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The Solesmes Chant Tradition

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8
ARTICLES
Te Solesmes Chant Tradition: Te Original Neumatic
Signs and Practical Performance Today
By Charles Cole
Eaii\ Soiisxis
he real starting point for any study of the Gregorian Chant of Solesmes is the
refoundation of Solesmes itself. Originally founded in 1010 by the Benedictine
Abbey at Le Mans, the community was dissolved during the French Revolution.
It was a local priest, Dom Prosper Guéranger, who instigated the return of monks
to the site and became the new Abbot of Solesmes. He was responsible for the
refounding of the French Benedictine tradition which had all but disappeared.
He sought an ideal, an almost romanticized version of Benedictine monasticism, and he knew
the importance of the restoration of the chant and its pride of place at the heart of the liturgy.
Right from the start in 1833 his intentions were very clear and he instilled in the founding
precepts of Solesmes an absolute respect for the primacy of the chants. In 1856 he engaged a
number of monks in the study of manuscripts and the work of Solesmes began, leading to the
main Solesmes Editions, as shown in Table 1.
T
Musical extracts © Abbaye Saint-Pierre, Solesmes reproduced by kind permission of Te Abbot and Community
of Solesmes.
Charles Cole is Director of the London Oratory Junior Choir and the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory
School. Tis paper was read at the 2012 CMAA Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah. www.charlescole.com.
1883 Graduale
1889 Paleographie Musicale (1st Volume)
1891 Antiphonale
1908 Graduale (Vatican Edition)
1912 Antiphonale Romanum
1934 Antiphonale Monasticum
1974 Graduale Romanum (Te Vatican Edition rearranged according to the Vatican II Calendar)
1979 Graduale Triplex (Graduale Romanum with neumatic signs added)
1983 Liber Hymnarius
2005–2007 Antiphonale Monasticum
2009 Antiphonale Romanum
Table 1: Important Publications from Solesmes, 1883–2009
Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
Tese Solesmes editions have become primary sources, and among them are performing
editions with which we are very familiar, but it is all too easy for us to take them for granted.
It is almost unthinkable to imagine trying to create editions of Gregorian chant without any
reference to the Solesmes editions. Yet this was the task which faced the monks, and it is there-
fore very important for us to try and put the Solesmes editions in the context of their time.
We should bear in mind that when the monks were embarking on this task, chant was at a
very low ebb and the fragile aural tradition had been compromised by the nineteenth-century
revival of Medicean Chant at Ratisbon. Tis so-called “debased” chant had all melismas re-
moved and textual and musical accents forced into alignment. Solesmes had to use very early
diastematic manuscripts in conjunction with the neumatic sources (diastematic meaning no-
tation written on the lines). Although thirteenth-century books enshrined to a certain extent
elements of semiology in the diastematic notation, the notation during the medieval period
became ever more simple and ever less sophisticated. Tis is an example of very basic notation
from the early nfteenth-century:
Figure 1: “William Cole” Antiphoner, Spain c. 1400–1450
Dom Pierre Combe’s book Te Restoration of Gregorian Chant
1
gives us a great insight into
the tortuous struggle which went on in the early days of Solesmes. Te painstaking research
and letters exchanged by the monks and their visits to see manuscripts which they then copied
out by hand, in an age when travel was not easy, show us what a time-consuming process this
was. Tis we should not forget, because it gives us an idea of the sheer determination of those
monks to bring about a chant renaissance and their belief in the undoubted value of their project.
1
Dom Pierre Comb, O.S.B, Histoire de la restauration du chant grégorien d’après des documents inédites: Solesmes
et l’Edition Vatican (Solesmes: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 1969); translated as Te Restoration of Gregorian
Chant, tr. Teodore N. Marier and William Skinner (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003;
paperback reprint, 2008).
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Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
Te aim of the monks of Solesmes was to produce a performing edition based on the neu-
matic signs. Tey had, in enect, to create an urtext edition (composer’s original version), using
primary sources, where none had existed before. Tis practical edition was intended to enable
the chants of the church to be properly performed again in their liturgical context. Te nota-
tion used in the Solesmes editions was not a return to early medieval notation but was their
own adaptation, a rennement and development of quadratic notation to try and incorporate
details of the original neumatic signs.
