Gregorian chant

Gregorian chant

Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic liturgical chant of Western Christianity that accompanied the celebration of Mass and other ritual services. This vast repertory of chants is the oldest music known as it is the first repertory to have been adequately notated in the 10th century. In general, the chants were learnt by the viva voce method, that is by following the given example orally, which took many years of experience in the Schola Cantorum. Gregorian chant originated in Monastic life, in which singing the 'Divine Service' nine times a day at the proper hours was upheld according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Singing psalms made up a large part of the life in a monastic community, while a smaller group and soloists sang the chants. In its long history Gregorian Chant has been subjected to many gradual changes and some reforms.


Gregorian chant was organized, codified, and notated mainly in the Frankish lands of western and central Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, with later additions and redactions, but the texts and many of the melodies have antecedents going back several centuries earlier. Although popular belief credits Pope Gregory the Great with having personally invented Gregorian chant, scholars now believe that the chant bearing his name arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of Roman and Gallican chant and that at that time the attribution to Gregory I was a 'marketing ruse' to invest it with a pedigree of Holy Inspiration in efforts to create one liturgic protocol that would be practised throughout the entire Empire. One Empire, one Church, one Chant - imposing Unity was a central issue in Carolingian days.During the following centuries the Chant tradition was still at the heart of Church music, where it gave rise to various extensions in the sense that new performance practices had won their way in in which new music on new texts was introduced or the existing chants were extended by setting them as Organum. Even the polyphonic music that arose from the venerable old chants in the Organa by Leonin and Perotin in Paris (1160-1240) ended in monophonic chant and in later traditions new composition styles were practised in juxtaposition (or co-habitation) with monophonic chant. This practice continued into the lifetime of Francois Couperin, whose Organ Masses were meant to be performed with alternating homophonic Chant. Although it had mostly fallen into disuse after the Baroque period, Chant experienced a revival in the 19th century in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Communion.


Gregorian chants are organized into eight modes. Typical melodic features include characteristic incipits and cadences, the use of reciting tones around which the other notes of the melody revolve, and a vocabulary of musical motifs woven together through a process called centonization to create families of related chants.

Although the modern major and minor scales are strongly related to two of the church modes, the modern eight-tone scale is based on different harmonic principles and is organized differently from the scales of the church modes, which are based on six-note patterns called hexachords. The main notes in a hexachord are the "dominant" and the "final". Depending on where the final falls in the sequence of the hexachord, the mode is characterized as either "authentic" or "plagal". Modes with the same final share certain characteristics, and it is easy to modulate back and forth between them, hence the eight modes fall into four larger groupings based on their finals.


Gregorian chants are notated in a graphic notation which uses a repertoire of specific signs called neumes, that captured a basic musical gesture (see musical notation). As books represented a large capital, the early chantbooks were notated with abbreviations in the text wherever possible with the neumes written over the text. In later stadia one or more lines were added, and during the 11th century this obvious need to capture also the intervals had evolved into the square notation, from which eventually modern five-line staff developed during the 16th century. [Development of notation styles is discussed at [ Dolmetsch online] , accessed 4 July 2006] Gregorian chant was the central and dominating musical tradition throughout Europe and as such is at the root of musical developments that were to issue from it, as the rise of polyphony in the eleventh century.


Gregorian chant was traditionally sung by choirs of men and boys in churches, or by women and men of religious orders in their chapels. It is the music of the Roman Rite, performed in the Mass and the monastic Office. Although Gregorian chant supplanted or marginalized the other indigenous plainchant traditions of the Christian West to become the official music of the Christian liturgy, Ambrosian chant still continues in use in Milan, and there are musicologists exploring both that and the Mozarabic chant of Christian Spain. Although Gregorian chant is no longer obligatory, the Roman Catholic Church still officially considers it the music most suitable for worship. [ The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council] . This view is held at the highest levels, including Pope Benedict XVI: [ Catholic World News 28 June 2006] both accessed 5 July 2006] During the 20th century, Gregorian chant underwent a musicological and popular resurgence resulting in the creation of some of the first chant recordings by artists including Noirin Ni Riain.

