Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chant Research Today

I asked Richard Llewellyn to write up some thoughts about the current state of chant scholarship. This is his first submission.

We may have all noticed that the NLMblog offers more posts about church music : chant, choral musica of all periods. This is obviously a good thing: music is perhaps the most essential human liturgical element in our services. Many steps have been taken over the last fifteen years towards applying Sacrosanctum Concilium properly. The number of liturgical and musical scolars has hugely increased since the 1970s, though often outside of the liturgical life of the church for the latter. Sadly, in many churches, people still tend to sing during mass, instead of singing mass.

In order to expand our perspectives, we might want to look at two things when concerned with improving our liturgical lives. One is the musical research of the last 50 years about both written musical sources and traditions. The other one is the complete Roman ceremonial of cantors at mass, as descibed in the early roman and diocesan sources.

The Benedictine chant school is concerned essentially with written musical sources. Their focus is really about studing the musical signs in the medieval written scores. This is a lot about understanding a musical notation that is not as precise as that of Prokofiev. Also they care for monastic use, where sixty monks or more sing the whole of the propers.

Many professional musicians and musicologists also address tradition transmitted through chant and polyphony treaties of the late antiquity and middle ages, or even orally transmitted when still available. These give loads of informations for performance practise, ie how to play what is not written down in the scores. We need to note that this work had already begun in the 19th century by some first- class professional musicans, lay and clerics alike : father Lambillotte sj, Paris conservatoire head F-J.Fetis, scolars like Edmond de Coussemaker who compiled most of the known chant music treaties. We should also talk about father Dechevrens (1840-1912) who was the first real semiologist (Cardine actually took a lot from him…). He tried to make a synthesis of both written and oral sources. At Solesmes they took the view that it was too complicated, perhaps too oriental, and so carried out a strong and caricatural polemic.

The knowledge of these church musicians was immense. They were not concerned with restoring benedictine life. They were just concerned with getting the right music scores, and with singing chant properly.

Our faith rests on Holy Scriptures and Tradition. In music, it is about the same : written scores when available, and traditions transmitted either orally or through music treaties.
The trend for baroque, then renaissance, and now medieval music, makes that most treaties are available to the general public. So now we can work properly.

The main addition since the Council is the proper study of the Roman chant sung at papal functions before the move to Avignon : we call it Old-Roman chant. This was impossible at the time of Dom Pothier, because chant manuscripts were discovered only after the publication of his Graduale at the beginning of the 20th century…By now, thanks to the post council studies, we have also better understood the process by which Roman and Gallican chant were hybridated at the time of the Frankish kings, ie Pepin the short, father of Charlemagne who became empereur. We have also understood the modality of the ealier chants, which does not fit in the Grec octoechos system, but that fits more a Syrian or Alexandrine modality.

The other issue is the study of the cantorial liturgical practises from the Ordines Romani and later ceremonials, notably the diocesan ones. Cantors were historically minor clerics or instructed lay people, with subdeacons at the top of the hierarchy. There was an official ministry of cantors who were instituted by parish priests (formulae found at the end of the Tridentine C.E) - so it was not a minor order.

The liturgical books of the Roman rite that we use (Martinucci, Stercky, Fortescue, and so on), follow the rite of the papal court, which was more designed for chapels (ie big rectangular rooms of the papal residencies), and also for their use in the titular churches of the cardinals. So this rite was not really designed for local cathedrals, or even not for the papal altar of the Roman historical basilicas. Those who have read and use them know that the model is that of the Sixtine chapel and papal basilicas where cantors are in side galleries, and when assistants in cope at vespers are not the cantors of the scola.

One can find the ceremonial designed in Rome for diocesan pontifical and curial masses in the Ordines Romani, for example : written at the time of the Carolingians, they were basically describing what we « still » find in the Rite of Lyon – though at Lyon they developed their own liturgical uses for cantors.

There is also this myth that French diocese ceremonials with 1/3/5/7 deacons and subdeacons were gallican and so antiroman. This is not true ; this is late XIXthe century propaganda. They are all in the ordines romani written in the IXth-Xth centuries. Also, Trent and Quo primum tempore only imposed use of the Roman text : it let the choice of music and ceremonies to the ordinaries, no matter how old they were. Hence the reason why loads of European dioceses could keep their customs down to Vatican I or Vatican II.

As far as cantors are concerned, there was a true liturgical role, both in Roman basilicas, and in cathedrals. Notably they had to take care of the water cruet at the offertory. If things like cantorial staffs had a Hebraico-Syriac origin, the various ceremonies were essentially old Roman ceremonies coming from the papal services. Several local ceremonials also offer some very important musical information, such as the way to impose an antiphon, or to vary the tempi of the chant pieces. Strangely they all more or less say the same things, though coming from different places.
Lastly we must take into account the fact that prior to the move to Avignon, there were four roman uses in Urbe : that of the chapters of the main basilicas, that of the cardinals in their titulum, that of the administrative curia, and that of the Pope who kept his old purely Roman ceremonies and chant.

So, in this series of articles, I would like to give an overview of the main chant treaties and liturgical Roman customs of cantors as transmitted down to us. There are the chant and music treaties of the late antiquity and early middle-ages, but also those of musicians of the later times who kept the old traditions and so could built up musical developments in a hermeneutic of continuity.

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