Oio Soiisxis
Dom André Mocquereau (1849–1930) was a distinguished cellist who studied at the
prestigious Paris Conservatoire before entering the community at Solesmes. Early rhyth-
mic interpretation, as exemplined by Dom Mocquereau, became accepted as standard, and
was based on the analytical construct of arsis and thesis which originated in Ancient Greek
poetry. Tis style, generally known to us as “Old Solesmes,” is denned by the so-called
“rhythmic” signs such as the dot (mora), the vertical episema which marks the ictus, and the
horizontal episema. It is well documented in a number of places such as in the introduction
to the Liber Usualis, and was an attempt to provide a readily understandable means of sing-
ing the chant. As a classical musician, Dom Mocquereau would no doubt have been very
sensitive to the potential vulnerability of Gregorian chant, lacking any obvious rhythmic
structure in its melodies. We are generally familiar with chant, but it is easy to forget that it
was not always thus.
Tese rhythmic signs therefore arose out of Moc-
quereau’s concerns to ensure that a chant tradition
would take hold and endure at a parish level. Te
use of the ictus, marked by the vertical episema, was
intended to make sense of the rhythm of the music
once it had been transcribed onto four line quadratic
notation. Tere is in fact no basis in medieval musi-
cal analysis for the ictus; it does not exist in the se-
miology but was rather adapted from the theory of
classical poetry. It was part of Solesmes’ own form of
analysis, in other words a nineteenth-century adapta-
tion. Te ictus, from the Latin word meaning to strike
or smite, was intended purely as an internal rhythm,
however over time it became misinterpreted as an ac-
centuation. Solesmes no longer uses these rhythmic
interpretations, and Saulnier’s discussion of the 2005
Antiphonale Monasticum calls instead for a revival of
the primacy of the text:
Rhythmic theory, to the extent that it innicts a rhythmic distortion on the
words and phrases that are chanted, appears in contradiction to the elementary
Figure 2: Dom André
Mocquereau (1849–1930)
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
principles of liturgical music composition, which must be set fundamentally at
the service of the sacred text.
2

Te singing at Solesmes may have moved on from the early style, but “Old Solesmes”
has undoubted artistic value as a performance style, and is still used in a number of places.
However, the label “Old Solesmes” is unhelpful in giving the impression of something that is
somehow separate, or distinct, from everything else. Even the word “old” suggests something
that has been superseded by a new or improved version, a curious irony being the fact that the
expression “Old Solesmes” is generally used by its most loyal advocates. Such an expression
almost invites us to take sides. “Original Solesmes,” as I would prefer to think of it, is a style
with which I am very familiar, as it formed the basis, with some modincations, of the way I was
brought up to sing chant as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral during the 1980s. It is prob-
ably fair to say that for many of us, this style is our “default” setting, the one which we most
naturally revert to. And it is partly for that reason that the older style is so practical especially
when large groups of people are singing chant together. Te older style has an innate beauty of
its own, however its formulaic structure means that it can be resistant to nuance.
However, Solesmes is a living tradition of chant, represented by two aspects: one aspect
is given to us by example in the form of the daily singing of the Mass and om ces in its abbey
church dedicated to St. Peter. Te other aspect is the long line of scholarly work by monks
such as Joseph Pothier (1835–1923) and Mocquereau in the beginning, right through Gajard
and Cardine and up to more recent work by Dom Jean Claire (1920–2006) who carried out
such important study of the modes. Tis work, the study of the neumatic signs, or semiology,
is a continuous and ongoing process. Te quadratic notation
itself cannot be developed, as it is a transcription, a secondary
construct, so semiologists are obliged to look at the original
neumatic signs, otherwise they will be one step removed from
the primary source.