Development of earlier plainchant

Unaccompanied singing has been part of the Christian liturgy since the earliest days of the Church. Until the mid-1990s, it was widely accepted that the psalmody of ancient Jewish worship significantly influenced and contributed to early Christian ritual and chant. This view is no longer generally accepted by scholars, due to analysis that shows that most early Christian hymns did not have Psalms for texts, and that the Psalms were not sung in synagogues for centuries after the Destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. [David Hiley, "Western Plainchant" pp. 484–5.] However, early Christian rites did incorporate elements of Jewish worship that survived in later chant tradition. Canonical hours have their roots in Jewish prayer hours. "Amen" and "alleluia" come from Hebrew, and the threefold "sanctus" derives from the threefold "kadosh" of the Kedusha. [Willi Apel, "Gregorian Chant" p. 34.]

The New Testament mentions singing hymns during the Last Supper: "When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives"

"Psalmodic" chants, which intone psalms, include both recitatives and free melodies. Psalmodic chants include "direct psalmody" , "antiphonal chants", and "responsorial chants". [Hoppin, "Medieval Music" p. 81.] In direct psalmody, psalm verses are sung without refrains to simple, formulaic tones. Most psalmodic chants are antiphonal and responsorial, sung to free melodies of varying complexity.

Antiphonal chants such as the Introit, and Communion originally referred to chants in which two choirs sang in alternation, one choir singing verses of a psalm, the other singing a refrain called an "antiphon". Over time, the verses were reduced in number, usually to just one psalm verse and the Doxology, or even omitted entirely. Antiphonal chants reflect their ancient origins as elaborate recitatives through the reciting tones in their melodies. Ordinary chants, such as the Kyrie and Gloria, are not considered antiphonal chants, although they are often performed in antiphonal style.listen|filename=Loquetur Dominus.ogg|title="Loquetur Dominus", Introit for Week XXXIV of Ordinary Time|description=example of antiphonal psalmody in Gregorian chant

Responsorial chants such as the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and the Office Responsories originally consisted of a refrain called a "respond" sung by a choir, alternating with psalm verses sung by a soloist. Responsorial chants are often composed of an amalgamation of various stock musical phrases, pieced together in a practice called "centonization". Tracts are melismatic settings of psalm verses and use frequent recurring cadences and they are strongly centonized. listen|filename=De profundis.ogg|title="De profundis", Tract for the Requiem Mass|description=example of responsorial psalmody in Gregorian chant

Gregorian chant evolved to fulfill various functions in the Roman Catholic liturgy. Broadly speaking, liturgical recitatives are used for texts intoned by deacons or priests. Antiphonal chants accompany liturgical actions: the entrance of the officiant, the collection of offerings, and the distribution of sanctified bread and wine. Responsorial chants expand on readings and lessons. [Hoppin, "Medieval Music" p. 123.]

The non-psalmodic chants, including the Ordinary of the Mass, sequences, and hymns, were originally intended for congregational singing. [Hoppin, "Medieval Music" p. 131.] The structure of their texts largely defines their musical style. In sequences, the same melodic phrase is repeated in each couplet. The strophic texts of hymns use the same syllabic melody for each stanza.


Early plainchant, like much of Western music, is believed to have been distinguished by the use of the diatonic scale. Modal theory, which postdates the composition of the core chant repertory, arises from a synthesis of two very different traditions: the speculative tradition of numerical ratios and species inherited from ancient Greece and a second tradition rooted in the practical art of cantus. The earliest writings that deal with both theory and practice include the Enchiriadis group of treatises, which circulated in the late ninth century and possibly have their roots in an earlier, oral tradition. In contrast to the ancient Greek system of tetrachords (a collection of four continuous notes) that descend by two tones and a semitone, the Enchiriadis writings base their tone-system on a tetrachord that corresponds to the four finals of chant, D, E, F, and G. The disjunct tetrachords in the Enchiriadis system have been the subject of much speculation, because they do not correspond to the diatonic framework that became the standard Medieval scale (for example, there is a high F#, a note not recognized by later Medieval writers). A diatonic scale with a chromatically alterable b/b-flat was first described by Hucbald, who adopted the tetrachord of the finals (D, E, F, G) and constructed the rest of the system following the model of the Greek Greater and Lesser Perfect Systems. These were the first steps in forging a theoretical tradition that corresponded to chant.

Around 1025, Guido d'Arezzo revolutionized Western music with the development of the "gamut", in which pitches in the singing range were organized into overlapping hexachords. Hexachords could be built on C (the natural hexachord, C-D-E^F-G-A), F (the soft hexachord, using a B-flat, F-G-A^Bb-C-D), or G (the hard hexachord, using a B-natural, G-A-B^C-D-E). The B-flat was an integral part of the system of hexachords rather than an accidental. The use of notes outside of this collection was described as musica ficta.

