THE GREGORIAN CHANT
A SKETCH FOR A DIDACTIC CONCERT
Novum—Schola Cantorum Bogotensis— has presented several concerts
in which has been sought to illustrate the listeners about
the history, the characteristics, the goods, the natural scenario
for which was composed (The Mass, the Divine Office, the paraliturgical
chant of diverse Gregorian melodies goes preceded by some
ideas that can help the listener to be located inside the
context of the Gregorian Chant.
From the beginning of Christendom the music was
used in the meetings that, half secret, in remote places,
and almost always at night, lapsed among readings, prayers
and songs, although in a very restricted way, not only because
the persecutions forced to the discretion (it is not necessary
to forget that the Jewish people was under domain of the Roman
Empire) but because it was very small the repertoire and few
The music that came first to new christians was
the Hebrew and Greek-Roman music. It is sure that they used
above all to intone a melodic declamation of the psalms that
were the old poems written by King David and by Asaf. They
shouted the old scream: Hallelujah which means, Praise to
God; or they sang the amen that means "firm, sure, we
trust", or they made the invocation: Glory be to the
The first Christian musical creations were improvisations,
by way of adorations, supplications or exhortations.
On the other hand, they incorporated to the liturgy
modeling songs on pagan hymns, to which Christian texts were
Persecutions started very soon in the year 41
when Herodes succeeded Agripa; the followers of the new religion
began to escape. This dispersion had as consequence the formation
of several Christian nuclei in east, Jerusalem, Antioquia,
Alexandria, Greece and Bizantio; and in occident, Milan and
Each one of these centers began to create their
own liturgy, or forms of carrying out the religious acts.
Later the Christianity was expanded for the whole European
The Christian music, so much of the east as of
the occident, had, during the first centuries, common characteristics,
inherited overalls of the Hebrew and of the Greek music.
A Christian oriental sample of music is the piece
that figures in the first number of our program. It is an
ode, that is to say a poetic song of Bizantio liturgy : Anastaseos
Then we will find a brief example of the music
of the first great Christian nucleus in occident, that of
Milan whose liturgy was established by Saint Ambrosse. We
will listen a verse of the hymn with Latin text, Veni
Redemptor Gentium, on which Martin Luther would model
three of their most beautiful chorals: Nun komm der Heiden
Heilands, Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglish and Erhalt uns Herr
bei deinem Wort.
While the Ambrosian music charged enormous resonance,
the Roman Chant began to organize what would come to be the
The Popes of 5th and 6th Centuries played an important
way in the development of the art and the music.
At the end of 6th Century, September of 592, with
the ascent to papacy of Gregory I called the Great, the Roman
chant reached its most perfect expression.
This Pope, of the noble family of the Anicii,
had been praetor of Rome at the age of 30 and was founder
of several abbeys.
Sent by the Pope Pelagio II to Bizantio as ambassador
in front of the emperor Tiberio Constantio, remained there
during seven years and participated of the splendor of the
liturgy and of the Byzantine music at St. Sophia´s Cathedral
When he returned to Rome he was assigned as secretary
of the Holy Seed, but he also directed the Chant and, as arcedian,
that is to say main deacon, interpreted the more difficult
pieces of the repertoire.
Once in the Pontificate he began a work that can
be summarized in two aspects: in the first place the compilation
and selection of the melodies, so that they were copied and
collected in a book called antifonarium. In second place he
dedicated great part of their effort to the formation of musicians,
organizing in each church a group of singers that was known
with the name of Schola Cantorum.
It undertook the task of liturgies unification
then, what was largely achieved. For this reason the chant
of the Roman liturgy begun to be called Gregorian Chant, denomination
that extends also to the later musical creation, if it conserves
the same characteristics.
And which are those characteristics?
It is modal music written in some scales of
very particular sounds that are good to wake up varied
feelings, as withdrawal, happiness, sadness, serenity,
The text is in Latin, language of the Roman
empire extended by Europe (romances languages didn't exist
still). Some very few pieces were in Greek. These texts
were taken from the psalms and other books of the Old
Testament; some came from the gospels and others were
of own anonymous inspiration, as Hugo Riemann writes:
"they were full of poetic inspiration and of sublime thoughts".