Tui Sixioiocicai Souicis
Semiology is the term which Dom Eugène Cardine (1905–
1988), monk of Solesmes, eventually settled on as being the
best description for his life’s work, the study of the original
neumatic signs. Tese signs are, for want of a better word, the
“hieroglyphics” which we are most likely to encounter in the
Graduale Triplex. Te more usual and classic Gregorian chant
notation is generally referred to as “quadratic notation,” or
more colloquially as “square notes.” Te quadratic notation
is what Solesmes propagated through its published material
2
“A Translation of Saulnier’s Introduction to the New Antiphonale Monasticum,” posted on the Chant Café
by Nick Gale <http://www.chantcafe.com/2010/07/translation-of-saulniers-introduction.html> or search: “Saul-
nier’s Introduction” at the Chant Café <http://www.chantcafe.com/>.
Figure 3: Dom Eugène Cardine
(1905–1988)
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Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
and is found in all the major chant
books which we use today, such as the
Graduale Romanum and the Gregorian
Missal.
One of the older monks of
Solesmes told me that Dom Cardine
was “chaleureux,” a warm-hearted
man who was obsessed with chant
almost to the exclusion of everything
else. He permanently had his head in
a book and would be busy puzzling
over the neumes and making annota-
tions. A good insight into this can be
found in his Graduel Neumé which
is a copy of the 1908 gradual with
neumatic signs added along with his
copious notes and cross-referencing
of chant formulas.
3
An interesting parallel can be
found in Dom Mocquereau’s personal
copy of the Liber Gradualis which is
now kept in the Atelier de Paléographie
Musicale at Solesmes.
4
Tis earlier vol-
ume, rarely seen, also contains
3
Eugène Cardine, Graduel neumé, Palé ographie musicale, 2nd series, vol. 4 (Solesmes: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de
Solesmes, 1966).
4
Liber Gradualis (Tournai: Desclée, 1883).
Figure 5: Photo of Dom
Mocquereau’s copy of
the 1883 Liber Gradualis
(photos by author)
Figure 4: Dom Eugène Cardine,
Graduel Neumé, p. 33
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
the neumatic signs, written
in Dom Mocquereau’s own
hand.
Dom Cardine’s Graduel
Neumé was later superseded
by the Graduale Triplex, so
called because it is a copy of
the 1974 Graduale Roma-
num with the neumatic signs
added from two dinerent tra-
ditions, Laon and Saint-Gall,
so that the chants appear in
parallel triplicate.
Te Laon notation ap-
pears above the staves in black
and the Saint-Gall notation
appears below, in red. Te
notation from Laon derives
from a ninth century manu-
script known as Laon 239
which is a gradual written
by an unknown author near
the French City of Laon. Te
Saint-Gall notation derives
from a number of manu-
scripts which exist at the
Swiss Abbey of Saint-Gall.
Amongst the most important
of these are the Cantatorium
of Saint-Gall (Saint-Gall 359)
which is the oldest Saint-Gall
source dating from the tenth
century, and Einsiedeln 121,
an eleventh-century gradual.
Te Cantatorium contains
graduals, alleluias, and tracts,
Figure 6: Photo of Dom
Mocquereau’s copy of the
1883 Liber Gradualis (photos
by author)
Figure 7: Introit for Corporis et Sanguinis Christi, Graduale
Triplex, p. 377
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Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
while Einsieldeln 121 contains, in addition, the introits, onertories, and communions. Hart-
ker’s Antiphoner (Saint-Gall 390/1) is the best source of om ce chants.
Partly because there is much more material available, most performing musicians in my
experience tend to focus on the Saint-Gall notation, only really looking at Laon for a second-
ary opinion. By and large, Laon tends to back up Saint-Gall, however it is of more value in the
study of rhythm.
Dom Cardine’s book Gregorian Semiology is in enect the semiologist’s bible. He provides a
table of the neumatic signs from Saint-Gall and from Laon.
5

5
Dom Eugène Cardine, “Semiologie Grégorienne,” Études Grégoriennes, 11 (1970), 1–158; translated as Gregorian
Semiology, tr. Robert M. Fowells (Solesmes: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 1982).
