Friday, October 14, 2011

How to sing chant?

The Church is riven over this; not really but it should be if we actually took the General Instruction of the Roman Missal seriously and gave preference to Chant.

The problem is: how should chant be sung? This video shows two possibilities.
Solesmes gave us the regular form of the first example, where each note is given the same value, but with singers skill subtlely interpreting the text and music. This, the Solemnes Method developed in the mid nineteenth century. Accounts of singing chant before that, at least in France, suggest that it was sung very slowly but notes were give different  lengths according to their grouping's, thus a single  note was sung as a crochet but a tied or grouped set of notes would be treated as a set of half notes or quavers, this is what happens in the second example.

Interestingly, manuals on musical decoration of secular music from the sixteenth century would also point to trills or other decorations occurring in one beat, even if they contain three or more notes. Why should this not have also happened in chant, even at early period? Another issue raised by the Rhetorical Method concerns the freedom the musician has to add non-written decorations and embellishments. This seems to have been an issue with reformed monastic orders such as the Cistercians who despised not only unnecessary decoration in their buildings but also their music.

There are some informative  comments on the video here.


Andrew Leach said...

I strongly recommend inviting Nick Gale of S George's Cathedral Southwark to give a workshop on the Chant. He's come to Eastbourne a couple of times and it's been thoroughly entertaining and enlightening. The full Solemnes method of comparatively slow equal notes complete with icti and lengthening episemae is falling behind modern scholarship. His interpretation of Christus Vincit was quite exciting!

About Nick Gale

Fr Ray Blake said...

Andrew, Our own chantress favours the Solemnes method and has studied both at Solemnes and continues now under the direction of the St Cecelia's chant mistress.

I am glad that brick by brick the liturgy is being reconstructed. Nick is a good thing, I understand he will be here tomorrow.

Gigi said...

I have an inkling that a workshop on the Chant would be welcomed in St MM's parish.
Personally I like the purity of the Solemnes. Those Benedictines knew a thing or two about Chant.

Tom said...

Not sure which method is 'best', but I very much prefer the Solesmes interpretation.

Ma Tucker said...

Solemnes seems more prayerful.

Physiocrat said...

Solemnes can sound a bit four-square but the alternative is by comparison whimsical and more like folk-song music.

Mary Berry's approach was to read the neumes so as to modify, subtly, the regularity of the earlier Solemnes style.

This was based on study of the documents in the libraries at St Gallen and elsewhere, which give the neumes as shown in the Graduale Triplex, which was published by Solemnes in 1979.

The acoustic qualities of the building in which the liturgy is performed need to be taken into consideration when singing the chant.

Anonymous said...

Our parish choir attend various Gregorian chant courses. The most recent was with Dom Ives Marie, the choir master of Solesmes.

It is important to remember that there is no one fixed method of singing the chant. The Solesmes Method, by nature of the fact that they sing the chant daily, is constantly evolving and changing.

The key to singing chant is that it isn't about a set formula applied to the interpretation of the neumes. The rhythm of the word and the meaning of the text dictate how a sentence should be sung. For example, that means you do not automatically double the length of a neume with a horizontal episema over it or sit on the vertical episema of a salicus until you run out of breath.

Any interpretation must always come back to the text. It is prayer after all and not performance.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think that during the 5/600 years when our chant repertoire was being formed there was a constant tension between embellishment / performance and simplicity / prayer. Hence the stripping away of decorations by the Cistercians, Carthusians and the mendicant orders.
It was a search for "participatio actuoso", the more decorative the less p/a.

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