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Completely Off Topic
Completely Off Topic
Musical Misperceptions

 

       Pope Gregorius did not invent Gregorian chant. Chant was alive and well long before he was born. While he was pope (590-604), he instigated the documentation of chant. There wasnít any music notation yet, so it was mostly the lyrics and the suitable events that were written down.

    Pope Gregorius also got credit for updating the calendar. But basically, he wanted an accurate way of documenting the various feasts of the year along with the assortment of suitable songs and had a calendar built. The real update to the calendar was done by another Pope Gregory in the 16th century.

    Gregorian chant was originally sung in Greek, until the language of the church officially changed to Latin in the 3rd or 4th century. Even then, it was only Latin in Western Europeóall of Byzantium stuck to Greek. Itís from this language digression that the names for the current flavors of chant originate: Gregorian in Rome, Ambrosian in Milan, Gallican in France, and Mozarabic (or Visigothic) in Spain.

    Liber Usualis, long thought to be the ultimate source for Gregorian chant, was only compiled and published in 1896, and is an abridged collection from four other works (the Gradual, Antiphonal, Missal, and Breviary).

    The Mass used to be comprised of the songs of the Proper (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei), exemplified by Bachís B minor Mass in its highest form, and of course, many other favorite composers (Palestrina, Josquin, Brumel, et al). A change of meaning came around 1300, when the songs of the Ordinary (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, Offertory, Communion) were added. Songs from the Proper were included as early as the 6th century. It seems that the Ordinary songs originated in Byzantium and spread westward.  Their arrival in Rome wasnít documented until around the 11th century.

    Not all Propers were created equal. Although current practice offers only a few choices for the Propers, there is documentation for more than 300 versions of Agnus Dei (in chant. There are WAY more options in polyphony and more modern music).

    There are lots of similarities between Jewish and Gregorian chant: absence of regular meter, responsorial and antiphonal performance, prevailingly conjunct motion, psalmodic recitation, syllabic style mixed with melismas, and use of standard formulas. Itís probable that Christian chant was based on Jewish, although it doesnít seem to be specifically documented.

        Alleluia (hallelujah) does not mean ďyippee.Ē  Itís from Hebrew, translated from Greek and then derived into Middle English, and means ďpraise ye JehovahĒ (or Yahweh).  Its first known use in English was in the 14th century. In the New Testament, it appears only in Revelation 19 (although itís there four times). It was translated in the Septuagint (the Jewish Greek version of the Bible made in the pre-Christian period) and became ďalleluia" in the Vulgate, which was the 4th century Latin version of the Christian Bible.

    Gregorian chant is not sung only by men. In fact, the earliest documents imply that antiphons had women and children singing in response an octave up from where the men sang the first part. This is documented by a fellow called Philo, a Jewish chronicler in circa 60 A.D. Thatís right, 60. So around the same time people were starting to document the New Testament.

    The idea some people have of Gregorian chant, where itís sung on one note with a vacuum-cleaner swoop to begin each new phrase is fairly new. Gregorian chant is super melodic. The single-note thing (psalm tones) was invented by Giovanni Guidetti (1530-1592). I donít know why, though.

    Gregorian chant is not (correctly) sung all at one plodding speed. It was meant for the words of Christ to be sung slowly and on a low pitch, the words of the Jews to be sung fast and high, and a medium pace and pitch for the words of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I hope you enjoyed this little list. Let me know if you have others to add! (I do too, but Iím still looking for documentation for some of them.)

There are loads of things that we all take for granted about Gregorian chant that are fundamentally false. Iíve been collecting these for a little while, and hereís a short selection of them.