Gregorian chant was categorized into eight modes, influenced by the eightfold division of Byzantine chants called the "oktoechos". [Wilson, "Music of the Middle Ages" p. 11.] Each mode is distinguished by its "final", "dominant", and "ambitus". The "final" is the ending note, which is usually an important note in the overall structure of the melody. The "dominant" is a secondary pitch that usually serves as a reciting tone in the melody. "Ambitus" refers to the range of pitches used in the melody. Melodies whose final is in the middle of the ambitus, or which have only a limited ambitus, are categorized as "plagal", while melodies whose final is in the lower end of the ambitus and have a range of over five or six notes are categorized as "authentic". Although corresponding plagal and authentic modes have the same final, they have different dominants. [Hoppin, "Medieval Music" pp. 64–5.] The existent pseudo-Greek names of the modes, rarely used in medieval times, derive from a misunderstanding of the Ancient Greek modes; the prefix "Hypo-" (under, Gr.) indicates a plagal mode, where the melody moves below the final. In contemporary Latin manuscripts the modes are simply called Protus authentus /plagalis, Deuterus, Tritus and Tetrardus: the 1st mode, authentic or plagal, the 2nd mode etc. In the Roman Chantbooks the modes are indicated by Roman numerals.

:Modes 1 and 2 are the authentic and plagal modes ending on D, sometimes called Dorian and Hypodorian.:Modes 3 and 4 are the authentic and plagal modes ending on E, sometimes called Phrygian and Hypophrygian.:Modes 5 and 6 are the authentic and plagal modes ending on F, sometimes called Lydian and Hypolydian.:Modes 7 and 8 are the authentic and plagal modes ending on G, sometimes called Mixolydian and Hypomixolydian.

Although the modes with melodies ending on A, B, and C are sometimes referred to as Aeolian, Locrian, and Ionian, these are not considered distinct modes and are treated as transpositions of whichever mode uses the same set of hexachords. The actual pitch of the Gregorian chant is not fixed, so the piece can be sung in whichever range is most comfortable.

Certain classes of Gregorian chant have a separate musical formula for each mode, allowing one section of the chant to transition smoothly into the next section, such as the psalm tones between antiphons and psalm verses. [Hoppin, "Medieval Music" p. 82.]

Not every Gregorian chant fits neatly into Guido's hexachords or into the system of eight modes. For example, there are chants—especially from German sources—whose neumes suggest a warbling of pitches between the notes E and F, outside the hexachord system. [Wilson, "Music of the Middle Ages" p. 22.] Early Gregorian chant, like Ambrosian and Old Roman chant, whose melodies are most closely related to Gregorian, did not use the modal system. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" p. 166–78, and Hiley, "Western Plainchant" p. 454.] The great need for a system of organizing chants lies in the need to link antiphons with standard tones, as in for example, the psalmody at the Office. Using Psalm Tone i with an antiphon in Mode 1 makes for a smooth transition between the end of the antiphon and the intonation of the tone, and the ending of the tone can then be chosen to provide a smooth transition back to the antiphon. As the modal system gained acceptance, Gregorian chants were edited to conform to the modes, especially during 12th-century Cistercian reforms. Finals were altered, melodic ranges reduced, melismas trimmed, B-flats eliminated, and repeated words removed. [Hiley, "Western Plainchant" pp. 608–10.] Despite these attempts to impose modal consistency, some chants—notably Communions—defy simple modal assignment. For example, in four medieval manuscripts, the Communion "Circuibo" was transcribed using a different mode in each. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" pp. 171–2.]

Musical idiom

Several features besides modality contribute to the musical idiom of Gregorian chant, giving it a distinctive musical flavor. Melodic motion is primarily stepwise. Skips of a third are common, and larger skips far more common than in other plainchant repertories such as Ambrosian chant or Beneventan chant. Gregorian melodies are more likely to traverse a seventh than a full octave, so that melodies rarely travel from D up to the D an octave higher, but often travel from D to the C a seventh higher, using such patterns as D-F-G-A-C. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" pp. 256–7.] Gregorian melodies often explore chains of pitches, such as F-A-C, around which the other notes of the chant gravitate. [Wilson, "Music of the Middle Ages" p. 21.] Within each mode, certain incipits and cadences are preferred, which the modal theory alone does not explain. Chants often display complex internal structures that combine and repeat musical subphrases. This occurs notably in the Offertories; in chants with shorter, repeating texts such as the Kyrie and Agnus Dei; and in longer chants with clear textual divisions such as the Great Responsories, the Gloria, and the Credo. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" pp. 258–9.]

