Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dominus Dixit in several editions

Lots of people interested in Gregorian chant have heard about the legendary debates about rhythm, and for some odd reason, many people feel the need to throw themselves into this great discussion, taking this side or that side and battling it out based on this set of old manuscripts and citing scholars and editions and authorities.

The debate has raged for half a century at least, and it might be said that the debate goes back 100 years to the original fight between the French and the Germans over which editions of chant to use. Or you could say that it goes back to Trent when the music books of the Church were rewritten to conform to prevailing notions about what chant is and what it should do. For that matter, we don't actually know if perhaps the debates go back to the first millennium, as prideful chant masters and scribes claim their territory and insisted that their way was the one way, complete with claims to antiquity as the final authority.

There is nothing unusual in these debates. The same occurs in every sector of music: Bach specialists disagree, and so too with Mahler specialists. It is probably the case with jazz and country too.

We might all have an easier time of it recognizing that music takes different shapes in different hands and that perhaps there is no need for a universal imposition of a single style or approach to rhythm and style and the mix of text and music.

With that in mind, I offer a few audios to you, the first of which comes from seminarians at St. Willibrord, de Tiltenberg, who have a new CD out. The style to my ear is what is often called "semiological" and I say that because of certain distinctive marks: speed, textual emphasis, no luxuriating on the melody, and fast glissandos through the melismatic passages.

Compare to this version from Milan, Italy. The difference concerns speed, attention to musical phrasing, and also a persistent underlying pulse with full love of the details within each melisma.

Now see how each compare with what we might consider the old standard of the height of the Solesmes approach with Dom Gajard's schola. I only have this audio file to offer.

Extending options further, here is the same chant sung in what is now considered the "Old Roman" style with minimal polyphony and a strong Eastern feel - obviously an imaginative recreation but nonetheless probably rooted in sincere interpretation of available evidence.

Each has a strength, and much good can be said about each. I would be thrilled to be in a parish in which of these were sung. That said, my own preferences are not unknown: Gajard's rendering settles my soul completely.

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