From its birth, the Christian music was a sung
prayer, which had to be realized not in a purely material way,
but with devotion, or as Saint Paul was saying: "singing
to God in your heart". Text is the reason for being
of Gregorian Chant. Actually the singing of the text is based
on the principle of which —according to Saint Augustine—
"who sings, prays twice". The Gregorian Chant will
never be understood without the text which has priority on the
melody and is the one that gives sense to this last. Therefore,
on having to interpret the Gregorian Chant, the singers must understand
very well the sense of the text. In consequence, any type of operatic
voice in which the splendor of the interpreters is tried to be
showed must be avoided.
- It is a vocal music, which means that it
is sung a capella without accompaniment of instruments.
- It is sung to the unison —only one
note simultaneously— which means that all the singers
enliven the same melody. This way of singing is named Monody.
Many authors affirm that the singing of mixed choir should not
be admitted since they consider that two voices sing in octave.
Nevertheless, bearing in mind that both men and women and children
must have equal opportunity to take part in the Liturgy, they
recommend that in order to follow this principle of Monody,
the chant be interpreted in alternating form.
- It is sung with free rhythm, according to
the development of the literary text and not by measured schemes,
as might be those of a march, a dance, a symphony (see the section
in which the Rhythm is treated
- It is a modal music written in scales
of very particular sounds, which serve to wake up varied feelings,
like withdrawal, happiness, sadness, serenity (See the section
- Its melody is syllabic if every syllable
of the text corresponds to a sound and is melismatic
when to a syllable several sounds correspond. There are melismas
that contain more than 50 of them for only one syllable.
- The text is in Latin, language of the
Roman Empire spread over Europe (the romances languages did
not exist). These texts were taken of the Psalms and of other
Ancient Testament books; some of them were taken from the Gospels
and others were of own, generally anonymous inspiration. Nevertheless
some liturgical pieces exist in Greek language: Kyrie eleison,
Agios o Theos (Liturgy of Good Friday)...
- The Gregorian Chant is written on a stave
of four lines, in contrast to the stave of the current music.
The notes have different names: square point (punctum quadratum)
or virgas if they appear individually, or neumes if they turn
out to be grouped; they have equal value for its duration with
the exception of: those that have an horizontal epicema, the
previous note to the quilisma and the second note of the Salicus
which duration extends lightly more with a sense of expressiveness,
and the notes that have a point after them which has the duration
of a simple note. (This will be explained in detail in the "Notation"
The Stage of Gregorian Chant
As it was said previously, the Gregorian Chant
was born to be interpreted inside the Liturgy of the Church. Therefore
the Liturgy is the natural environment for Gregorian chant.
1. The Mass: In the celebration
of the Eucharist two principal groups of pieces exist:
a) The Ordinary: It is composed by texts that
are repeated in all the Masses.
- Kyrie Eleison
- Gloria in excelsis Deo
- Sanctus and Benedictus
- Agnus Dei
b) The Proprium: It is constituted by pieces that are sung according
to the liturgical time or according to the feast that is celebrated.
- Introit: chant of entrance to initiate
- Gradual, Hallelujah or Tract after the
- Offertory to accompany the procession of
c) In addition to these two groups of pieces, there are others
that are sung as recitatives with some inflections (cantillatio):
such are the prayers, the readings, the preface and the Eucharistic
prayer, Our Father. These are pieces that for its simplicity
could be executed by the celebrant or by persons who have no
special skills for the singing.
2. The Divine Office: In the
monasteries, the monks did (and still they do) a break in his
works and were meeting regularly at certain hours of the day to
do their prayer.
- Matins: Or
watching in the night. The office of matins consists
of a hymn, psalms, readings, scriptural and patristic, and canticles
suitable to the spirit of the midnight hour when one awaits
the arrival of the Bridegroom (Mt 25:6; Mk 13:35)
- Lauds: It
is celebrated at daybreak when the sun is dispelling
the night and the new day is born. The Church has always considered
the sun to be a symbol of Christ rising from the dead. This
prayer is called Lauds because it is a laudatory liturgy of
praise in the early morning light.
- Terce: 9 AM. A Latin term
for third hour, is prayed at mid-morning. Traditionally it is
dedicated to the coming of the Holy Spirit which took place
at mid-morning in the account found in the Acts of the Apostles.
- Sext: 12 M. Another of the
little hours, is Latin for the sixth hour. It takes place at
midday when the sun is at its apex and one has become a bit
weary and mindfulness is all but impossible. It is a time for
earnest prayer to resist temptation, to keep from being overcome
by the demands and pressures of life.
- None: 3 PM. Refers to the
ninth hour, roughly mid-afternoon, and is the third of the little
hours. It is a time to pray for perseverance, to pray for the
strength to continue bearing fruit as one reaches one's prime
and needs to keep going.
- Vespers: 6 PM. Celebrated
at day's end, takes on the character of evening. The day is
almost over, our work is done. There are appropriate hymns,
psalms, readings and canticles for celebrating this vesper hour.
- Complines: Comes from the
Latin which means to complete. It is the last common prayer
before retiring for the night. It marks the completion of our
day and heralds life's end. (1)
The repertoire of chants for the Divine Office
- The singing of the psalms
- Simple recitatives —cantillatio—
of readings and prayers.
- Antiphons of invitatorio
- Antiphons sung before and after the psalms.
- Te Deum
- Chants of the Old and of the New Testament
(Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis)
- Tropes: Texts inserted to official prayers
- Some melodies adorned with changed melismas
that were added to the Hallelujah.
- Sequences: as for example the Sequence of
Easter, Sequence of deceased...
- Processional chants: Procession of
Palms, Procession to the Tomb, Procession with the Holy sacrament,
abbey of the Genesee. Site on Internet. http://www.geneseeabbey.org,
July 07, 2002