THE RYTHM OF
GREGORIAN CHANT
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THE GREGORIAN CHANT RHYTHM


Canticum Novum ©
Bogota, Colombia 2003

The musical rhythm is the arrangement of the sounds with base in the distinction among those with impulse character, called ARSIS, and those that have character of rest, called THESIS.

This classification starts on the smallest groups of sounds and goes relating them in more and more wide contexts, through different stages of rhythmic synthesis, in a unifier process.

In Gregorian chant the synthesis is carried out by mean of three stages: elementary rhythms, groups and great rhythm.

FIRST STAGE OF THE RHYTHMIC SYNTHESIS

ELEMENTARY RHYTHMS

The first stage of the rhythmic synthesis consists on ordering the simple times, to form elementary rhythms. The simple times are, in the Gregorian metric, the smallest, indivisible measure units, and they are similar, in modern notation, to the value of the quavers when the black note has a movement of medium speed.

These times are represented with punctum quadratum or punctum inclinatum.

In Gregorian chant it is easy to perceive which of these sounds, for their impulse character, are arsis and which, because of being a support point, are thesis of the rhythm.

The notes of these theses are marked with a small line, generally in their inferior part, called vertical episemata and they are: those that have dot, the first of the pressus, the first of each neume (there are exceptional cases), the second note of the salicus, the note previous to the quilisma, the notes of the sounds that are thesis for distribution, since cannot be more than two sounds between a thesis and another for reasons that will be seen later on, and the marked ones with vertical episemata in editions carried out by the erudites.


Determined these sounds like thesis, it is possible to conform the following elementary rhythms:

    1. - binary elementary rhythm

    2. - ternary elementary rhythm

    A. - With a simple time as arsis and two simple times as thesis

    B. - With two simple times as arsis and a simple time as thesis
    3. - quaternary elementary rhythm.

1. - BINARY ELEMENTARY RHYTHM

The first form of elementary rhythm is the binary elementary rhythm that is composed of a simple time as arsis and a simple time as thesis.

Succession of binary elementary rhythms:

As the bigger dividing line is equal to a simple time, this line enters in the formation of the rhythms. This way, it is sometimes arsis of a binary elementary rhythm:

There are occasions when this bigger dividing line is a thesis:

(1)

When beginning the piece, it can be an elision of the initial arsis:

(2)

2. - TERNARY ELEMENTARY RHYTHM

The second form of elementary rhythm is the ternary elementary rhythm which can be presented in two forms:

A. - ternary elementary Rhythm with a simple time as arsis and two simple times as thesis. There are elementary rhythms whose double thesis is by its own nature, and is given in different forms:

a. - When the thesis is formed by two sounds for the same syllable:


In this case the ternary elementary rhythm maintains, in essence, the same structure of the binary elementary rhythm, but with lengthening of the thesis to twice as much, since the neumes are a development of the same syllable.

(3)

b. - When the thesis is formed by a double note to the same height.

A long note for stroficus.
A long note for stroficus.
A long note for a dot.
A long note for a dot.
A long note for a pressus.

These rhythms also conserve the structure of the binary elementary rhythms but with a prolongation of the thesis to twice as much, since the long notes are a prolongation of the same syllable.

c. - they are also double thesis by nature formed by two sounds that correspond to a bisyllabic word (necessarily with the accent on the penultimate sylable in Latin) due to the bond created by the text.

d. - Equally, and for the same reason, they are double thesis by nature those that coincide with the last two syllables of any word.

e.- there is double thesis because of the form of being conjugated the text and the melody, and they are all those that constitute the cases contrary to the exposed ones next (in the letter B)

B. - ternary elementary Rhythm with two simple times as arsis and a simple time as thesis.

The ternary elementary rhythm with two simple times as arsis and a simple time as thesis is given when a simple thetic time is followed by two without vertical episemata that, due to the form of being conjugated the text and the melody, are related rhythmically with the following thesis:

Notice that the arsis notion doesn't imply that it has to be of smaller duration than the thesis neither this has to be of more duration than the arsis (4) .

These signs are given in three cases:

A.- When the first sound corresponds to an accented syllable (A) and this sound is high (B)

(A) An accented syllable can be given, either because the main tonic accent of the word relapses in her, or because a counter-accent, that is to say, a secondary accent relapses in her. The counter-accents are back of the main accent with a syllable in between. (5)

(B) LOW Sound is the one that is amid two higher sounds (in absolute form).
or it is after a sound to their same height and followed by one higher (in relative form).
or it is after a higher sound and followed by sound to their same height (in relative form).
HIGH sound is the one that is amid two lower sounds (in absolute form).
or it is higher than the previous sound (in relative form)
or it is higher than the following sound (in relative form).

Indifferent sound is the one that is among sounds to its same height. In the topic that occupies us it is considered to be under. (6)

The reason is that the impulse of an arsis is more connatural with a high sound in an accented syllable (5).

Tonic accent of a word with the accent on the penultimate syllable with high sound.
Tonic accent of a word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable with high sound.
Counter accent of a word with the accent on the penultimate syllable with high sound.
Counter accent of a word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable with high sound.

Tonic accent of a word with the accent on the penultimate syllable with high sound.

Counter accent of a word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable with high sound.

NOTICE: The sound is considered high because is higher than the following sound

b. - When the second sound coincides with the accented syllable of a word with the accent on the penultimate syllable and this sound is low.

The reason is that the low sound in the accented syllable makes that direct arsis-thesis relationship between the accented syllable and the following one becomes weaken, and rather the syllable previous to that of the accent gains importance (8).

Tonic accent of a word with the accent on the penultimate syllable, with low sound.
Counter accent of a word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable, with low sound.
Counter accent of a word with the accent on the penultimate syllable, with low sound.

c. - When the second sound coincides with the accented syllable of a word with accent in the antepenultimate syllable with an even number of syllables, and this sound is high.