Chants sometimes fall into melodically related groups. The musical phrases centonized to create Graduals and Tracts follow a musical "grammar" of sorts. Certain phrases are used only at the beginnings of chants, or only at the end, or only in certain combinations, creating musical families of chants such as the "Iustus ut palma" family of Graduals. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" pp. 344–63.] Several Introits in mode 3, including "Loquetur Dominus" above, exhibit melodic similarities. Mode III (E authentic) chants have C as a dominant, so C is the expected reciting tone. These mode III Introits, however, use both G and C as reciting tones, and often begin with a decorated leap from G to C to establish this tonality. [Hiley, "Western Plainchant" pp. 110–113.] Similar examples exist throughout the repertory.


The earliest notated sources of Gregorian chant (written ca. 950) used symbols called "neumes" (Gr. sign (of the hand) to indicate tone-movements and relative duration within each syllable. A sort of musical stenography that seems to focus on gestures and tone-movements but not the specific pitches of individual notes, nor the relative starting pitches of each neume. Given the fact that Chant was learned in an oral tradition in which the texts and melodies were sung from memory, this was obviously not necessary. The neumatic manuscripts display great sophistication and precision in notation and a wealth of graphic signs to indicate the musical gesture and proper pronunciation of the text.Scholars postulate that this practice may have been derived from cheironomic hand-gestures, the ekphonetic notation of Byzantine chant, punctuation marks, or diacritical accents. [Levy, Kenneth: "Plainchant", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 20 January 2006), [ (subscription access)] ] Later adaptations and innovations included the use of a dry-scratched line or an inked line or two lines, marked C or F showing the relative pitches between neumes. Consistent relative heightening first developed in the Aquitaine region, particularly at St. Martial de Limoges, in the first half of the eleventh century. Many German-speaking areas, however, continued to use unpitched neumes into the twelfth century. Additional symbols developed, such as the "custos", placed at the end of a system to show the next pitch. Other symbols indicated changes in articulation, duration, or tempo, such as a letter "t" to indicate a tenuto. Another form of early notation used a system of letters corresponding to different pitches, much as Shaker music is notated.

By the 13th century, the neumes of Gregorian chant were usually written in "square notation" on a four-line staff with a clef, as in the "Graduale Aboense" pictured above. In square notation, small groups of ascending notes on a syllable are shown as stacked squares, read from bottom to top, while descending notes are written with diamonds read from left to right. When a syllable has a large number of notes, a series of smaller such groups of neumes are written in succession, read from left to right. The oriscus, quilisma, and liquescent neumes indicate special vocal treatments, that have been largely neglected due to uncertainty as to how to sing them. Since the 1970s, with the influential insights of Dom. E. Cardine (see below under 'rhythm'), ornamental neumes have received more attention from both researchers and performers. B-flat is indicated by a "b-mollum" (Lat. soft), a rounded undercaste 'b' placed to the left of the entire neume in which the note occurs, as shown in the "Kyrie" to the right. When necessary, a "b-durum" (Lat. hard), written squarely, indicates B-natural and serves to cancel the b-mollum . This system of square notation is standard in modern chantbooks.



Chant was traditionally reserved for men, as it was originally sung by the all-male clergy during the Mass and the prayers of the Office. Outside the larger cities, the number of available clergy dropped, and lay men started singing these parts. In convents, women were permitted to sing the Mass and Office as a function of their consecrated life, but the choir was still considered an official liturgical duty reserved to clergy, so lay women were not allowed to sing in the "Schola cantorum" or other choirs. [Carol Neuls-Bates, "Women in Music" p. 3.]

Chant was normally sung in unison. Later innovations included "tropes", which is a new text sung to the same melodic phrases in a melismatic chant (repeating an entire Alleluia-melody on a new text for instance, or repeating a full phrase with a new text that comments on the previously sung text) and various forms of "organum", (improvised) harmonic embellishment of chant melodies focusing on octaves, fifths, fourths, and, later, thirds. Neither tropes nor organum, however, belong to the chant repertory proper. The main exception to this is the sequence, whose origins lay in troping the extended melisma of Alleluia chants known as the jubilus, but the sequences, like the tropes, were later officially suppressed. The Council of Trent struck sequences from the Gregorian corpus, except those for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and All Souls' Day.

