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Gregorian Chant in




© Canticum Novum
Bogota, Colombia 2003

The Groups become to be part of greater rhythmic structures that, because of the extension of the musical piece and due to the length of the text, or to the melodic development that the composer has intended, can contain clauses, sentence members and periods.


The clause is the smallest ordination of groups:

It contains one or more of these groups, and it is separated from another clause by the smallest dividing bar.

Examples of clauses

  • clauses of a single group:

  • clauses of a single extended group:
  • clauses of two or more groups or extended groups:

  • There are clauses that go chained with some others because of the rhythm:

  • There are clauses that, being conclusive for reason of their last long note, are linked rhythmically with the following clause:

  • There are conclusive and not connected clauses

  • There are conclusive clauses although they don't end in a long note:

  • A clause can finish in arsis and, consequently, is not conclusive, but rather he has its rhythmic resolution in the following clause. In this case one can speak well of sub clauses.

  • The long notes at the end of the clauses are, by nature, of thetic character, although they coincide with melodic ascent:

It ends with punctuated note

Final with an episematic note

The clauses keep such a narrow relationship to each other that the interpreters should not breathe in the smallest dividing lines, as soon as it is possible.


The sentence member embraces two or more clauses in an unified group.

The sentence members are characterized to be very conclusive, as much to the melodic behavior as to the demands of the sense of the text.

They are separated by the median dividing bar, and their biggest independence allows the interpreter to breathe in this bars.

There are sentence members whose melody and text, for their continuity, don't give place so that they are configured with clauses. Even more, numerous members do not differ of the clauses. The most common endings are with one or two long notes.

Examples of sentence members.

  • It is sometimes the penultimate note the one that lengthens in the end:

  • A sentence member very rarely finishes with non lengthened sounds:

  • The sentence members can be connected by a compound time:

  • The endings of the sentence members are always thetic, even if they coincide with melodic ascent:

  • The most frequent case is that the sentence members contain two, three, four clauses, but there are events in which sentence members contain more:


The period is the complete musical sentence. It is separated from another period by the biggest dividing line (a simple time of silence) or by the double dividing line (a simple time of silence with possibility of being prolonged).

The periods are perfectly complete, conclusive and autonomous as matter of rhythmic synthesis.

  • There are periods that contain members of sentences and these, in turn, contain clauses:

Bimember period and members of two clauses each one.
  • There are periods that contain members some of which are divided in clauses and other are not:
Bi member period with an undivided member in clauses and the other one divided.
  • There are periods none of whose members are divided in clauses:

  • There are periods that, for the melodic continuity and for the sense of the text, don't require to be structured with members but with clauses:

  • There are periods for themselves, which means that they are not structured with base in members or clauses:

  • There are periods that contain more than two members:

NOTICE: The fact that the periods are independent in themselves, like an object of a rhythmic synthesis, doesn't mean that they are detached in the superior plane of the composition order present in all the pieces, from those that have two periods until those that, for the text or for the melodic development, have many of them as it is the case of Gloria in excelsis, the Tracts, the Sequences and others.


The Great Rhythm is the classification of the groups and extended groups that conform the period, specifying, in the first place, which is the arsic compound time more outstanding of all of the period; he receives the name of APEX (in Latin apex) or CLIMAX.

The factor that impacts more in the election of the apex it is the height, since it has such character at the highest compound time in the sentence.

The apex can be in any place of the period, be toward the beginning, toward the middle and still toward the end of this.

The compound times that are before the apex have tendency to impulse and they form, together with this, the ARSIC or PROTASIS phase. The compound times that are after the apex have tendency to the descend, and they form the THETIC or APODOSIS phase.

When the period embraces more than two members, the apex is looked for in each one of these and then the main apex of the period is selected. Outside of the main apex, the other ones are considered secondary apexes, with their arsic phases and secondary thetic ones:

When a period doesn't contain members but clauses, the synthesis is carried out looking for the secondary apexes of the clauses:

In the same way it should proceed when the periods contain members which some of them are divided in clauses and other are not:

In the periods that embrace members and these, in turn, clauses, you can proceed in three synthesis planes: with clauses, with members and with the period.