The reason is that the accented syllable is absorbed by the high sound of this syllable (9).

Note: If these conditions are not given, the rhythmic form will be similar to those cases mentioned in the letter A.

That is:

Tonic accent of the paroxytone word, with the accent on the penultimate syllable with high sound.
Tonic accent of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable, with high sound.
Tonic accent of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable, with high sound.

NOTE: The sound is considered high because is higher than the following sound.


The monosyllables, when entering in combination with other words, form with these rhythmic outlines an equivalent to simple words, with base in which can be considered as to be a part of double arsis: (12)

Group that is equal to a tri-syllabic word with the accent on the penultimate syllable (see letter b).
Equivalent group to a tetra-syllabic word with accent on the penultimate syllable, in which the monosyllable makes of Counter accent (see letter a).
Group that is equal to a penta-syllabic word with the accent on the penultimate syllable(see letter b).
Equivalent group to a tetra-syllabic word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable (see letter c).
Equivalent group to a penta-syllabic word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable in which the monosyllable makes of counter accent (see letter a).
Equivalent group to an exa-syllabic word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable (see letter c).

Two monosyllables can form double arsis.
Rhythmic set like a tretra-syllabic word with the accent on the penultimate syllable (see letter a).

Rhythmic set like a tri-syllabic word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable (see letter a).

Rhythmic set like an exa-syllabic word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable (see letter c).


The largest dividing line can be arsis of a ternary elementary rhythm. (13)

C. - QUATERNARY ELEMENTARY RHYTHM

They are quaternary elementary rhythms formed by two simple times as arsis and two simple times as thesis.

Thesis for distribution

Between two marked simple times with vertical episemata cannot be more than two simple times without episemata, since of having them, it is discovered immediately that there are new implicit elementary rhythms there:

When they are simple times without episemata, like in exposed cases, the distribution form becomes obligatory, since the second of the three simple times is necessarily thetic.

When they appear four or more simple times without vertical episemata, the text can help to define the distribution form, according to the character of the syllables of Latin words.

In Latin, the final syllables of any word are thesis.

This makes that in the words that are accented in the penultimate syllable (paroxytone) the tonic accent (the main of the word) and the counter accents (secondary accents that go back of the main accent with a syllable in between) are arsic syllables, and the non accented syllables are thesis:

The opposite happens with a word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable (proparoxytone), since in this plane of elementary rhythms, the syllables of tonic accent and the syllables with Counter accent are thetic syllables:

(14)

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllables of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable and of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

The simple thetic time is defined by the thetic syllable of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable:
(a) final syllable; (b) Counter accent syllable; (c) syllable of tonic accent.

However in multiple cases it is not possible to adjust the distribution form to the rhythm of the words, since the circumstances in that the simple times are presented in connection with the text vary a lot. Therefore, it is equally frequent that the distribution form coincides or not with the rhythm of the words, specially in the case of words accented in the penultimate syllable.

The theses don't relapse in the final syllable of the words with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The theses don't relapse in the tonic accent and the final syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The theses don't relapse in thetic syllables of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable neither of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.

The theses don't relapse on the thetic syllables of the words with the accent on the penultimate syllable neither on the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

(a) The thesis doesn't relapse in the final syllable of the word with the accent on the penultimate syllable.
(b) The thesis is adjusted to the rhythm of the word with the accent on the antepenultimate syllable.

Observe that, in these cases, the form of distribution of the theses has a lot to do with the moment of neume appearance after the succession of independent simple times.

Apart from this, it is the melody with their own rhythm, the one that above all should be taken in mind.

NOTE: In the editions where the examples have been taken of, vertical episemas only appear in those places that imply some difficulty or exceptionality in the determination of the theses. The other places are supposed that the musician knows them sufficiently. Here, however, we point out them all to facilitate the observation and analysis to the maximum.

____________________

(1) Riemann, Hugo. Composición musical, cap. I, par. 3, pág.21. Ed. Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1929.

(2) Riemann, H. Fraseo musical. Parte II, cap. VI, pág. 146. Ed Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1928
Jachino, Carlo. Ritmo Musical, Enciclopedia Italiana. Vol. XXIX, Pág. 460, Nos. 13 y 37.

(3) Riemann, H. Composición musical, cap. I, par. 4, pág. 32. Ed. Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1923.

Riemann, H. Fraseo musical, 2a. parte, cap. IV, págs 107-108. Ed. Labor S.A. Barcelona. 1929.

Martínez Soques, Fernando. Método de canto gregoriano,. pág. 192, Nº 176. Ed. Pedagógica, Barcelona, 1943.

(4) Martínez Soques, Fernando. Op. cit. pág. 149.

(5) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit. Parte tercera, Cap. XIII, págs. 141 Nº 144.

(6) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit, págs. 177-180.

(7) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit, pág. 149.

(8) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit, pág. 143, Nº 146. B.

(9) Riemann, H. Composición musical, Cap. I, ej. 20, pág. 36; ej. 22, pág 37; ej. 32, pág. 45.
Riemann, H. Fraseo musical, cap. I, pág. 75
Riemann, H. Teoría general de la música, cap. III, págs 129, 130. Ed. Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1945
Jachino, C. Op. cit. pág. 460, Nº 6

(10) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit, pág. 149, Nº 148..

(11) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit, pág. 143, Nº 146, B

(12) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit., Tercera Parte, cap. XII, Nº 140, pág. 137.

(13) Riemann, H. Composición musical, cap I, par.3, pág. 21, Ed. Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1929.

(14) Martínez Soques, F. Op. cit. cap. XIV, pág. 145 ss.

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