We do not know much about the particular vocal stylings or performance practices used for Gregorian chant in the Middle Ages. On occasion, the clergy was urged to have their singers perform with more restraint and piety. This suggests that virtuosic performances occurred, contrary to the modern stereotype of Gregorian chant as slow-moving mood music. This tension between musicality and piety goes far back; Gregory the Great himself criticized the practice of promoting clerics based on their charming singing rather than their preaching. [Hiley, "Western Plainchant" p. 504.] However, Odo of Cluny, a renowned monastic reformer, praised the intellectual and musical virtuosity to be found in chant:

True antiphonal performance by two alternating choruses still occurs, as in certain German monasteries. However, antiphonal chants are generally performed in responsorial style by a solo cantor alternating with a chorus. This practice appears to have begun in the Middle Ages. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" p. 197.] Another medieval innovation had the solo cantor sing the opening words of responsorial chants, with the full chorus finishing the end of the opening phrase. This innovation allowed the soloist to fix the pitch of the chant for the chorus and to cue the choral entrance.


Because of the obviously evasive quality of medieval notation as the silent remains of a living tradition, displaced a thousand years out of its cultural context, rhythm in Gregorian chant has always been a hotbed of debate among scholars. From the very beginning there was a fundamental difference in point of view on rhythm. To complicate matters further, a host of ornamental neumes are used in the earliest manuscripts that pose many difficulties on the rhythmic plane. Certain neumes such as the "pressus", pes quassus, strophic neumes indicate repeated notes, which may indicate lengthening by repercussion, in some cases with added ornaments. By the 13th century, with the widespread use of square notation, most chant was sung with an approximately equal duration allotted to each note, although Jerome of Moravia cites exceptions in which certain notes, such as the final notes of a chant, are lengthened. [Hiley, "Chant," "Performance Practice: Music before 1600" p. 44. "The performance of chant in equal note lengths from the 13th century onwards is well supported by contemporary statements."] While the standard repertory of Gregorian Chant was partly being supplanted with new forms of polyphony, the earlier melo-rhythmic refinements of monophonic chant seem to fall into disuse. Later redactions such as the "Editio medicaea" of 1614 rewrote chant so that melismas, with their melodic accent, fell on accented syllables. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" p. 289.] This aesthetic held sway until the re-examination of chant in the late 19th century by such scholars as Wagner, Pothier, and Mocquereau, who fell into two camps.

One school of thought, including Wagner, Jammers, and Lipphardt, advocated imposing rhythmic meters on chants, although they disagreed on how that should be done. An opposing interpretation, represented by Pothier and Mocquereau, supported a free rhythm of equal note values, although some notes are lengthened for textual emphasis or musical effect. The modern Solesmes editions of Gregorian chant follow this interpretation. Mocquereau divided melodies into two- and three-note phrases, each beginning with an "ictus", akin to a beat, notated in chantbooks as a small vertical mark. These basic melodic units combined into larger phrases through a complex system expressed by cheironomic hand-gestures. [Apel, "Gregorian Chant" p. 127.] This approach prevailed during the twentieth century, propagated by Justine Ward's program of music education for children, until the liturgical role of chant was diminished after the liturgical reforms of Paul VI, and new scholarship "essentially discredited" Mocquereau's rhythmic theories. [Dyer, Joseph: "Roman Catholic Church Music", Section VI.1, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 28 June 2006), [] (subscription access)] ]

Common modern practice favors performing Gregorian chant with no beat or regular metric accent, largely for aesthetic reasons. [William P. Mahrt, "Chant," "A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music" p. 18.] The text determines the accent while the melodic contour determines the phrasing. The note lengthenings recommended by the Solesmes school remain influential, though not prescriptive.

Dom Eugene Cardine, (1905–1988) monk from Solesmes, published his 'Semiologie Gregorienne' in 1970 in which he clearly explains the musical significance of the neumes of the early chant manuscripts. Cardine shows the great diversity of neumes and graphic variations of the basic shape of a particular neume, which can not be expressed in the square notation. This variety in notation must have served a practical purpose and therefore a musical significance. Nine years later, the Graduale Triplex was published, in which the Roman Gradual, containing all the chants for Mass in a Year's cycle, appeared with the neumes of the two most important manuscripts copied under and over the 4-line staff of the square notation. The Graduale Triplex made widely accessible the original notation of Sankt Gallen and Laon (compiled after 930 AD) in a single chantbook and was a huge step forward. Dom Cardine had many students who have each in their own way continued their semiological studies, some of whom also started experimenting in applying the newly understood principles in performance practice.The studies of Cardine and his students (Godehard Joppich, Luigi Augustoni, Marie-Noël Colette, Rupert Fischer, Marie-Claire Billecocq to name a few) have clearly demonstrated that rhythm in Gregorian chant as notated in the 10th century rhythmic manuscripts (notably Skt. Gallen and Laon) manifest such rhythmic diversity and melodic–rhythmic ornamentations for which there is hardly a living performance tradition in the Western world. Contemporary groups that endeavour to sing according to the manuscript traditions have evolved after 1975. Some practising researchers favour a closer look at non Western (liturgical) traditions, in such cultures where the tradition of modal monophony was never abandoned.

