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 interpretation.
“From the beginning of the Church,
the early Christians adopted the Jewish psalter as their own.
They saw the figure of Christ portrayed in many of the psalms:
as a royal descendant of King David and as the expected Messiah;
as the Man of Sorrows bearing the sins of humanity; as the truly
innocent and righteous man pursued by the wicked; and above
all as the only-begotten Son of God.
With their expressions of hope, trust in God and praise for
all His gifts to us, as well as anguish and desolation, the
psalms are readily entered into by the practicing Christian.
The 150 psalms in the psalter have thus been seen by Christians
throughout the centuries as a compendium of prayers and meditations
encompassing the entire range of Christian belief.
We can understand, therefore, why the Christian monastic communities
which sprang up from the 3rd century onwards likewise adopted
the psalter as their prayer book” (1)
NOTE: The present article
is taken entirely and translated from MARTÍNEZ SOQUES, FERNANDO.
Método de canto gregoriano. Ed. Pedagogica, Barcelona,
1943. pages. 227-246
Psalmody is meant to be the chant of
the psalms and canticles of the Church.
Verses and hemistiches: The
psalms are composed of verses and each verse is made up of two
hemistiches, separated to each other by an asterisk (*).
If the first hemistich has a considerable extension, it admits
the flexa that is indicated by a cross (†).
Parátum cor ejus speráre in Dómino,
† confirmátum est cor ejus *
non commovébitur donec despíciat inimicos suos.
Díxit Dóminus Dómino meo: * sede
a dextris meis.
Each of the eight modes has their special
formula that is repeated in each verse. The psalm must be sung
in the same mode of the antiphon that accompanies him.
A complete psalmodic formula consists
- intonation (initium)
- tenor (dominant)
- the flexa (in the first hemistich),
- the median (at the middle of the verse,
- termination (at the end of the verse, terminatio).
Intonation: It is the small
section at the beginning of the psalm that joins the antiphon
with the tenor or recitative. It consists of two, three or
four notes, isolated or forming neumes, corresponding to two
or three syllables. The intonation is sung only in the first
verse of the psalm. The other verses begin in the tenor.
However, in Magnificat, Benedictus
and Nunc dimittis canticles, each verse begins with
the intonation although for the verses Quod parasti
of the Nunc dimittis, Requiem aeternam and
Et lux of deceased office, for being too brief,
intonation is not made.
When several psalms are sung with a
single antiphon, the intonation will be given at the beginning
of each one of them, whenever they finish with the Gloria Patri.
Intonation for the eight modes:
The first verse of Magnificat has special intonation
in the 2nd and 8th modes.
Formulas for terminations: The different
intonations of the antiphons have given place to the diverse final
cadences in each mode, in order to facilitate the intonation of
the antiphon, when psalm ends.
The termination of each particular case is indicated
in two ways:
a) placing next to the modal number of the antiphon
a letter that indicates the final note of the termination: A,
B, C, E, F, G
Uppercase letters are used when the
last note of the termination is at the same time the final in
the mode; otherwise lower-cases are used.
When several terminations have the
same end, the letters take, in their right superior part, indexes
that distinguish them: g, g2, g3, g4.
In this example, the 7 indicates
the mode to which belongs the antiphon and the letter c the
own termination in this particular case. Also, being letter
c in lower-case, it tells us that the final note of the termination
is C, and different from the fundamental in the seventh mode.
In this new example it is indicated
that it belongs to the first mode and that the final note of
the termination is D, the one which, in turn, is fundamental
for this mode. The number 2, placed in the right superior part,
indicates which of the terminations, ended up in D, has
to be used.
b) Which is the own termination,
in each case, is indicated likewise by the vocals euouae
—abbreviation of saeculorum. Amen—, at
the end of each antiphon with the melody characteristic of the
In this example you can see the
conclusion of the antiphon Tu gloria showing the final
cadence of its corresponding psalm:
Classification of cadences according
to the accent: They can be of one accent or of two.
Cadences of one accent are those in
whose melodic formula the last main or secondary accent are adapted.
Cadences of two accents are those in
whose melodic formula the last two main or secondary accents are
Both the medians and the terminations
can be of one accent or of two. The flexa is always of one accent.
NOTE: The interval
corresponding to the flexa is of one tone; only when the dominant
or tenor is immediately on the semitone, the interval is of one
tone and a half. That is to say, with dominant a or d,
the flexa has a one tone interval; and with dominant c or
f is of one tone and a half.
Pragmatic rules to distinguish
the cadences of one accent and of two accents: The cadence
of one accent that is the shortest has for foundation the paroxytone
word, for example lége (' •); and it necessarily
consists of two essentials notes: the first one accented —melodic
accent—; and the second one unstressed.
The accent can go preceded of one or
more preparation notes:
|Without preparation notes
|With a preparation note
|With two preparation notes
|With three preparation notes
The first preparation note is always inferior
to the tenor, except the median —named solemn—
of the fifth mode, and that of the paschal mode.
The cadence of two accents has like foundation
the double paroxytone word, for example córde meo.
It always includes four essentials notes: two
accented, followed each of them by one unstressed.
All cadence of two accents needs
four notes different from the tenor; of those, the first —melodic
accent—, is upper than the tenor. This cadence never has
Rules to distinguish the two
classes of cadences:
- All the cadences of four notes are of two accents
whose first note is upper than the tenor.
