynamic nuance, tempo fluctuation) as laid out by Lussy. Perhaps most characteristically, he belongs to a group of theorists for whom rhythmic motion is always end-oriented, pointing toward the arrival point of a rhythmic group as the most structural point. Two other theorists in this camp are Vincent d’Indy and Hugo Riemann, and Mocquereau corresponded with them both. I believe that Mocquereau is the most successful of them all at sufficiently explaining the nature of downbeats and upbeats and how they relate to each other. This is the main reason I admire him so much as a theorist.
Where does the horizontal episema fall in this framework? It is a rhythmic indication from some of the earliest manuscripts that Mocquereau fits into his framework of upbeats, downbeats, and rhythmic structures. I think it would be useful here to distinguish between Mocquereau as theorist and Mocquereau as editor. As far as I can tell, the thing Jeff most dislikes about Mocquereau’s editions is the horizontal episema. But that is purely an editorial matter of chant editions and not at all central to the theory. Mocquereau found the rhythmic markings of his “fabulous four” manuscripts worth including in his Solesmes editions, even though he only included some of them, based on his own musical and editorial judgment. I think if he had lived longer that he would probably have favored editions such as the semiologists now use.
Those editorial choices are only really marginal to Mocquereau’s enterprise, which is to find a way of fitting the free, rhetorical rhythmic performance he inherited from earlier monks of Solesmes like Pothier, into his rich theoretical framework based on classics, expressive performance, and end-oriented rhythmic theory. He was interested in finding support for his ideas in early manuscripts. But doubtless one could leave all the horizontal episemata out of a chant and still analyze it and perform it in according to Mocquereau’s system.
I think it would be worthwhile in future to separate criticism of Mocquereau’s editorial choices from criticism of his theoretical claims. Music theorists like Heinrich Schenker and Hugo Riemann also worked as music editors. Disagreeing with some of their editorial choices (Riemann’s editorializing in particular is often questionable) is hardly a good way to critique their theoretical work. This is especially true of someone like Mocquereau, whose work is so closely tied to performance and to a specific way of performance. The idea that Mocquereau’s work is based on his predilection for only a handful of manuscripts is absurd, given the breadth of his theoretical ambitions.
Rhythmic Signs in a Vespers Antiphon • If the horizontal marks are not an important part of Mocquereau’s theory, then do they matter at all? To conclude his most recent post, Jeff examines an office antiphon from Christmas, Tecum principium. He gives comparative scores of the Solesmes edition and what he calls the pure Vatican edition. He then also imagines a different kind of score where random notes are lengthened and asks:
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?
I’m not sure I really follow the point of this argument. Obviously choral unity is hardly achievable if the choir sings from two contradictory editions. Just because I think the episemata are a small part of Mocquereau’s thinking relative to his entire theoretical output, it does not follow that I don’t think they have any effect on performance! But what is the effect of singing from the various editions of this chant?
Here is a non-Mocquereau version of the Vatican Edition:
This is not so hard to sing. In a sense, the melody speaks for itself, but we will always be rewarded for going deeper with a bit of analysis. The first thing to note is the pitch structure. There are really two melodic arches, which divide the psalm verse in half. The first half (“With thee the beginning on the day of thy strength”) has A as a reciting tone, and the second half (“in the splendor of the saints, etc.”) has F. The second half divides again, with “the splendor of the saints” cadencing on C and “from the womb before the daystar I have begotten thee” cadencing on D. The two melodic peaks are on “principium” and “luciferum,” and these two words should be the rhetorical goal around which the rhythmic structure is oriented. As far as the rhythm goes, one would add the obvious large divisions (each a hierarchically ordered mora vocis) before each barline. I might be inclined to add just a hair of time at the end of “tecum,” “die,” “splendoribus,” and “luciferum” according to my understanding of rhetorical rhythm as developed by Dom Pothier. This wouldn’t have to be notated or even quantifiable; it ought to arise out of the pronunciation.