Figure 8: Table from Cardine’s Gregorian Semiology, pp. 12–13
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
A table such as this might make the subject of semiology seem deceptively simple, rather
like code-breaking using a substitution cipher where you simply look up each sign to see what
it means. Unfortunately the reality is much more complicated than that and in the pages which
follow this table, Cardine illustrates the fact that many of these signs have dinerent meanings in
dinerent contexts. Te more one reads of Dom Cardine’s book, the more daunted one can be-
come as the sheer size of the subject becomes apparent. It was translated into English by Robert
M. Fowells, whose own book, Chant Made Simple, is an excellent introduction to the Saint-Gall
notation for anyone who is interested in venturing into semiology.
6
I will look at a few areas of
semiology which are often encountered in the arena of practical liturgical performance.
Piacricai Coxsioiiarioxs
Te Horizontal Episema over the Clivis
Te clivis is a neume group of two notes, the second lower than the nrst. Te episema, or
horizontal line, which generally appears over the nrst note, is usually interpreted as a lengthen-
ing. However, Dom Joseph Gajard (1885–1972) tells us:
Tese signs are not, strictly speaking, signs of length but signs of expression,
although, of course, they should be translated by a slight lengthening and soft-
ening of the note over which they are placed. Tey remain, nevertheless, above
all, expression marks.
7

His emphasis here on the fact that these are expression marks is signincant, as is his realistic
concession that this will sound as a lengthening. He is specincally singling out the nrst note of
the clivis, not both. He emphasizes this further a few pages later when he says, “theoretically
speaking, the episema anects only the nrst note of the clivis.” However he then goes on: “but
the second note also comes under its innuence.”
Tis slightly cryptic remark doesn’t entirely clarify his position, although it seems very
clear that his interpretation is that the nrst note should be lengthened, and not the second.
However, Dom Cardine’s interpretation is dinerent: “Te lengthening indicated by the episema
anects both notes. It does not anect the nrst note exclusively despite the fact that the episema
is printed on this note alone in the rhythmic editions.”
8

Cardine’s opinion is very clear, and he goes on to demonstrate that the Laon neumes show
this to be the case. He also talks about this in his book Direction of Gregorian Chant, which is
a useful and concise guide for any chant practitioner.
9
In it he warns of the unnatural enect of
what he calls “ternary” rhythms which arise when only the nrst note of the clivis is lengthened,
6
Robert M. Fowells, Chant Made Simple (Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2000/2007).
7
Dom Joseph Gajard, Te Solesmes Method: Its Fundamental Principles and Practical Rules of Interpretation, tr. R.
Cecile Gabain (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1960), p. 69.
8
Cardine, Gregorian Semiology, 33.
9
Dom Eugène Cardine, Direction of Gregorian Chant, tr. Leonard Maluf and Alexander Schweitzer (Solesmes:
Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 2003).
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Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
particularly in a series of consecutive episematic clivises, such as in the communion Tollite hos-
tias (shown in Figure 9) which could end up sounding more akin to a Viennese Waltz at the
words “adorate Dominum.”
So here we have two dinerent monks of Solesmes giving their dinerent interpretations.
In my general experience in England, Cardine’s interpretation is the one which is heard most
widely, and is now part of the house-style at both Westminster Cathedral and the London
Oratory. As I was sitting around a table discussing this particular passage with some monks at
Solesmes, the most elderly monk present wordlessly leaned over and drew a long line over all
the notes. His understanding seemed pretty clear. A greater range of lengthening, and therefore
variety of expression, is possible when both notes come under the episematic innuence.
Te Vertical Episema
I have already mentioned the vertical episema which was used to mark the ictus. Te same
sign, a short vertical stroke, has been
used to mark the oriscus in the sali-
cus, which has caused some confu-
sion. Here is an example in the Re-
quiem introit on the nrst syllable of
“aeternam.”
Te oriscus is now thought
to mean that one should give the
note which follows, in other words
the third note of the salicus, some
form of emphasis or sense of arrival.
