Posts Tagged ‘Gregorian chant’

Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, 2013

August 15, 2013
The Assumption of the Virgin, Francesco Botticini (c.1475)

The Assumption of the Virgin, Francesco Botticini (c.1475)

A very happy feast of Our Lady to everyone! Here is the Alleluia chant for today:

And here is Palestrina’s six-part elaboration of a related text, sung by Stile Antico:

A great sign appeared in heaven:
A woman clothed with the sun,
and the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 

Sing ye to the Lord a new song:
because He hath done wonderful things.

Alma Redemptoris Mater, solemn tone

December 12, 2012

Last week when I posted the music for the Advent compline antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater, Osbert pointed out that the same text has a solemn setting that is, in his words, “one of my favourite melodies in the entire plainchant repertory”. He has good reason to think so. I believe that this is the setting he was talking about:

Today being a great feast of Our Lady, I can hardly imagine a better day to start learning it.

Singing sisters

October 30, 2012

A week or two ago I noted that several brothers from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert had paid a visit to The Today Show on MSNBC to sing some chant, and I remarked on the fact that the music, because it was solemn and beautiful and glorious, clashed rather strongly with the whole ambience of the television programme.

Here, on the other hand, are two clips of Benedictine sisters singing the chant in its proper context. The first is a group of sisters from Abbaye Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation, near Avignon. The delicacy and ethereal beauty of this singing is simply marvellous:

The second video is from the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus in Missouri. It’s a promotional video for a CD the sisters have recorded, with short musical clips interspersed with interviews, and it successfully conveys not only the beauty of the music, but also something of the warmth and sanity of this way of life:

A professional choir is all very well, but for this music I love to hear it sung by people for whom it is their daily prayer. (Best of all, of course, is to sing it oneself!) May God bless us with many more singing sisters.

A clash of cultures: monks on MSNBC

October 18, 2012

A few of the Benedictine monks from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert were on an MSNBC programme called The Today Show, and, appropriately enough, I believe they were on today.

I actually recognize a few of the monks from a retreat I took at their monastery several years ago. It is a wonderful place, hidden deep in the New Mexico desert, surrounded by awe-inspiring red cliffs. At night the darkness and the silence are profound. The doors of the guests’ cells open separately on the top and bottom, so that the top can be opened to permit a breeze while the bottom is closed to prevent snakes from making an unwelcome visit. The monks I met there remain close to my heart, though I’ve not spoken to any of them for years. I would love to go back someday.

They were on The Today Show to sing some chant: Alleluia, Iustus Germinabit, to be specific. I cannot figure out how to embed the clip of their singing, so you’ll have to go here.

They sing well, and I love them for it, but it is obvious that this music does not belong in this context. The contrast between the solemnity and dignity of the music and the amazing ditziness of the hosts is jarring. The music is meant to resound through a large space; here each of the voices is miked separately, and in consequence the engineers have had to apply some annoying processing to blend the voices. I hope these brothers have a good trip home, where they can once again sing this beautiful music in a place, and for a purpose, for which it is intended.

Saint Antoine Daniel Kyriale

September 29, 2011

Last week, as I was searching for some notated Gregorian chant online, I discovered an impressive site that I think deserves notice. It is the Saint Antoine Daniel Kyriale, named for the Canadian Jesuit martyr.

The purpose of the site is straightforward: to provide the Gregorian chant for the Latin Kyriale, including all eighteen Gregorian settings of the Mass Ordinary, plus a few other commonly used chants. It is all laid out very clearly, and deserves special praise for the sheer beauty of its presentation. I strongly encourage everyone to take a look at it.

In addition to providing the scores for the various chants, the site also streams the music itself in mp3 format, and there is a YouTube channel on which one can both see and hear the music. It is a terrific resource for choirs trying to learn the core Gregorian repertoire. And so beautiful to look at!

The site is supported by Corpus Christi Watershed, which has been behind a number of impressive initiatives in recent years.

Thoughts on music and the forthcoming Missal

September 20, 2011

It is time, once again, for me to climb atop one of my favourite hobby-horses. Bear with me.

Sacrosanctum concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from Vatican II, is the most authoritative recent statement on the Church’s liturgy that we have. As has often been noted, it states:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

It goes on to say that, in certain circumstances, allowance may be made for other music, such as polyphony or the music native to a particular region, but, nonetheless, a clear ideal has been presented. Gregorian chant is the music of the Latin rite; it has no other reason to exist.

In practice, we almost never hear Gregorian chant during the liturgy. The reasons are many, but, arguably, at least part of the blame may be assigned to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the authoritative practical guide to the celebration of the liturgy. The version in force in the United States, for instance (most recently revised in 2002), says, in reference to the Introit, or Entrance Chant:

In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from The Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop. [my emphasis]

Analogous guidelines are given for the other Mass Propers. Note that little word “song”, which has provided a justification for those who wished to ditch the chant in favour of something else. Something with guitar accompaniment. And drums. Something with an ethos quite different from that proper to the Latin rite. “Song” became a weasel word.

The forthcoming new translation of the Mass (due in parishes this Advent) has been an occasion for hope to those of us who love the Church’s liturgy and her heritage of liturgical chant. Because the new translation will affect even the Mass Ordinary, much of the sub-standard music that has been composed since Vatican II may be joyfully tossed out the Church’s open windows, and we have, in a real sense, an opportunity to try again to faithfully implement the intentions of the Council Fathers, as least insofar as the music of the liturgy is concerned. As stated in Sacrosanctum concilium, the basic objective should be: more chant, sung competently and prayerfully. We should do our best to restore the resounding glory of our worship, using the music that the Church herself gives us.

