Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Two Articles on Gregorian Chant

NLM readers may find interesting two articles, published yesterday and today, about the history and characteristics of Gregorian chant that make it perfectly suited to liturgical use -- indeed, that make it liturgical in and of itself.

From “A brief history of chant from King David to the present”:
     The tradition of chanting Scripture, a practice known as cantillation, began at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. Various Old Testament books, especially the Psalms and the Chronicles, testify to the central function of music in temple worship. Some Gregorian melodies still in use are remarkably close to Hebrew synagogue melodies, most notably the “tonus peregrinus” used for Psalm 113, In exitu Israel; the ancient Gospel tone; and the Preface tone.
     Since the Psalter of David was composed for the very purpose of divine worship and was seen as the messianic book par excellence, we find Peter, Paul, and the Apostolic Fathers citing it heavily in their preaching. The first Christians spontaneously chose the Psalter for their “prayer book.” The Christian liturgy as a whole, then, sprang from the combination of Psalter and Sacrifice. The psalter is the “verbal incense” of our prayers and praises, the homage of our intellects. The bloody sacrifice, the death and destruction of an animal, is the total surrender of our being to God. In the Mass these two are wondrously combined into the rational sacrifice consisting of the perfect offering of Jesus Christ on the altar, who unites our prayers and praises to His and makes them worthy of the Ever-Blessed Trinity.
Its sequel, “What makes Gregorian chant uniquely itself—with recommended recordings,” eight characteristics are identified and discussed:
  1. Primacy of the word.
  2. Free rhythm.
  3. Unison singing.
  4. Unaccompanied vocalization. 
  5. Modality.
  6. Anonymity.
  7. Emotional moderation.
  8. Unambiguous sacrality. 
Four recordings are then mentioned, which offer particularly fine interpretations of the chant, all in the line of Solesmes, but without any of the lethargy, effeteness, nasality, and diffuse organ accompaniment that sometimes mar chant recordings.

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