However the episema means that it
is often the oriscus itself which takes
precedence, as the sign came to be
understood as meaning that the sec-
ond note should be lengthened. Te
adherence to this understanding was
Figure 9: Communion
antiphon Tollite hostias,
Twenty-Fourth Sunday
in Ordinary Time
Figure 10: Introit Requiem aeternam, Graduale
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
perpetuated because the editions continued with the notational design that Solesmes devised
with the publishers Desclée.
A major update to the notational design came in the Liber Hymnarius which contains a
table of explanation in the introduction, shown in Figure 11.
10

Among the many changes is the fact that the oriscus is no longer marked by the vertical
episema, instead being denoted by what I call a “nag” note. Another important development is
the improved delineation between the punctum, virga, and apostropha. Tis renects the move
10
Liber Hymnarius (Solesmes: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 1983).
Figure 11: Introduction to the Liber Hymnarius (1983), p.
18
Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
towards active repercussions and away from the early style which advocated tied notes. Here
the updated notation is put to good use in the responsory for Christmas.
Practically speaking, these newer notational designs are probably much less familiar to most
of us as they are currently only used in the om ce repertoire, rather than in the Propers of the
Mass.
Quarter Bars and Half Bars
Te barlines which appear in the Solesmes editions were added by the monks and do not
appear in the original neumes. Along with the markings of quarter bars and half bars, they
provide a very welcome overview of the grammar of the phrase. Te quarter bar, in particular,
is useful to show the period of the phrase. Although these quarter bars were not necessarily
intended by Solesmes to show a breath, to breathe or not is often best decided by context, not
by formulaic observance. However if a quarter bar coincides with a comma in the text, then
one might feel much more inclined to breathe there.
Te practice at Solesmes aims at a continuous line, and individual singers take breaths
where they need them by simply omitting a note. It is really a matter of interpretation for a
conductor whether or not quarter bars are acknowledged by a breath in performance. If the
quarter bars are to be observed with a breath, the overall sense of now should of course be
compromised as little as possible. Sometimes it can be expedient to use quarter bars as “rally
points,” especially when a large group of singers is involved, or if the chant is being sung in pro-
cession. It is, however, more usual to breathe at half bars. Tere could be other interpretations
of where the half and quarter bars come, but the full bars are pretty dennitive. An example of
an alternative placement of a quarter bar occurs in the gradual Dispersit, where there is a case
Figure 12: Excerpt from Responsory Hodie nobis caelorum, Liber Hymnarius, p. 489
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
for bringing forward the nnal quarter bar of the nrst section by three notes. (In the Graduale Tri-
plex, Solesmes marks this with a slur suggestng that the quarter bar is better removed altogether.)
Hidden Liquescents
Solesmes generally includes liquescents in the quadratic notation when there are either
dipthongs (two adjacent vowels which are both sounded), or vocalized consonants such as “n,”
“m” or “l.” Tese liquescents almost always occur on the second note of a neume. Here in the
familiar opening of Sanctus XI we see both a rising and descending liquescent.
In the opening of the introit for the Tird Sunday of Advent, the dipthong on the opening
syllable is given a liquescent, as shown in Figure 15.
Figure 13: Gradual Dispersit, Graduale Romanum (1974), p. 520; Slur of Graduale Triplex
shown in parentheses
Figure 14: Sanctus from Mass XI (Orbis Factor)
Figure 15: Introit from Tird Sunday of Advent, Gaudete
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Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
However, one will frequently nnd “hidden” liquescents, as they are sometimes called, which ex-
ist in the semiology but have not been transferred into the quadratic notation. Very often these
are single-note liquescents rather than the more familiar two-note ones. Te Om ce repertoire in
particular contains many examples such as this one:
Tis Antiphon comes from a project which is being undertaken at the London Oratory
where we are in the process of adding the Saint-Gall notation to the antiphons to facilitate
more informed performances. Tis particular example contains three single-note liquescents.