From the birth, the Christian music was, on the
other hand, a sung sentence that should be carried out not
in a purely material way, but with devotion, or as St. Paul
says "singing to God in your heart".
St. Augustine will say later: "who sings,
prays twice". This intention constitutes the same purpose
of the Chant, and this is the reason why almost of the whole
Gregorian music is of unknown author. Only of some very few
pieces the author is known and this is because they are not
early compositions, but from the 11th and 12th Centuries.
The shallow illustration that we will give here
on this music will be centered in the different forms of the
musical pieces, which receive the name of genders.
It is our intention to present examples of a good
number of them, mentioning in each case the circumstances
in which such pieces were intoned.
The oldest may be the psalmody.
Christians copied from Hebrews the habit of singing
This chant was carried out in recited and alternate
form between a soloist and the choir or between two choirs.
The structure of psalmody is syllabic: It means
that to each syllable of the text it corresponds a sound of
This gender was honored in Rome from starting
of the 5th Century, when the whole town intervened in the
In the Gregorian Chant there are several melodies
which the psalms can be intoned with. You will listen the
psalm 97 whose text in Latin begins with the
words “Cantate Dominum Canticum Novum”, from our
choral group took its name.
II. Common of the Mass
The you will listen three of them: in the first
place the Kyrie
of the mass 11th, composed in the
tenth century. The mass is a rite that had origin in Bizantio,
and in a very similar form in Antioquia, in the 4th century.
It is a celebration to praise to the Divinity and to thank
him their favors. Likewise, she makes current Jesus' sacrifice
in the cross and his resurrection.
Starting from the first centuries they were incorporating
several parts that were sung with texts that didn't change
from a celebration to other; it is called the Common of the
Mass, and they constitute the genders: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo,
Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei that are conserved until
The Kyrie belongs to the oldest liturgical forms.
It was taken of pagan expressions which people used to adore
the sun or the idols; it was conserved in Greek language when
it entered to be a part of the mass. The words Kyrie eleison
means Lord have mercy, and they were sung to the
way of the oriental liturgies, repeating them several times.
At the end of 6th Century the Christe eleison
that means, Christ have mercy, was added.
In spite of their origin in 10th Century the so
old Kyries arrived until us and are sung at our present time.
Then we will listen a Sanctus
and a Benedictus. The Sanctus dates of the same
beginnings of the Christianity and had its origin in the splendid
liturgy of Bizantio, in 2nd Century, with the creation of
the Trisage which consists in three acclamations with the
We will listen a trisage that was sung originally
in East, and later in West during the liturgy of Holy friday
or Theos). Next the Sanctus
of Mass 11th dated on 14th century and, to
conclude the segment, the Agnus
Dei of the mass 9th (dated on the 10th century)
will be sung.
The Agnus Dei appears only at the end of the 7th
Century. It consists on some brief supplications that make
echo to the expression "Lamb", used by St. John in the Apocalypse.
These hymns produced deep impression in Saint
Augustine, and for their simplicity they seduced to people.
We will listen three verses of the hymn Vexilla
Regis that was intoned in Lent time, that is
to say in time of penance, in honor of the cross.
The antiphon of the psalms was alternated between
two choirs; it was practiced by Jews from the antiquity and
was adopted by the Christian cult for first time in the ambrosian
church of Milan.
If it was sung between a soloist and the choir,
it was called responsory.
The responsory and the antiphon had, as it was
said, great importance in the liturgy of the hours; it was
a sentence that was sung every three hours, during the whole
day, in Alexandria and Antioquia and at 5th Century in Rome.
In the 6th Century the antiphon acquires its own
character and autonomy as a prelude of a Psalm, in accordance
with its name, since antiphon means that it is sung previous-to.
Her form is syllabic or as much adorned with simplicity.
The antiphons that we will listen in this segment
correspond to the celebration of the Palms sunday.
Both begin with the words Pueri
Haebreorum; they were intoned together in that
occasion with the heading of the psalm N° 22: “You are
the King of Israel...”