Another group with different views are the mensuralists or the proportionalists, who maintain that rhythm has to be interpreted proportionately, where shorts are exactly half the longs. This view is advocated by John Blackley and his 'Schola Antiqua New York'.

Melodic restitution

Recent developments involve an intensifying of the semiological approach according to Dom Cardine, which also gave a new impetus to the research into melodic variants in various manuscripts of chant. On the basis of this ongoing research it has become obvious that the Graduale and other chantbooks contain many melodic errors, some very consistently, (the mis-interpretation of third and eighth mode) necessitating a new edition of the Graduale according to state-of-the-art melodic restitutions. The so-called Munsterschwarzach-group under the guidance of Godehard Joppich and various other groups and individuals have done extensive work in this field. In this approach the so-called earlier 'rhythmic' manuscripts of unheightened neumes that carry a whealth of melo-rhythmic information but not of exact pitches, are compared in large tables of comparison with relevant later 'melodic' manuscripts' that are written on lines or use double alphabetic and neumes notation over the text, but as a rule have less rhythmic refinement compared to the earlier group. However, the comparison between the two groups has made it possible to correct what are obvious mistakes. In other instances it is not so easy to find a consensus. In 1984 Chris Hakkennes published his own transcription of the Graduale Triplex. He devised a new graphic adaptation of square notation 'simplex' in which he integrated the rhythmic indications of the two most relevant sources, that of Laon and Skt. Gallen. Referring to these manuscripts, he called his own transcription Gradual Lagal. Furthermore, while making the transcription, he cross-checked with the melodic manuscripts to correct modal errors or other melodic errors found in the Graduale Romanum. His intention was to provide a corrected melody in rhythmic notation but above all - he was also a choirmaster - suited for practical use, therefore a simplex, integrated notation.

Liturgical functions

Gregorian chant is sung in the Office during the canonical hours and in the liturgy of the Mass. Texts known as "accentus" are intoned by bishops, priests, and deacons, mostly on a single reciting tone with simple melodic formulae at certain places in each sentence. More complex chants are sung by trained soloists and choirs. The most complete collection of chants is the "Liber usualis", which contains the chants for the Tridentine Mass and the most commonly used Office chants. Outside of monasteries, the more compact "Graduale Romanum" is commonly used.

Proper chants of the Mass

The Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, Sequence, Offertory and Communion chants are part of the Proper of the Mass. "Proprium Missae" in Latin refers to the chants of the Mass that have their proper individual texts for each Sunday throughout the annual cycle. As opposed to 'Ordinarium Missae' which have fixed texts (but various melodies) (Kyrie, Benedictus, Sanctus, Agnus Dei).

Introits cover the procession of the officiants. Introits are antiphonal chants, typically consisting of an antiphon, a psalm verse, a repeat of the antiphon, an intonation of the Gloria Patri Doxology, and a final repeat of the antiphon. Reciting tones often dominate their melodic structures.

Graduals are responsorial chants that follow the reading of the Epistle. Graduals usually result from "centonization"; stock musical phrases are assembled like a patchwork to create the full melody of the chant, creating families of musically related melodies. Graduals are accompanied by a elaborate Verse, so that it actually consists in two different parts, A B. Often the first part is sung again, creating a 'rondeau' A B A. At least the verse, if not the complete gradual, is for the solo cantor and are in elaborate, ornate style with long, wide-ranged melisma's.

The Alleluia is known for the "jubilus", an extended joyful melisma on the last vowel of 'Alleluia'. The Alleluia is also in two parts, the alleluia proper and the psalmverse, by which the Alleluia is identified (Alleluia V. Pascha nostrum) . The last melism of the verse is the same as the jubilus attached to the Alleluia. Alleluias are not sung during penitential times, such as Lent. Instead, a Tract is chanted, usually with texts from the Psalms. Tracts, like Graduals, are highly centonized.