Te Saint-Gall sign for a liquescent looks rather like a “P” and the nrst one you will see is in
the second phrase over “omnes.” Its purpose here is simply to draw attention to the “M” of
“omnes” to ensure that it is properly enunciated. Te other two draw attention to the double
“L” in the same way, in the words “illa” and “alleluia.”
Tese “hidden” liquescents are simply a call for the really clear formulation of the text. Tey
are cautionary in nature, as reminders towards performance, but they show the musical consid-
erations of the monks. Tey also give signincant insight into the interpretation of the two-note
liquescent, suggesting that one should leave room for the vowel in the second note rather than
closing up fully onto the consonant as is practiced in some places.
Variations of pitch
In the course of looking at semiology, it is impossible to avoid instances of discrepancies
between the pitches given in the quadratic notation and those suggested by the Saint-Gall
manuscripts. Tere is a very good example of this in the Introit for the Epiphany, shown in
Figure 17.
Figure 16: Antiphon to Tird Psalm of Vespers on the First Sunday of Advent;
Quadratic Notation from Liber Usualis (1953), Neumatic Signs from Saint-Gall,
Stiftsbibliothek 390 (Hartker’s Antiphoner)
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
At “Dominator” there is a rising fourth as given by Solesmes. However in the semiology it says
“e” meaning equaliter, same note, in other words the same note with which “advenit” ended.
Te same thing happens at “et regnum.” Tis means that the whole piece becomes an essay
on the rising third which makes a great deal of sense. Te “r” or rursum meaning elevate at “et
potestas” am rms this. So why did Solesmes write these as rising fourths? It might be that this
comes from the aural tradition or from diastematic material. If this is the case, then this repre-
sents an example of a tension between the aural tradition and the semiological source material.
Tese dinering pitches have not subsequently been reset, perhaps partly as a matter of prac-
ticality for Solesmes, but should we change these notes? Some would argue that Dom Cardine
is encouraging us to do so, but many of us feel rather uneasy about deviating from the Vatican
approved text. It seems permissible to change the odd quarter bar or lengthening, but when it
comes to altering pitches, perhaps that is a bridge too far. In the case of this introit, we are deal-
ing with a choral piece, not a congregational piece, so to make a change would not be interfer-
ing with the body of music which is familiar to the average worshipper. To change notes in a
congregational chant such as part of the ordinary would be another matter entirely. Tis would
be a major interference with the “folk” memory of the faithful, whose familiarity with these
melodies should not be compromised. William Mahrt’s book, Te Musical Shape of the Liturgy,
essential reading for any Catholic musician, states: “Chant is plainsong; its pitches are nxed,
but its rhythm is subject to interpretation. Even in the context of a striking variety of rhythmic
interpretations, the melodies remain the same melodies.”
11
A little later on in the same passage
he says: “What dinerences of pitch as do exist in the Gregorian tradition are relatively minor
variants . . . but not constituting dinerent, much less “invented” pieces.”
12

11
William Mahrt, Te Musical Shape of the Liturgy (Richmond, Va.: Church Music Association of America, 2012),
p. 180.
12
Ibid., 180–1.
Figure 17: Introit Ecce advenit, Graduale Triplex, p. 56
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Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
Tensions arose between Solesmes and the Vatican during the early twentieth century when
concerns over the changing of musical texts reached a critical point. Te Vatican had giv-
en primacy to the Frankish tradition as the typical edition, using the Saint-Gall, Einsiedeln,
and Laon sources rather than other such as English (Sarum), Hungarian, or Mozarabic. Te
Solesmes chant tradition was thus being enshrined and given an iconic status. Te nip side
to this was the fact that the Vatican did not want any changes to these early editions. Tis
resistance to change caused Solesmes enormous problems because one cannot simply stop the
process of ongoing scholarship.
By the 1960s, however, there had been a change of heart and the Second Vatican Council
called for critical editions. Tis means that the Graduale Triplex has a value enshrined by the
Second Vatican Council, in other words, it’s approved. However, the quadratic notation re-
mains the same, so are we allowed to employ the neumes, or should they remain, quite literally,
academic? Returning to the Epiphany introit, the Graduale Novum,
13
which is a Regensburg
rather than Solesmes edition, makes the neumatic changes to the musical text, and a number
of others besides.
