Saturday, September 23, 2006

A new chapter in the history of chant

The more I read about the history of Solesmes, the more I'm struck by the seemingly inauspicious but actually enormously important role that technology has played in the history of Church music. Solesmes did amazing work over five generations to reconstruct the chant. But the next step was to make it available as widely as possible. This depended so much on technology and economic conditions.

It's remarkable to realize that the paper and printing technology that made it possible for affordable editions of the chant to be made available to every parish only came to be possible in the mid to late 19th century. And of course the monks were wildly interested in this technology, precisely for this reason. That's why there was such exuberance at the new relationship that came about in the 1880s between Solesmes and the printers in Belgium: Desclée of Tournai.

Sadly, that publisher was forced to shut down following the Second Vatican Council. The demand for their editions had dried up with the new musical fashions, a bitter irony considering that the Council had actually recommended the Solesmes hope of giving the chant pride of place in the liturgy.

Nonetheless, after 40 years in the desert, here we are today in a new era of technological advancement. And we are seeing a wonderful response by the sacred-music community. The CMAA is posting beautiful editions of the communion antiphons with Psalms for free download. These are not image files but PDFs made from original creations, so they do not degrade at all on magnification and the quality of print is the highest possible—far higher, even, than Desclée could achieve in its day. And they are now there for the world to view and keep—in many ways a culminating moment of 150 years of scholarship and work, all made possible by innovations of the last 10 years.

Richard Rice, who is preparing these editions, has now completed 53 chants.

Index to Communion Antiphons | Gloria Patri

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