Sequences are sung poems based on couplets. Although many sequences are not part of the liturgy and thus not part of the Gregorian repertory proper, Gregorian sequences include such well-known chants as "Victimae paschali laudes" and "Veni Sancte Spiritus". According to Notker Balbulus, an early sequence writer, their origins lie in the addition of words to the long melismas of the jubilus of Alleluia chants. [Richard Crocker, "The Early Medieval Sequence" pp. 1–2.]

Offertories are sung during the offering of Eucharistic bread and wine. Offertories once had highly prolix melodies in their verses, but the use of verses in Gregorian Offertories disappeared around the 12th century. These verses however, are among the most ornate and elaborated in the whole chant repertoir. Offertories are in form closest to Responsories, which are likewise accompanied by at least one Verse and the opening sections of both Off. and Resp. are partly repeated after the verse(s). This last section is therefore called the 'repetenda' and is in performance the last melodic line of the chant.

Communions are sung during the distribution of the Eucharist. In presentation the Communio is similar to the Introitus, an antiphon with a series of psalm verses. Communion melodies are often tonally ambiguous and do not fit into a single musical mode which has led to the same communio being classed in different modes in different manuscripts or editions.

Ordinary chants of the Mass

The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei use the same text in every service of the Mass. Because they follow the regular invariable "order" of the Mass, these chants are called "Ordinary."

The Kyrie consists of a threefold repetition of "Kyrie eleison" ("Lord, have mercy"), a threefold repetition of "Christe eleison" ("Christ have mercy"), followed by another threefold repetition of "Kyrie eleison." In older chants, "Kyrie eleison imas" ("Lord, have mercy on us") can be found. The Kyrie is distinguished by its use of the Greek language instead of Latin. Because of the textual repetition, various musical repeat structures occur in these chants. The following, Kyrie ad. lib. VI as transmitted in a Cambrai manuscript, uses the form ABA CDC EFE', with shifts in tessitura between sections. The E' section, on the final "Kyrie eleison," itself has an aa'b structure, contributing to the sense of climax. [Hiley, "Western Plainchant" p. 153.] listen|filename=Kyrie 55, Vatican ad lib. VI, Cambrai.ogg|title=Kyrie 55, Vatican ad lib. VI, from Cambrai, Bibl. Mun. 61, fo.155v, as transcribed by David Hiley|description=example of musical repeat structures in Gregorian chant

The Gloria recites the Greater Doxology, and the Credo intones the Nicene Creed. Because of the length of these texts, these chants often break into musical subsections corresponding with textual breaks. Because the Credo was the last Ordinary chant to be added to the Mass, there are relatively few Credo melodies in the Gregorian corpus.

The Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, like the Kyrie, also contain repeated texts, which their musical structures often exploit.

Technically, the Ite missa est and the Benedicamus Domino, which conclude the Mass, belong to the Ordinary. They have their own Gregorian melodies, but because they are short and simple, and have rarely been the subject of later musical composition, they are often omitted in discussion.

Chants of the Office

Gregorian chant is sung in the canonical hours of the monastic Office, primarily in antiphons used to sing the Psalms, in the Great Responsories of Matins, and the Short Responsories of the Lesser Hours and Compline. The psalm antiphons of the Office tend to be short and simple, especially compared to the complex Great Responsories.

At the close of the Office, one of four "Marian antiphons" is sung. These songs, "Alma Redemptoris Mater" (see top of article), "Ave Regina caelorum", "Regina caeli laetare", and "Salve, Regina", are relatively late chants, dating to the 11th century, and considerably more complex than most Office antiphons. Apel has described these four songs as "among the most beautiful creations of the late Middle Ages." [Willi Apel, "Gregorian Chant" p. 404.]


Medieval and Renaissance music

Gregorian chant had a significant impact on the development of medieval and Renaissance music. Modern staff notation developed directly from Gregorian neumes. The square notation that had been devised for plainchant was borrowed and adapted for other kinds of music. Certain groupings of neumes were used to indicate repeating rhythms called rhythmic modes. Rounded noteheads increasingly replaced the older squares and lozenges in the 15th and 16th centuries, although chantbooks conservatively maintained the square notation. By the 16th century, the fifth line added to the musical staff had become standard. The bass clef and the flat, natural, and sharp accidentals derived directly from Gregorian notation. [Chew, Geoffrey and Richard Rastall: "Notation", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 27 June 2006), [ (subscription access)] ]

Gregorian melodies provided musical material and served as models for tropes and liturgical dramas. Vernacular hymns such as "Christ ist erstanden" and "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist" adapted original Gregorian melodies to translated texts. Secular tunes such as the popular Renaissance "In Nomine" were based on Gregorian melodies. Beginning with the improvised harmonizations of Gregorian chant known as organum, Gregorian chants became a driving force in medieval and Renaissance polyphony. Often, a Gregorian chant (sometimes in modified form) would be used as a "cantus firmus", so that the consecutive notes of the chant determined the harmonic progression. The Marian antiphons, especially "Alma Redemptoris Mater", were frequently arranged by Renaissance composers. The use of chant as a cantus firmus was the predominant practice until the Baroque period, when the stronger harmonic progressions made possible by an independent bass line became standard.