14
Graduale Novum (Regensburg: ConBrio, 2011).
Figure 18: Introit from Epiphany, Ecce advenit, from Graduale Novum
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Fall 2012 Volume 139, Number 3 Sacred Music
Te Graduale Novum is another critical edition, an alternative transcription, and should be
judged as such. Whether or not it is acceptable to use it in the context of the liturgy is another
matter. When one looks at the semiology, a whole number of other possibilities begin to pres-
ent themselves, and we have to nnd a way to deal with that.
Coxciusiox
It is quite possible in the midst of all this to lose sight of the wood for the trees. It is there-
fore perhaps worth reminding ourselves what our primary aim should be. Above all, Gregorian
chant is the prayer of the church. For a long time, there has existed at Solesmes an enduring
practice of this prayer which is worthy of our utmost respect. Over the years the practice has
changed, for sure, but the chant at Solesmes is, and will always remain, a prayer, even if musi-
cologists diner over the meaning of the semiology.
Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth drew attention the primacy of the text when he addressed
the Conference of Catholic Directors of Music at Westminster:
In our Catholic tradition, liturgical chant is nrst and foremost cantillation, a
song which arises from the text, a song which is essentially a heightened proc-
lamation of a verbal message and which takes its emphases from the natural
accentuation of the text and nnds its melodic rhythm from the cadence which
is already within the words.
14

Most of what the semiology says seems to be towards an opening up of the text, in other
words a description and explanation of the text through music. Semiology has to be seen as an
aid, not an end in itself. If it becomes an end in itself, problems can arise. If you try and sing
everything marked in the semiology you will end up tying yourself in knots and the result will
probably be stin rather than nowing. Te singer must never feel a victim of a system and the
chant must seem natural. Saulnier’s discussion of the Antiphonale Monasticum also warns of the
dangers of trying to get too involved with the semiology:
Te(se) neumes are not intended for all singers, since many in the monaster-
ies sing by memory and imitation. On the other hand, they will be useful for
choir directors and for informed amateurs in providing objective indications
on which to base their interpretation.
15

Te Choirmaster at Solesmes, Dom Bruno Lutz, told me that neither he nor any of the
Schola sing from the Graduale Triplex which he described as a “livre d’étude,” a study book
which should be used for reference. It is his opinion that to sing from the Triplex is to risk get-
ting too attached to single details rather than seeing the whole musical picture. Whilst seeing
his point, I am inclined to think that singing from the Triplex is not a problem as long as you
are aware of the pitfalls, and I am aware of many scholas which use it successfully.
14
Andrew R. Wadsworth, “Towards a New Culture in Liturgical Music,” Sacred Music, this issue, p. 63 below.
15
“A Translation of Saulnier’s Introduction,” cf. note 5, above
24
Sacred Music Volume 139, Number 3 Fall 2012
Tere are other factors which have a bearing on how much semiological nuance is
achievable. At the modestly proportioned abbey church of Solesmes, the monks of the schola
do not sing a projected sound but almost sing to themselves, allowing the reverberation to
add a luminous quality. Professional singers, who generally work in larger buildings, tend to
produce a projected sound which can make nuance quite dim cult, as do the practicalities of
rehearsal time. In general, professional choirs rehearse less, and in the limited time available
there is usually also polyphony to be prepared. Perhaps the most important advice for us all as
singers and conductors can be found in the introduction to the Liber Hymnarius:
Te principles set out here stem from the perfect matching of the sacred text
with the Gregorian melody. Tis is why those who in singing strive to respect
Latin diction, possess by this very fact most of what is required to execute Gre-
gorian chant well.
16

16
[Dom Jean Claire], “Prænotanda,” Liber Hymnarius (Sablé-sur-Sarthe: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 1983),
p. xvi.
Figure 19: Te Monk’s Choir at Solesmes

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