There are a couple of small details worth noting if approaching this for performance. First, it doesn’t seem obvious what are the relative lengths of the final two notes of the sections ending with “tuae” and “sanctorum.” Are they double length? Are they just a bit longer in order to follow the speech rhythm? Different choirs may take different approaches. Second, there are a couple of interesting rhythmic groups arising from the spacing of the accented syllables. In particular, “princípium in díe” and “splendóribus sanctórum” both have three syllables between accents, with the second particularly strong rhetorically. How does one feel the rhythmic beat at this point, if such a thing can be said to exist? It feels most natural to me to imagine touch points of the rhythm (what Mocquereau would call the ictus) on “-um” and “-bus” respectively, creating ternary groups.
Those are some thoughts that might be circulating when singing this chant, if you share my analytical predilections. Now let’s see what happens when we add the dreaded rhythmic signs:
Are you not instantly struck by the superabundance of episemata? They are especially interesting in falling on several unaccented syllables. It is quite natural to react as Jeff has, by complaining that the beautiful melodic line is distorted by these signs of length. That’s not enough for me. I want to know why they’re there. Whence all this added material? Every one of these indications corresponds to something notated in the Hartker antiphoner, from around the beginning of the second millenium.
Why are all these signs there? We’ve encountered Hartker before in this series, but nothing so extreme as this amount of episemata on single notes. This rather extraordinary show of length must have something to do with the solemnity of the liturgical occasion—with the mystery of the incarnation, with the special sanctification of time on the feast of the Nativity. With these marks, we are invited to hold out and contemplate words like “principium/beginning” and “utero/womb” (by lingering on the unaccented syllables) and “genui/I have begotten” by lingering on the accented syllable. I invite you now to sing through the antiphon, spending a little extra time drawing out each of those significant words according to these different accentuations and following the rhythmic signs as a way to guide your approach to the words. This extra duration doesn’t have to be much, but let the notation prevent you from rushing through each of those marked notes Perhaps you feel a sense of continuity across the millenial divide between yourself and Hartker?
Now, Corpus Christi Watershed is a fantastic resource for practical materials for building parish music programs. I could imagine perfectly good reasons of taste or pedagogy why someone might want to avoid mucking up the music with all these signs; you’d rather just get through the melody with minimal complication and get on to the psalm. I would never argue that everyone ought to sing with the signs, or that every edition ought to have them. But as is often the case, I believe these signs can be helpful for those who would like to delve a little deeper; they are there as a way further in, through a connection with a piece of music notation more than a millenium old.
A Final Point • I hope I have provided reasons for why I don’t think the rhythmic signs distort the melodic line. For one thing, they correspond to notations from one of the earliest complete sources of music for the Divine Office. In light of that testimony, and the weight of tradition, I am perfectly comfortable with trying to incorporate what the signs show about the singing of the antiphon, and to do so in a way that does justice to the melodic line, the sense of the text, and the liturgical occasion. I would even be open to doing so in either a mensuralist or a strictly equalist manner, if the performance were carried out in the same spirit. But if the singing of this antiphon is done in such a way that the integrity of the melody or its expression of the words is marred, the fault lies with the performers and not with either Mocquereau or Hartker.
The most important thing to note about these editorial markings is that the rhythmic signs of Hartker are part of our liturgical patrimony and worthy of our full attention and study. In the current environment in the Church, with each Gregorian melody I sing, I don’t know if it is the last time I will sing it. That is, I don’t know what the state of the Church will be next time any particular Sunday rolls around, or what the state of my employment or health will be. I wish I understood why the rhythmic signs are they way they are in that antiphon in that one source, apart from my vague conjectures given above. I wish I understood what all the signs in the old manuscripts mean. But they are precious historical objects, not to be taken lightly and not to be dismissed out of hand. I encourage you to give them their due when you sing chant, since I am convinced there must be some spiritual fruit to be gained thereby. Even if we choose not to perform with any rhythmic differentiation but what’s in the Vatican edition, perhaps knowing about these signs in this particular instance colors (ever so slightly) our singing of this antiphon. This seems to me a wholly good thing; I’m inclined to put as much study and care into our chanting as I can manage. After all, who knows if I’ll even be allowed to sing Gregorian Chant next year?
