Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Age of Dom Johner - Again

My new copies of Dom Johner's two great works just arrived in the mail, courtesy of the remarkable reprint service Lulu. These are high-quality scans of the original in new covers, and their bigger size now makes it clear that these are not just books on chant but full-scale treatises of a lifetime, books for which he deserves to be remember and honored. Certainly all modern people interested in Catholic liturgy can learn from them.

The first is Chants of the Vatican Gradual, first published in 1928 in German and later in English. Generations of singers have benefited from his chant-by-chant commentary. Actually, I first found out about this book on NLM. I was asking: given that each of these chants is so superlative, each such a miniature symphony of prayer, each so gloriously powerful, why aren't there multi-volume sets of commentaries on them? Then someone in the comment box mentioned this Johner book. I've adored this book ever since I bought it used.

Now, I'm pleased to report, it is back in circulation as a new reprint. It does the heart good.

The same is true for Dom Johner's pedagogical book. As a tool for teaching chant, his book A New School of Gregorian Chant really holds up. It contains complete explanations of pitch, rhythm, the modes, along with singing exercises, as well as liturgical history and explanation.

Johner spent a lifetime living and praying with chant, and he was generous enough to share his knowledge and insight with the world. These are his two great contributions. I was talking with someone last night about him and we spoke about how sad it is that his books are not known today, even by scholars. The most they know about him come from a couple of silly dismissals you read in secular academic accounts of the history of plainsong. Well, it isn't so easy to treat his work this way once you see it and read it. He knowledge of and love for the chant (the love part is important) as well as his understanding of the faith (also important) is palpable on every page.

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