Repertoire: experiencing chant

Now that we know how to use our Guidonian Hand(s) and how to solmise like a Renaissance musician, it’s time to start practising with some well-known plainchant hymns.

Before we do so however, there are a few things which might be new if you’ve never sung plainchant before: 

Ligatures

A ligature is when two or more notes are combined into a single figure.[1]In measured music, ligatures also have specific rhythmic meaning. While there is some evidence to suggest that such a rhythmic interpretation of this notation was occasionally used in the performance … Continue reading

In the performance of chant they indicate the performance of several notes on a single vowel. They can take many forms, but are broadly separable into box and oblique shapes.[2]In fact, plainchant neumes are given specific names, a thorough overview of which can be seen here. Benedictine Monastery of Solesmes, ed., Liber Usualis (1952; repr., Tournai: Desclee & Co., … Continue reading

  • Box shapes: box shapes are combined to indicate two or more notes.[3]Plainchant notes occasionally appear immediately above each other (Podatus or Pes,) in which case the lower note is sung first. This is less common in chant books from this period, but will be found … Continue reading 

 

  • Oblique shapes: oblique shapes indicate two notes, one at the top and the other at the bottom. In plainchant they are always combined with one or more box-shaped ligatures. 

Other Symbols

  • Custos: a custos (translated literally as ‘guardian’) indicates the following note, and is typically found at the end of a line or before a change of clef.

or

  • Mediocres: mediocres are smaller notes, typically shaped like a diamond. Many sources from the fifteenth and sixteenth century suggest that they were often sung twice as fast as the other notes in practice.[4]This is actually a ligature called the Climacus.

  • Bb: Bb is the most common accidental found in fifteenth and sixteenth-century sources and indicates the use of the soft hexachord. Be aware that this is often not notated but left implied by the melodic context (see the previous section on hexachordal solmisation and the Guidonian Hand.) The Bb generally lasts for either the entirety of the word upon which it appears or until a change of hexachord is required.

Pronunciation

since Latin was widely used as a Lingua Franca throughout Europe, regional pronunciations flourished. For the moment, we will use a standardised modern, liturgical pronunciation of Latin.[5]A detailed overview can be found here. Benedictine Monastery of Solesmes, ed., Liber Usualis (1952; repr., Tournai: Desclee & Co., 1961), xxxv. 

Rhythm

plainchant was sung in many different ways in the Renaissance. One of the more common ways was to sing all notes the same length, except for the mediocres which were often sung twice as fast.[6]For an overview of the various rhythmic approaches associated with the performance of plainchant in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries see Richard Sherr, “The Performance of Chant in the … Continue reading This is the approach taken in these recordings, accompanied by occasional elongations and pauses at moments of syntactic importance.[7]The rhythm of plainchant in performance has been a matter of considerable debate over the past few centuries. Perhaps the most widely recognised approach today descends from the nineteenth-century … Continue reading 

The selected repertoire can be found by following the link below. We recommend solmising each piece first before adding the text.

Repertoire

References

References
1 In measured music, ligatures also have specific rhythmic meaning. While there is some evidence to suggest that such a rhythmic interpretation of this notation was occasionally used in the performance of chant, this is not the approach used in this program. See Richard Sherr, “The Performance of Chant in the Renaissance and Its Interactions with Polyphony,” in Plainsong in the Age of Polyphony, ed. Thomas Forrest Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
2 In fact, plainchant neumes are given specific names, a thorough overview of which can be seen here. Benedictine Monastery of Solesmes, ed., Liber Usualis (1952; repr., Tournai: Desclee & Co., 1961), xj.
3 Plainchant notes occasionally appear immediately above each other (Podatus or Pes,) in which case the lower note is sung first. This is less common in chant books from this period, but will be found in both earlier and modern editions of chant.
4 This is actually a ligature called the Climacus.
5 A detailed overview can be found here. Benedictine Monastery of Solesmes, ed., Liber Usualis (1952; repr., Tournai: Desclee & Co., 1961), xxxv.
6 For an overview of the various rhythmic approaches associated with the performance of plainchant in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries see Richard Sherr, “The Performance of Chant in the Renaissance and Its Interactions with Polyphony,” in Plainsong in the Age of Polyphony, ed. Thomas Forrest Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
7 The rhythm of plainchant in performance has been a matter of considerable debate over the past few centuries. Perhaps the most widely recognised approach today descends from the nineteenth-century reforms of the Benedictine monks of the Solesmes Abbey in Western France; in particular the theories of Dom André Mocquereau, whose thoughts on ‘free’ rhythm were highly influenced by contemporaneous aesthetics. For more information, see Daniel Walden, “Dom Mocquereau’s Theories of Rhythm and Romantic Musical Aesthetics,” Études Grégoriennes XLII (2015).

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