• gregorian chants


    last night i've been occupied with writing an article on the role of gregorian chants in our culture and the so-called aesthetics of this art. any thoughts about it here by anyone? the article is still in development so i'd love to see some more ideas and you might want to comment on that...

    i believe the most unique and authentic gregorian ensemble is Schola Hungarica, everyone should have a listen who is into gregorian chants. they have mixed choirs, and they perform everything with more dynamics - which is actually closer to the medieval ages as far as performance stylistics is concerned. their material are also from previously unpublished local codexes from hungary and other countries... it is a marvellous listening experience, i have to say

  • I would guess that the role of gregorian chant in culture is pretty much different in Hungary than in Finland, my homecountry. Finland is a lutheran country, and gregorian chants are normally not used here in liturgy. I have rarely heard gregorian chant performed live here, and when I have, they have been performed in early music concerts, in a sort of "secular" context. The cultural significance of gregorian chant is relatively small here because the catholic era of Finland did not last very long. Also, during the catholic time, Finland was a poor, rural country and the number of Finns associated with "higher culture" such as gregorian chant was small (compared to Central Europe, for example).

    Aren't mixed choirs a somewhat "non-authentic" thing considering that liturgical chants were originally publicly performed by males only?

  • I see... Gregorian chant was also kind of "expelled" even from catholic liturgy since the Council of Trent banned many of the sequences while trying to kind of "unify" the chants.

    This lead to a cultural disaster. Banning most of the chants and not allowing the so-called "versions" plus the "too ornamented" chants, gregorian chant slowly died out from our culture. So the reformation was not a main cause at all. It was the same institution which invented the gregorian chants actually expelled gregorian chants from the church so badly that it was in "coma" until the 19th century...

    Mixed choirs from a -liturgical point of view- is indeed "non-authentic", though mixed choirs used to be -widely seen and heard- in the medieval ages. gregorian chant is not only part of "the mass", it is a (musical) language of praying... and i think everyone is allowed to pray. :)

    The problem of authenticity btw generates an endless debate since we just don't have the faintest idea e.g. how gregorian chant was performed in the 7th century, though the founders of Schola Hungarica are not only musicians but scholars of music who have done a thorough research as well. SO, mxied choirs were indeed present, so they are authentic from a 'medieval performance' aspect.

  • Better Late Than Never

    Certainly the Church suffocated Gregorian chant but it development, especially during its heyday in the 11th - 13th centuries in France, shows how it repeatedly pushed the boundaries of musical thought and theory, leading not just to the great early Renaissance masses but to secular musical forms, especially the early motet. Some of these are literally fragments of a chant, the discant sections, with other voices, often with secular words superimposed.

    We may know nothing about performance in the 7th century - that in any case would be very variable and dependent on local culture and traditions but, from the 9th century onwards, initially through Charlemagne stamping his authority on church music as Holy Roman Emperor, we have texts, such as the "Magnus Liber Organi" ("Great Book of Organum") and later Franco of Colgne's Ars cantus mensurabilis (Art of Measured Chant), that do give guidance on how chant should be performed. By the end of the 11th century regional variations, such as the Sarum Rite in England and the Old Roman in Rome, had all but disappeared.

    Not only did theoretical texts help with standardisation, but they were necessary as monophony gave way to polyphony because the chants were more difficult to learn. With the advent of the early universities, cross-cultural currents were important too even though there is evidence that countries on the European fringes conformed less and were subject to such regional variations as survived. Hungary would be one such country though I know nothing about its mediaeval music; in Scandinavia there are surviving traces of influences from England, Germany and France in its religious organisation and music.

    Inevitably we know more about musical theory and practice from those countries not subject to the rigours of the Reformation; the establishment of the Lutheran, Protestant and other reforming churches resulted in the destruction and dispersal of many church books, leaving us mainly tantalising fragments. Very sad for those of us interested in the music and its performance from eras preceding it.

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