Furthermore, the new translation of the liturgical texts is being accompanied by a new translation of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, and in the new translation the weasel word “song” has been replaced by the clarificatory “chant” (see, for instance, Paragraph 48 of the linked document), thus, one would think, removing that one slender reed that has supported so many ill-advised liturgical experiments.

So far, so good.

Enter the Canadian Bishops’ Conference (and I will focus now on the Canadian situation, since that is where I am). If one searches their site for resources related to the forthcoming new translation, one finds that they are publishing a book called Celebrate in Song intended for the pews of parish churches in order to promote “a seamless transition to the new translation of the Roman Missal in your community!” Celebrate in Song includes something called “ICEL Chants”, plus three new musical settings of the Mass Ordinary. Audio of the new settings can be streamed from the same site. Listen if you dare. Two of the three settings are essentially pop music; the third is not quite as bad, being somewhat closer to a sacred music aesthetic, but it is (and without wishing to impugn the motives of the composer in any way) still pretty mediocre to my ears. This is distressing.

And what of those cryptically named “ICEL Chants” packaged with them? Here things begin to brighten again: the ICEL Chants, it turns out, are English-language chants from the Roman Missal, very much in the style of Gregorian chant! They include music for the Mass Ordinary, Prefaces for the feasts, Eucharistic prayers, some hymns, blessings, and much else. The Mass Propers are apparently missing, but that lacuna could be conveniently filled with the Simple English Propers. Together these two sources would provide, I believe, a complete, simplified, English-language chant for the celebration of Mass in the new translation.

In some cases the music of the “ICEL chants” is clearly based directly on the Gregorian models: compare the Sanctus for Eucharistic Prayer IV to the Gregorian Sanctus XVIII “Deus Genitor alme”, for instance.


As is evident, in this case the music is actually the same. In other cases, the English-language chant has been streamlined and simplified relative to its Gregorian counterpart, but it is clearly cut from the same cloth. This is tremendous.

Why these Missal chants have been saddled with an alienating bureaucratic title — “ICEL” stands for International Commision on English in the Liturgy, which is the body responsible for the new Missal translation — I have no idea, and it is rather unfortunate, but their inclusion in Celebrate in Song can only be an occasion for rejoicing.

What shall we make of this situation? I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, I fear that many parishes will ignore the quasi-Gregorian Missal chants and adopt one of the pop music settings, either from Celebrate in Song or from some other source. On the other hand, it is barely possible that our Catholic Bishops are cunning in their tactics: perhaps the Missal chants have been bundled with mediocre alternatives in the expectation that the chant will thereby appear all the more alluring? If that were the case, however, why include the pop music at all? It does seem to be tempting fate.

I do not know how our situation in Canada compares to that in the United States and in other English-speaking countries. We are all getting the new translation, but how it will fall out is not clear. It is probably going to be a rough ride all around, but I do think we have a good opportunity here to bring the manner in which we celebrate the Mass into closer congruity with the intentions and wishes of the Council Fathers, and into greater continuity with our own tradition. It appears that in Canada, at least, our resources for doing so are only equivocally suitable for the purpose. We can but do our best.

Cantate Domino canticum antiquum!

April 26, 2011

On the weekend the National Post ran an article about Gregorian chant and its place in Catholic liturgy. I was surprised to see that the article focused on the Gregorian schola at the parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Toronto, which is the parish that we have begun attending in the past year. I was surprised because we usually attend an early morning low Mass, at which there is no choir and no Gregorian chant (apart from the Mass Ordinary, which the congregation sings), so we have not had opportunity to hear the schola.

We did hear them sing at the Triduum liturgies during these past few days, however, and they were excellent — better, I think, than any parish schola that I have heard before, and certainly better than any schola in which I have sung. They are an all-male group, which gives their sound a solid, resonant quality. It was wonderful to hear them. In fact, putting it that way is too weak. I was greatly edified and even transported by their singing. I seemed to hear in it all the mystery and ancient beauty of the faith — at least when I wasn’t dashing after a toddler.

The National post article is accompanied by this short video showing the schola in rehearsal. It was recorded in a rather arid acoustic; they sound better when singing in the church. At the end there are some amusing, and even slightly touching, clips of the choir director, Philip Fournier, trying to teach the reporter, Charles Lewis, to sing a few notes of chant.

Anyway, it is nice to see Gregorian chant getting some attention simply for being sung in its natural habitat.

(As is always the case when I try to write something in Latin, corrections to this post’s title are welcome.)

Good Friday: The Reproaches

April 22, 2011

Popule meus, quid feci tibi?
aut in quo constristavi te?
responde mihi.

O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you?
Answer me.

Catholics who belong to the Latin Rite (which is most of us) should all be hearing the Reproaches from the Cross today, in one way or another. I consider them to be among the most dramatic and moving words we hear all year. Sadly, many of us will not hear them at all. If your parish skipped them, you can click on the video above to hear the Gregorian setting. Full English translation here.

Holy Thursday: O sacrum convivium

April 21, 2011

Although it is an antiphon for Corpus Christi, and not for Holy Thursday, it is hardly an inappropriate thing to hear today. The first setting is Gregorian; the second by Messiaen.

To everyone who will be celebrating it, I extend my best wishes for a blessed Triduum and Easter.

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
Alleluia.

O sacred feast!
wherein Christ is received:
the memory of His Passion is renewed in us:
our souls are filled with grace:
and the pledge of everlasting glory is given to us.
Alleluia.

Easter Sunday, 2010

April 4, 2010

A very happy and blessed Easter to all!

Here is the beautiful sequence for the Easter liturgy.  The music, text, and translation are available here.


Some Easter related posts from previous years:

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