(BEING CONTINUED FROM 22/09/14 )
Gregorian Chant is the official music of the Catholic Church as Latin is her official language. No other melodies translate into music so perfectly the true meaning and feeling of the prayers of the Catholic liturgy.
For many centuries it has been the Church’s custom to pray in Latin. Her prayers were declaimed, at first, not in an ordinary speaking voice but on a musical tone, so that the words might be heard at a greater distance and should be clothed with an added beauty and solemnity. Gradually this musical declamation became melodious, moving up and down in accordance with the natural inflections of the speaking voice, but always on musical tones. Thus,little by little, melodies were evolved which took the exact form of the words and phrases of the prayers.
This music used by the early Christians was derived in part from that which had been used by the Jews from time immemorial, and partly from the musical system of the Greeks and Romans, but as the Christian liturgy grew richer and more elaborate, new melodies of surpassing beauty grew up out of those early traditional phrases, and were sung by the Christians of those days.
Pope Saint Gregory was a great lover of music. He had been a monk of Saint Benedict before he became Pope and had learned to practise the liturgical chant of the Church. Every day, seven times a day, with the other monks, he sang the divine office, praising God in song, and praying for all those people who had to live and work outside the monastery.
One night Pope Saint Gregory fell asleep and dreamed that he saw the Church under the form of a muse, clothed in exquisite vesture.She was occupied in writing out chants, and, as she wrote, she drew to her all her children from every country of the world and gathered them under the folds of her mantle. And, behold, on the mantle was written plainly all the principles of the art of music, — the notes, the neums, the modes, and also a great variety of melodies. When Saint Gregory awoke he interpreted this vision as a sign
from Heaven and undertook to collect together all the beautiful melodies that had been used in the Church since the days of the Apostles, arranging them in order and writing new ones where these were required. These melodies which have come down to us under the name of Gregorian Chant are one of the most precious heritages in the treasure house of the Church, and all her children,young and old, should love to sing them under the folds of her mantle.
The melodies which Saint Gregory collected were of a beauty so divine and possessed so great a power to charm and to convert souls that the people thought that they must have been dictated by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Peter the Deacon, secretary to the Pope, claimed to have seen his Master at work while a dove sat on his shoulder. That is why we often see Saint Gregory pictured as dictating the melodies to his secretary while the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove whispers into the ear of the Saint.
After collecting the melodies, Saint Gregory founded schools of sacred music so that all the people might learn to sing them, and in singing them learn how to love and adore God. But that was not all. The missionaries who went out to the barbarians carried with them Saint Gregory’s melodies and instructed them’ not only with words but also with song. Thus it came about that Saint Augustine converted the people of England, and Saint Boniface the people of Germany.
Lifted on the wings of song, these rough tribes became gentle, and holy. Later,
when the Emperor Charlemagne founded schools throughout his empire, he insisted that the Gregorian Chant should have an important place in the studies,
and should be taught correctly. He, therefore, asked that some of the Pope’s own cantors be sent from Rome to teach the Church singers of the various cities of his empire so that they might all sing the melodies correctly as at Rome. This request was granted, and from that time on the Gregorian melodies spread throughout every country of Europe.
For twelve hundred years or more these were practically the only melodies to which the prayers of the Church were sung. Sometimes new feasts would be created and music had to be found, but the people of those times preferred to adapt the ancient melodies to the new words, so great was their veneration for the Gregorian Chants. In modern times many people have thought they could improve on the ancient chants by composing melodies of their own invention, but no one has ever yet succeeded in writing music so beautiful or so holy as that which the Holy Spirit whispered into the ear of Pope Saint Gregory.
This is the reason why Pope after Pope, and Council after Council of the Church has insisted on the importance of preserving the Gregorian melodies,
until at last in 1903 the rule was laid down by Pope Pius X to the effect that the Gregorian chants are the supreme type and model for all Church music and that ” the more closely a musical composition approaches the Gregorian chant (in form, inspiration, and character) the more sacred ¾nd liturgical it becomes,and the further it departs from that supreme model the less worthy it is of its holy function. ”
POPE SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT
dictating melodies to his secretary Peter the Deacon.
(From a Manuscript of the Tenth Century).
It is not only because of its beauty that the Church attaches such importance to sacred music; it is because it has a holy purpose to perform, namely, to ” lift and form the minds of the faithful to all sanctity.” 1 That is why every Catholic child should study these melodies and learn to sing them with reverence. To sing the prayers of the Church is even more holy than to recite them. It is one of the highest forms of worship which we can offer to Almighty God.
Gregorian Chant is not difficult to learn; in many ways it is easier than modern music. The tonal relationships are simpler. We do not meet with any augmented or diminished intervals nor sudden changes of key by modulation.
The difficulty of singing the chant well is a spiritual rather than a material one,
because we cannot sing it well unless we learn to pray in music. For this music is not a law unto itself. It is a musical interpretation of the prayers of the Church. Its single purpose is “to give life and power to the thoughts” 2 — that is to make us understand them better and carry them out in our lives. In order to do this, the music follows closely the form of the Latin words and the Latin sentences. It follows them so closely that it hardly seems
as though the words had been put to music but rather as though the music had sprung out of the word as a flower springs out of its stem. Other types of music have developed around other languages such as English, French, and German,but the Gregorian chant sprang out of the Latin language, and we cannot understand the melody or the rhythm of Gregorian chant without knowing something of Latin.
In Latin, the accent was an ” elevation ” of the voice, a rising inflection. The accent of a word, as we know, is the principal syllable of that word, or the principal word in a little group of words.
a) Where would you place the accent in the following English words?
(TO BE CONTINUED)
* Pope Pius X.
» Pope Pius X
according to the principles of DOM ANDRE MOCQUEREAU OF SOLESMES
BY JUSTINE WARD
source THE CATHOLIC EDUCATION PRESS