- They are of one accent:
- All the cadences of two notes
- All the longer cadences whose first note
is lower than the tenor
The proparoxytone words in the cadences: When
the cadences have proparoxytone words, a note that corresponds
usually (there are some exceptions) to the penultimate syllable
of this class of words is added, for each accent. This syllable
is represented previously by the white note. The note of this
penultimate syllable of the proparoxytone words is usually after
In the cadences whose penultimate place
goes occupied by a clivis, the white note —which is before
this neume— corresponds to the accented syllable and the
clivis corresponds to the penultimate one.
The added note, in this last case,
is named as premature note of accent.
The penultimate syllable of the proparoxytone
word is sung to the unison with the following one.
Exceptions of this rule (it is executed to the
unison with the previous one) are: the last accent in the 7th
mode and, in general, all last accent that proceeds for interval
of a descending semitone.
The premature note of the accent follows
the general rule.
Adaptation of the hemistiches of few syllables:
When the text is too short and there are more notes than syllables
in the cadences, have in mind the following rules:
a) The median: it begins in the tenor
knitting together the necessary number of notes in the first
syllable of the text, so that the cadence turns out steady.
b) Termination: only the number
of notes corresponding to the number of syllables are used,
making always coincide the accent of the text with the last
How to sing the cadences:
When you go from the tenor to the cadences it
should be controlled lightly the movement so that it can be considered
that the tenor has been written as reciting and the cadences
This slight movement change, practiced with discretion,
gives to the psalmody a special charm and a pleasant variety.
Relieve the accents, elevating them with grace and reinforcing
the voice a little in the accented syllables. It should be avoided
to give bigger intensity to the last syllable of the cadences
as well as the precipitation of the previous syllables.
NOTE: In many chant books, the syllables corresponding
to the accents of the cadences, are written in bold
characters while the preparation syllables are in italic
The pauses of the cadences:
In the case of the flexa, the complete value should be given to
the note with point (two simple times) and it should be tried
not to make pause. The pause of the median will be that of a simple
time as it corresponds to the value of the biggest dividing line.
Tessitura: In the chant of the psalms of
the Divine Office, it is convenient that the dominant in all the
modes be at the same melodic level.
The election of the tessitura or melodic level
depends on the singers.
The A of the pitch is frequently the melodic
grade adapted for the recitative note of the psalms.
As for the antiphon that accompanies the psalm,
their dominant note must coincide with the elected note for the
tenor of the psalm, and with relationship to this dominant is
elected the tone. This operation will be repeated whenever, finished
a psalm and repeated its antiphon, a new antiphon must begin.
Example: Domínica ad Vésperas
In this case, if A is the note
of the recitative of the psalm, given with the diapason, in her
the dominant D shall be sung in the seventh mode
to which belongs the 1st antiphon of vespers and, therefore, its
From the conventional D you
will descend to the B —first note of the melody—
and, begun the antiphon, the psalm will be intoned. Repeated the
antiphon, after concluding the psalm, the same operation will
be made for the following antiphon Magna opera Dómini,
considering in this case the A of the pitch as a C
—the dominant note in the third mode, in which this antiphon
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE PSALMS
Fourth mode, dominant D
(It is the fourth called “transposed” mode)
For the other verses
Tone “in directum”
Solemn or adorned Medians
1st and 6th
2nd and 8th
Exercises: The following exercises will consist
respectively on the chant of the psalms 111 and 112 in 3rd
and 4th modes of Dominica ad vesperas.
Please Indicate in them the intonation, the tenor,
the flexa, the median and the termination.
Discover if the cadences are of one or of two
accents, if they have preparation notes, etc.
2. Potens in terra erit semen
éjus: * generatio rectórum
3. Glória et divitiæ ín
dómo éjus: * et
justitia éjus mánet in sæculum sæculi.
4. Exórtum est in ténebris
lúmen rectis: * Miséricors,
et miserátur, et justus.
5. Jucundus homo qui miserétur
et cómmodat, dispónet
sermónes suos in judício:
* quia in ætérnum non commovébitur.
6. In memória aetérna
érit justus: * ab auditióne
mala non timébit.
7. Paratum cor éjus speráre
in Dómino, confirmátum
est cor éjus: * non commovébitur
donec despíciat inimícos suos.
8. Dispérsit, dédit paupéribus:
justítia éjus manet
in sæculum sæculi:
* cornu ejus exaltábitur en glória.
9. Glória Patri, et Fílio,
* et Spirítui Sancto.
10. Sicut érat in princípio
et nunc, et sémper, *
et in sæcula sæculorum Amen.
2. Sit nómen Dómini benedíctum,
* ex hoc nunc, et usque in sæculum.
3. A solis ortu usque ad
occásum, * laudábile nomen
4. Excélsus super omnes gentes
Dóminus, * et super cælos
5. Quis sicut Dóminus Deus noster,
qui in altis hábitat,
* et humilia réspicit in caelo et
9. Glória Patri,
et Fílio, * et Spirítui
10. Sicut erat in princípio,
et nunc, et semper,
* et in sæcula sæculorum.
(1) The Monastery
of Christ in the Desert http://www.christdesert.org/noframes/chant/psalms.html