Alternative musical notations in Chant home
In the sources in which Gregorian chant has been preserved,
unintentionally a history of the conflict between letter and spirit can be
red in an exemplary way. The problem the philosopher Plato (427 – 347 B.C.)
already had with script (see: Phaedrus) can be recovered in the Gregorian
chant sources continually again and continually in an other way.
Essentially the following thought
underlies that problem: “when something is being fixed it gets lost
irrevocably, yet we seem eager to fix it just in order to preserve it”, or
more generally: “when the truth or the sense of life is being fixed, then
that truth or that sense gets lost definitively, yet we seem eager to fix
that truth”. When it concerns music in general, or Gregorian chant in
particular, this means: “When music is being fixed, then that music gets lost
definitively, yet we want to fix music just in order to preserve it”.
Therefore a remarkable paradox lies in
this thought. For the Carolingians who fixed Gregorian chant wanted to
achieve by that fixation that Gregorian chant just not should get lost; on
the contrary, they thereby wanted to achieve that it should continue to exist
all over their empire in the same way, by which the unity in that empire
should be promoted.
In a certain sense they did achieve
that, for Gregorian chant has been preserved up to the present. But Gregorian
chant having been fixed that Gregorian chant has not remained unchanged. On
the contrary, every new way to fix the repertory resulted in a change of that
repertory itself continually again.
Therefore Gregorian chant as we still
know it at present (roughly having been formed during the so-called “Rijke
Roomse leven” (Rich Roman life) from let us say 1908 until 1974) has, except
in a formal sense, not to do so much with Gregorian chant which the
Carolingians wanted to fix. Also the unity of the Carolingian Empire has not
outlived the Carolingians indeed.
In the history of Gregorian chant in
outline seven periods can be pointed out from the perspective of letter and
spirit, periods which cannot strictly be separated and each of which bears
something of the other in itself:
1. The period of the oral tradition;
roughly the period from Constantine the Great till Charlemagne. In this
period Gregorian chant “came into being”. But that “coming into being” was by
itself already a transformation of Jewish, Greek and Roman traditions from as
many liturgical, folkloristic and classical contexts.
View at the oral
tradition; gregorian, ambrosian and old roman chant
transcriptions of 11th-century manuscripts.
2. The period of the fixation of the
song-texts only; roughly from 600 till 1000. In this period the “original”
freedom and variation in choosing the song-texts were changed more and more
into a code of law with precise song-texts for specific liturgical moments.
Mont Blandin, early
9th century (Brussels, Royal Library 10127-10144)
3. The period of the fixation in
adiastematic neumes; roughly from 800 till 1200. In this period the
“original” freedom and variation in the melodies were fixed further and
further in pricesely dictated melodies.
Laon, early 10th
century (Laon, Municipal Library Codex 249)
4. The period of the fixation in
diastematic neumes; roughly from 1000 till 1400. In this period the
“original” freedom and variation in the ornaments and style of the repertory
were uniformed further and further to one style without ornaments.
Dijon, early 11th
century (Montpellier, Library of the medical faculty, Codex H 159)
5. The period of the revision of the
repertory; roughly from 1100 till 1600. In this period the repertory meanwhile
appeared to be alienated so far from its “original” vitality that it was
adapted more and more to new liturgical and musical fashions.
Minoritenkonvent, 1299 (Köln, Dombibliothek, Codex 1001b)
6. The period of the “new” Gregorian
chant; roughly from 1400 till 1900. In this period European national and
local self-confidence are awaking and Gregorian chant is going hand in hand
with the new liturgical, folkloristic and classical traditions, to succumb to
it finally in spite of (or just thanks to?) the invention of the art of
(between 1615 and 1901)
7. The period of the reconstruction of
the repertory; roughly from 1800 till now. In this period the “original”
Gregorian chant is again being sought after. But this seeking particularly
concentrates on already codified manuscripts from the fourth period. Besides
this quest is made from neo-romantically and modern shaped western ears,
having as main object to set up a new code of law for the repertory.
Graduale Lagal (The Hague,
Consequently, when musical notation is
concerned, there is continually a question of adapted musical notations for
an object or a target group for which the existing traditions have lost their
When the “original” Gregorian chant is
concerned, one could defend from a certain point of view that only the
musical notations from the periods 3, 4 and 7 are relevant for a
reconstruction. From these three periods a number of examples has been
by means of the end of the offertory “Deus enim firmavit”.
When the spirit of the “original”
Gregorian chant is concerned, we are especially committed to the first three periods.
However, except in sources which are illegible for us from a musical point of
view, these periods are hardly accessible any longer in the West. In the
East, on the other hand, are still traditions in existence functioning under
circumstances which are allied to those of Gregorian chant from before the
Carolingians. In order to trace the spirit of Gregorian chant one has to
listen therefore to the traditions from particularly the Balkans, Turkey,
Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran and India.
Amsterdam, September 2003
(translation Reinier van der Lof)