ADDENDUM, Evening of 6 February 2024 • In our correspondence, Jeff has suggested that this post did not address his central question: “What if all the editors had done what Dom Mocquereau had done?” I do tend to go on when I write, and not always to the original point I set out address!
At the heart of Jeff’s question is the fact the Solesmes versions of the Vatican edition seem to be set apart from those released by every other publisher. The content of the Vatican edition as a printed object was very sharply defined in the early years, right down to the width of the spacing of the mora vocis. Any publisher of chant was free to reproduce the Vatican edition, but they were required to adhere to these strict regulations. While Solesmes did produce editions of the chant repertoire that followed these specifications without alteration, they also had their own proprietary edition with the addition of the rhythmic signs. As Jeff points out, these editions have a rather different rhythmic profile from the books put out by other publishers.
One consequence of this is that it would be difficult for some singers in a group to sing from the Solesmes editions while other singers in the same group sang from a different edition without the Solesmes rhythmic markings. Jeff laments this fact, as it means that there is no longer absolute unity among all the different versions claiming to be the Vatican edition of Gregorian chant. I freely admit that this is a direct consequence of using the Solesmes rhythmic signs. Where I differ from Jeff is that I do not think this is a bad thing. For one thing, the historical circumstances behind the creation of the Vatican edition practically ensured that this would be the case!
Regardless of the circumstances behind Dom Pothier’s departure from Solesmes, amply explored by Katharine Ellis, Mocquereau spent the decade that passed between that departure and the Vatican commission pursuing his own rhythmic theories and his own researches. He printed the results in his own editions of the chant right around the beginning of the twentieth century. Upon the formation of the commission, Solesmes relinquished to the Vatican the copyright to all this research, both Pothier’s and Mocquereau’s (it belonged to the abbey and not to either of the individual monks as a matter of ecclesial law), in exchange for the guarantee that Solesmes would be able to print its proprietary editions with rhythmic signs. I know that Jeff does not like this fact or the results that came from it, but as far as I can tell, that is how it happened.
As I see it, there were basically two different rhythmic versions of the chant allowed (or at the very least tolerated) in the years after the Vatican edition was promulgated: the rather free rhythm of the non-Solesmes version (which could fit with either a Pothier-rhetorical approach or with a staunch equalist approach) and the more tightly defined Mocquereau rhythm, itself a close relative of Pothier’s style. It stands to reason that a schola could not use these two editions interchangeably. The variety of chant editions has greatly increased in recent decades, in the wake of the researches of Dom Cardine. In essence, there are a lot of different editions one might use of the chant now: Graduale Triplex, Graduale Novum, Liber Usualis, scores from Gregobase or the ICKSP website, editions by Patrick Williams or by other mensuralists. Given the great antiquity and ambiguity of the chant sources, it is no surprise that these editions diverge widely on basic features of the music like its notes and rhythm. Again, I don’t think this is a bad thing. It is a bit untidy, and it undermines the uniformity and universality of the Vatican edition, but this seems okay to me. It allows for research and a sort of free market of musicological ideas about chant, which seems healthy as a scholarly practice.
In this market, we are in a place where we can judge editions based on their editorial practice and aesthetic merit. I would say that Mocquereau’s edition of the antiphon Tecum principium is better than the hypothetical one given by Jeff, since Mocquereau’s rhythmic indications come from a medieval source and have a lot of research behind them. Perhaps even better than Mocquereau’s would be a duplex edition reproducing Hartker’s neumes. Interestingly, a schola probably could sing interchangeably from such a source and from Mocquereau, which would be more difficult with the non-Solesmes Vatican edition. My ultimate point remains the same: the Mocquereau editions are perfectly legitimate for liturgical use. While the signs and the rhythmic differentiation they represent should not be considered obligatory, we should not reject any of our musical-liturgical patrimony out of hand and there should be total freedom in our present ecclesial environment to create one’s own chant editions and rhythmic theories. Jeff’s recent editions of the “pure Vatican” with the mora-vocis arrows benefit from this same free-market approach, since they use new notational strategies to advance a particular rhythmic theory.