The apex of a clause can be found in any moment of the development of this:

Apex at the beginning

Apex at the end

The same thing happens with the apex of a sentence member:

Apex at the beginning

Apex at the end

Apex toward the center

The apex of the period, that is to say, the main one, can be in any moment of the melodic development of this:

Apex at the beginning

Apex at the end

There are occasions in whose the election of the apex, either in a clause, in a member or in a period, cannot be so obvious because it should be more than a compound time that stands out.

a. - In some cases one can keep in mind the text:

The apex of the clause coincides with the tonic accent
of the proparoxytone word.

b. - In the case of simple melodic replicas, these are which stand out since they are insistences and non echoes. Those that are thesis necessarily, are excepted:

c. - It should be the case when two or more compound times begin to the same height, but the apex relapses in the one that conserves the most height:

The apex relapses in the compound time that conserves its height
while the following one gives beginning to a descending progression.

The sharp sound have more and more importance due to the one
descent of the subordinate melodic line.

d. - it can occur that a nuance makes stand out more a compound time that another:

The horizontal episemata highlights at the fourth compound time
over the second.

The tristropha highlights at the fourth compound time

These same factors can define the apex between two or more clauses, members, and in the period, when there are two or maybe more outstanding compound times:

The apex of the second clause is apex of the member because
it coincides with the counter-accent of the paroxytonic word and, even, he adorns it.

The apex of the second clause is the member's apex, as an
insistent melodic reproduction.

The apex relapses in the melodic insistence, inside
an undivided member in clauses.

The apex of the first clause is that of the sentence member, not only
because the episemata that highlights him in connection with that of the second,
but because it shines very enhanced in front of the melodic descent that continues him immediately.

The sentence member's apex is that of the second clause
highlighted by the tristropha.

The apex relapses in the compound time tinged with
horizontal episemata in this undivided sentence member in clauses.

Bi member period whose apex relapses in
the insistent melodic reproduction.

This period with single clauses has their apex in the one
compound time that stands out more for the melodic descent that continues him immediately

Trimember period whose apex is the compound time tinged by the horizontal episemata.

It can be exhibition for duplicate, and even for triplicate of a clause that contains the member's apex or of the period. The apex of the last exhibition prevails to imply bigger insistence. (1)

Exhibition for duplicate of a clause.
The member's apex relapses in the second exhibition.

Exhibition for triplicate, with initial variation, of a clause.
The member's apex relapses in the third exhibition.

It can be exhibition for duplicate of a sentence member. The apex of the period is that of the second exhibition, because it implies insistence.

The period, as was before scored, can contain several members and be very extensive.

Period of four members whose apex is in the third member's beginning,
not only to be insistent replica of the clauses that precede it,
but because of the enhance of the distropha with later repercussion.

NOTE: The apex, be it that of a clause, a member or one period, it is not necessarily the compound time whose first sound is the highest in the melodic environment, but which does contain the most preponderant melodic turn:


As they allow it to see the different stages of the rhythmic synthesis, the Gregorian melodies are developed through multiple possibilities of rhythmic classification, without subjection to fixed outlines neither symmetrical dispositions. Therefore, they constitute a form of free rhythm.


Example Nº 1

A. - elementary Rhythms

B. - Groups

C. - Great rhythm

Example Nº 2

A. - elementary Rhythms

B. - Groups

C. - Great Rhythm


The sound material with arsic character requires to be interpreted with vivacity, animation and brightness. The sound material with thetic character requires serenity, appeasement and somber tone.

With this rhythmic classification it is closely united the factor of the dynamics. This way, as the melody goes approaching to an apex, the intensity goes increasing. All arsic phase goes in crescendo.

On the contrary, as the melody goes moving away from the apex, the intensity goes diminishing. All thetic phase goes in decrescendo.

In the same sense, the rhythmic classification is conjugated with the agogic. So, as the melodic development approaches to the apex, it is needed a more agile restitution and, as she goes toward the end, a more rested restitution should be implemented. To the arsic phase it corresponds accelerando. To the thetic phase it corresponds ritardando.

The apexes can be enhanced with a subtle decrease of the mobility.

All these shades, such those of the rhythm as those of intensity and mobility, should be carried out with great moderation.


(1) Riemann, Hugo. Composición musical, Primera parte, cap. III, págs. 128 ss.,. Ed. Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1923.

(2) Riemann, Hugo. Fraseo musical, Primera parte, Cap. III, Pag. 42. Ed. Labor S.A., Barcelona, 1928

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Bogotá, Colombia.



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