Salve Festa Dies: Gregorian Chant for Seasons of the Year
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Gregorian Chant for Seasons of the Year
Gregorian chant represents the continuingmusical tradition of the Catholic Church. In legend, at least, theregularisation of Christian chant has been attributed to the sixth century PopeSt. Gregory the Great. Gregorian chant is, in fact, the form of plainchant thatlargely but not entirely replaced local forms of chant during the Middle Ages.
Manuscript sources are preserved from the 10th and 11th
centuries, but these are clearly part of an earlier tradition. The termGregorian chant is generally acceptable, in popular usage, to describe theofficial chant of the Church. This chant has musical value and interest initself. Its historical musical importance is immeasurable, since much of theliturgical music of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance was based onmelodies drawn from this body of music. In later years, particularly in thenineteenth century, the connotations of elements of the chant continued as partof the common fund of music to which composers might refer, notably in thechant for the Dies irae (Day ofWrath) from the Requiem Mass, the opening notes of which provided a thematicallusion for Liszt's Totentanz
and an idee fixe for Rachmaninov.
Gregorian chant is monodic, modal and in freerhythm. It has a single melodic line, without harmonic or polyphonic elements;it came, at least, to make use of the eight church modes, scales represented bythe white notes of the modern keyboard and starting on D (Dorian mode), E(Phrygian mode), F (Lydian mode) and G (Mixolydian mode), the names drawn fromthe different ancient Greek modes; the rhythm of the chant follows that of thewords. It is possible to classify types of chant very simply as syllabic,neumatic and melismatic. Syllabic chant takes one note to a syllable,represented generally in the musical settings of the Psalms. Neumatic chant mayuse groups of from two to four notes to a syllable, as often in the hymns ofGregorian chant, and melismatic chant indicates the use of a large group ofnotes for one syllable, as found in the florid music for the Alleluias of theliturgy.
The liturgy of the Catholic church centres onthe Mass. The Ordinary of the Mass, the elements that remain constantthroughout the year, includes Kyrie(Lordhave mercy), Gloria (Glory be toGod in the highest), Credo (Ibelieve), Sanctus (Holy, holy,holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb ofGod). The chants of the Proper of the Mass are those that differ from day today, according to the season or the saint or event to be celebrated. The Properconsists of introit, gradual, alleluia, tract, offertory and communion, towhich may be added sequence and possible tropes, these last representingadditions to the liturgy, musical, verbal or both, many of which were removedin the changes that took place as a result of the Council of Trent in thesixteenth century.
In addition to the Mass, the worship of theChurch also includes the Divine Office, its origins in earlier Jewish practice.
Matins begins after midnight, often at 3 a.m. It is followed by Lauds, Prime at6 a.m., Terce at 9 a.m., Sext at midday, Nones at 3 p.m., Vespers in theevening and Compline to finish the day. Correctly speaking, the Divine Officealso has an unchanging Ordinary and a Proper that changes according to the dayand season. The Office, revised after the Council of Trent and again by theSecond Vatican Council in 1972, makes use principally of Biblical texts, withadditional newly written hymns.
Salve festadies (Hail thee,festival day) takes examples of Gregorian chant throughout the Church year,starting with the season of Advent, the preparation for Christmas, thecelebration of the birth of Christ. EcceDominus veniet (Lo, the Lord shall come) is an antiphon from Vespersfor the First Sunday of Advent, a verse that precedes here the third Vesperspsalm. Veni, Domine (Come, OLord) is the antiphon for the Magnificat to be sung on the Saturday before theSecond Sunday in Advent. Populus Sion
(People of Sion) is the introit to Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent, while Dicite: Pusillanimes (Say, you faint ofheart), a neumatic chant, is to be sung at the communion on the Third Sunday. Verbum salutis (Word of salvation) is anAdvent hymn from the Office.
(Time of the Nativity), is here celebrated in a trope Ecce nomen Domini (Lo, the name of theLord). Puer natus est (A boy isborn) is the introit for the Christmas Mass of the Day, with the Alleluia: Dies sanctificatus (Sanctifiedday), an example of melismatic chant, to be sung after the Gradual that followsthe chanting of the Epistle. Vidimus stellam
(We saw his star) is the communion verse for Masson the Feast of the Epiphany,when the Three Magi visited the infant Christ. Sequences, of which only fivesurvived later reforms, were medieval additions, often rhymed, to be sung afterthe Alleluia on major festival days. One of the most frequently imitated of allsequences is the eleventh century Laetabundus
(There is to be rejoicing), the musical source of a later French drinking-songand of a mid-fifteenth century English composition Glad and blithe mote ye be.
Lent, the forty days of Quadragesima thatprecede Easter, is represented by a responsory chant Prosternimus preces (We bow down in prayer) and the respond Media vita (In the midst of life), ofpossible Gallican origin, part of the chant used in France and elsewhere Northof the Alps before the reforms of King Pepin and Charlemagne. Media vitaassumed an unfortunate reputation because of its use as a miraculous means ofavoiding troubles, such as, in one thirteenth century monastery, the impositionby an Archbishop of an unwanted Abbot.
The Passion season of Holy Week brings thegradual from the Mass for Maundy Thursday, Christusfactus est (Christ was made obedient unto death), music with a strongmelismatic element. The verse Crux fidelis
(Faithful cross, tree noble above all) is a surviving element of the Gallicanrite, to be sung at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. Vexilla regis (The king's banner) is thehymn to be sung at Vespers on Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, acharacteristic example of neumatic chant.
Easter itself, In die resurrectionis (On the day of the resurrection),starts with the interesting trope Quemquaeritis (Whom do you seek), the source of the liturgical Easterdrama, added, perhaps in the tenth century, to the introit for Mass on EasterSunday, Resurrexi (I have risen).
The drama itself arose from the biblical text, the words of the angel to thethree Marys as they approached the sepulchre of Christ (Whom seek ye? Jesus ofNazareth. He is not here, he has risen as he foretold. Go, announce that he hasrisen from the dead). This was possibly the earliest liturgical drama, leadingto a number of other such plays. The Easter responsory Salve festa dies (Hail, festival day)opens with words that recur as the introduction to other elements of festivalliturgy. The elaborate Alleluia: Christusresurgens (Christ rising from the dead) is taken from the Mass forthe Fourth Sunday of Easter and the sequence Victimaepaschali laudes (Praise to the paschal victim), from Easter Sundayand surviving the reforms of the Council of Trent, has been attributed to theeleventh century Wipo of Burgundy. The sequence melody later provided a sourcefor the well known Lutheran chorale Chris