III. Characteristic of the Mass
The mass also had some parts that were variable
according to the feast that was taking place.
Of these parts, three were exactly antiphons,
that is: the introit, or chant of entrance, the offertory
for the procession with offerings, and the communion, the
oldest of these three chants, since it dates from 4th century
and it was sung during the distribution of the bread.
We will listen the introit “Exurge,
Dominum”, sung on sunday two weeks before
beginning the time of penance, when the Liturgy took a tone
And then we will listen the communion “Factus
est repente” that corresponds to celebration
of Pentecost, that is to say the arrival of the Sacred Spirit
on the apostles and it is taken from words of the Gospel.
IV. Hymns, antiphons, characteristic of the
There were other three parts of the mass, according
to the celebration of the day, as were the last of the previous
segment, that were sung among the reading of the epistle (apostolic
letter) and that of the Gospel (narration of the life, doctrine
and death of Jesus).
These three genders took the names of gradual,
tract and hallelujah, and they stuck to the responsorial way,
that is to say that they were sung between soloist and choir.
Musically, they were the most important and demanding parts.
They trusted for it to expert singers, and they could consist
of two or more parts.
We will listen in the first line of this segment
the tract “Absolve
Domine”, of the mass of deceased that
consists of three parts, a way of varied and enriched versions
of the same melody.
And then we will listen the “hallelujah”
of the feast of Corpus Christi, that is to say of
Hallelujah is the old scream of Israel and means
Praise to God; this chant was briskly inspired, as St. Augustine
testify in the 4th Century, when referring that the singers
screamed of joy to express their immense happiness. It was
brought from East and quickly was introduced in Rome.
These jubilant chants consist of the intonation
of the word hallelujah and have more than enough that this
last "AH" is prolonged with rich and extensive vocalizations,
called Jubilus, that is to say, joy.
Then a verse of a Psalm or of the Gospel is sung
with a very adorned form, to conclude with the repetition
of the initial hallelujah.
On the other hand the Gregorian Chant had, posthumously
of Gregory the great, a constant enrichment in all of its
manifestations, and it is as well as in the 10th Century,
in the convent of St. Gallen, Switzerland that had been created
in time of Charlemagne, one of the most remarkable schools
for cultivation of religious chant.
Here they were born the well-known genders Sequence
The Sequence was a new gender that followed Byzantine
models and it consisted on accommodating Latin texts to the
many notes that hallelujah chant had. It was summing up their
form in strophes with measured verses, as those of the hymns,
and rhymed like the verses of our modern languages.
We will listen the Sequence “Victimae
Paschali Laudes”, sung on the Easter
The trope is a gender whose origin must be found
in Bizantio, and consisted on accommodating Latin texts to
the many notes of some pieces that were already on the mass
or on the Holy Office.
The choir will intone the troped version of Kyrie
eleison of the 2nd Mass, to which expressions
of adoration among the word Kyrie and the word eleison were
interpolated, being worth of the notes of melismas in the
Lastly we will mention some other genders, of
which it is worthwhile to highlight the Responsory.
Following a very old tradition that was practiced,
specially in the abbeys, the chant or liturgy of the hours,
also called the Holy Office where the psalms, the antiphons
and the responsories had great importance, as it was mentioned
previously. These last ones were intoned after a biblical
reading in alternate form between a singer and the choir.
The last segment of our presentation begins with
the chant of the Responsory Homo
quidam, of the Roman Holy Office, with text
of the Gospel.
And the remaining pieces have very different forms,
fruit of the Christian creativity in different times. This
way the piece Attende
Domine, which consists of poetic verses with
a refrain that says: listen, oh Lord, and have mercy because
we sin against you.
We will listen Lapis
Revolutus est, of the Easter feast, and brief
Then we will include three pieces of Christmas time: Resonet
in laudibus, Omnis
mundus Jucundetur and
Ecce nomen Domini Emmanuel.
And we will conclude our presentation with two
of the many pieces that Christians have dedicated to Jesus'
mother through the centuries: Salve
Regina and Ave