The Catholic Church later allowed polyphonic arrangements to replace the Gregorian chant of the Ordinary of the Mass. This is why the Mass as a compositional form, as set by composers like Palestrina or Mozart, features a Kyrie but not an Introit. The Propers may also be replaced by choral settings on certain solemn occasions. Among the composers who most frequently wrote polyphonic settings of the Propers were William Byrd and Tomás Luis de Victoria. These polyphonic arrangements usually incorporate elements of the original chant.

20th century

The renewed interest in early music in the late 19th century left its mark on 20th-century music. Gregorian influences in classical music include the choral setting of four chants in "Quatre motets sur des thèmes Grégoriens" by Maurice Duruflé, the carols of Peter Maxwell Davies, and the choral work of Arvo Pärt. Gregorian chant has been incorporated into other genres, such as Enigma's "Sadeness (Part I)", the chant interpretation of pop and rock by the German band Gregorian, the techno project E Nomine, and the work of black metal band Deathspell Omega. The modal melodies of chant provide unusual sounds to ears attuned to modern scales.

Gregorian chant as plainchant experienced a popular resurgence during the New Age music and world music movements of the 1980s and '90s. The iconic album was "Chant", recorded by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, which was marketed as music to inspire timeless calm and serenity. In 2008, the Cistercian Monks of Austrian Heiligenkreuz Abbey released the CD "Chant–Music for Paradise", which became the best-selling album of the Austrian pop charts and peaked #7 of the UK charts. In the USA, the album was released under the title "Chant–Music for the Soul" and peaked #187. It became conventional wisdom that listening to Gregorian chant increased the production of beta waves in the brain, reinforcing the popular reputation of Gregorian chant as tranquilizing music. [Le Mee, "Chant : The Origins, Form, Practice, and Healing Power of Gregorian Chant" p. 140.] Gregorian chant has often been parodied for its supposed monotony, both before and after the release of "Chant". Famous references include the flagellant monks in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" intoning "Pie Jesu Domine." The asteroid 100019 Gregorianik is named in its honour, using the German short form of the term.Gregorian chanting has been also used in Vision of Escaflowne anime series.





* "Graduale triplex" (1979). Tournai: Desclée& Socii. ISBN 2-85274-094-X
* "Graduale Lagal"' (1984 / 1990) Chris Hakkennes, Stichting Lagal Utrecht ISBN 90-800408-2-7
* "Liber usualis" (1953). Tournai: Desclée& Socii.
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publisher = Indiana University Press
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pages = Section VI.1
work = Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy
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* Hiley, David (1990). Chant. In "Performance Practice: Music before 1600", Howard Mayer Brown and Stanley Sadie, eds., pp. 37–54. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-02807-0
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* Mahrt, William P. (2000). Chant. In "A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music", Ross Duffin, ed., pp. 1–22. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33752-6
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ee also

*Cecilian Movement
* "Discography" For a selective discography visit [] at [] by Todd McComb

External links

* [ Liber usualis online - MIDI Collection of Traditional Catholic Hymns and chants]
* [ The Gregorian chant of the abbeys of Provence in France]
*Alison Hope, " [ History of Gregorian Chant] "
*H. Bewerung: " [ Gregorian chant] ", "Catholic Encyclopedia"
*William P. Mahrt: " [ Gregorian Chant as a Paradigm of Sacred Music] ," "Sacred Music", 133.3, pp. 5-14
* [ Canticum Novum, Lessons on Gregorian Chant] - Notation, characteristics, rhythm, modes, the psalmody and scores
*Justine Ward, " [ The Reform of Church Music] ," "Atlantic Monthly", April 1906
* [ Monastic gregorian]
* [] Many chants from the Gradual in melodically restituted form
* [] website of Sankt Gallen / Cologne Library, acces to Skt. Gallen manuscripts, a must-see!
* [ Ambrosian chant]

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