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Gregorian chant





Canticum Novum—Schola Cantorum Bogotensis— has presented several concerts in which has been sought to illustrate the listeners about the history, the characteristics, the goods, the natural scenario for which was composed (The Mass, the Divine Office, the paraliturgical celebrations).

The chant of diverse Gregorian melodies goes preceded by some ideas that can help the listener to be located inside the context of the Gregorian Chant.

I. Origins

From the beginning of Christendom the music was used in the meetings that, half secret, in remote places, and almost always at night, lapsed among readings, prayers and songs, although in a very restricted way, not only because the persecutions forced to the discretion (it is not necessary to forget that the Jewish people was under domain of the Roman Empire) but because it was very small the repertoire and few the interpreters.

The music that came first to new christians was the Hebrew and Greek-Roman music. It is sure that they used above all to intone a melodic declamation of the psalms that were the old poems written by King David and by Asaf. They shouted the old scream: Hallelujah which means, Praise to God; or they sang the amen that means "firm, sure, we trust", or they made the invocation: Glory be to the Father.

The first Christian musical creations were improvisations, by way of adorations, supplications or exhortations.

On the other hand, they incorporated to the liturgy modeling songs on pagan hymns, to which Christian texts were adapted.

Persecutions started very soon in the year 41 when Herodes succeeded Agripa; the followers of the new religion began to escape. This dispersion had as consequence the formation of several Christian nuclei in east, Jerusalem, Antioquia, Alexandria, Greece and Bizantio; and in occident, Milan and Rome.

Each one of these centers began to create their own liturgy, or forms of carrying out the religious acts. Later the Christianity was expanded for the whole European occident.

The Christian music, so much of the east as of the occident, had, during the first centuries, common characteristics, inherited overalls of the Hebrew and of the Greek music.

A Christian oriental sample of music is the piece that figures in the first number of our program. It is an ode, that is to say a poetic song of Bizantio liturgy : Anastaseos hemera.

Then we will find a brief example of the music of the first great Christian nucleus in occident, that of Milan whose liturgy was established by Saint Ambrosse. We will listen a verse of the hymn with Latin text, Veni Redemptor Gentium, on which Martin Luther would model three of their most beautiful chorals: Nun komm der Heiden Heilands, Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglish and Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort.

While the Ambrosian music charged enormous resonance, the Roman Chant began to organize what would come to be the Gregorian Chant.

The Popes of 5th and 6th Centuries played an important way in the development of the art and the music.

At the end of 6th Century, September of 592, with the ascent to papacy of Gregory I called the Great, the Roman chant reached its most perfect expression.

This Pope, of the noble family of the Anicii, had been praetor of Rome at the age of 30 and was founder of several abbeys.

Sent by the Pope Pelagio II to Bizantio as ambassador in front of the emperor Tiberio Constantio, remained there during seven years and participated of the splendor of the liturgy and of the Byzantine music at St. Sophia´s Cathedral .

When he returned to Rome he was assigned as secretary of the Holy Seed, but he also directed the Chant and, as arcedian, that is to say main deacon, interpreted the more difficult pieces of the repertoire.

Once in the Pontificate he began a work that can be summarized in two aspects: in the first place the compilation and selection of the melodies, so that they were copied and collected in a book called antifonarium. In second place he dedicated great part of their effort to the formation of musicians, organizing in each church a group of singers that was known with the name of Schola Cantorum.

It undertook the task of liturgies unification then, what was largely achieved. For this reason the chant of the Roman liturgy begun to be called Gregorian Chant, denomination that extends also to the later musical creation, if it conserves the same characteristics.

And which are those characteristics?

  • It is vocal music: it means that it is sung without accompaniment of instruments.

  • It is sung to the unison, that is to say that all the singers intone the same melody. This way it is called monodia.

  • It is sung with free rhythm according to the development of literary text and not with measured outlines, like could be those of a march, a dance or a symphony.

  • It is modal music written in some scales of very particular sounds that are good to wake up varied feelings, as withdrawal, happiness, sadness, serenity, etc.

  • Its melody is syllabic if to each syllable of the text it corresponds a sound and it is melismatic when to a syllable they correspond several sounds. There are melismatas that contain more than 50 of them.

  • The text is in Latin, language of the Roman empire extended by Europe (romances languages didn't exist still). Some very few pieces were in Greek. These texts were taken from the psalms and other books of the Old Testament; some came from the gospels and others were of own anonymous inspiration, as Hugo Riemann writes: "they were full of poetic inspiration and of sublime thoughts".

From the birth, the Christian music was, on the other hand, a sung sentence that should be carried out not in a purely material way, but with devotion, or as St. Paul says "singing to God in your heart".

St. Augustine will say later: "who sings, prays twice". This intention constitutes the same purpose of the Chant, and this is the reason why almost of the whole Gregorian music is of unknown author. Only of some very few pieces the author is known and this is because they are not early compositions, but from the 11th and 12th Centuries.

The shallow illustration that we will give here on this music will be centered in the different forms of the musical pieces, which receive the name of genders.

It is our intention to present examples of a good number of them, mentioning in each case the circumstances in which such pieces were intoned.

The oldest may be the psalmody.

Christians copied from Hebrews the habit of singing whole psalms.

This chant was carried out in recited and alternate form between a soloist and the choir or between two choirs.

The structure of psalmody is syllabic: It means that to each syllable of the text it corresponds a sound of the melody.

This gender was honored in Rome from starting of the 5th Century, when the whole town intervened in the interpretation.

In the Gregorian Chant there are several melodies which the psalms can be intoned with. You will listen the psalm 97 whose text in Latin begins with the words “Cantate Dominum Canticum Novum”, from our choral group took its name.

II. Common of the Mass

The you will listen three of them: in the first place the Kyrie of the mass 11th, composed in the tenth century. The mass is a rite that had origin in Bizantio, and in a very similar form in Antioquia, in the 4th century. It is a celebration to praise to the Divinity and to thank him their favors. Likewise, she makes current Jesus' sacrifice in the cross and his resurrection.

Starting from the first centuries they were incorporating several parts that were sung with texts that didn't change from a celebration to other; it is called the Common of the Mass, and they constitute the genders: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei that are conserved until our days.

The Kyrie belongs to the oldest liturgical forms. It was taken of pagan expressions which people used to adore the sun or the idols; it was conserved in Greek language when it entered to be a part of the mass. The words Kyrie eleison means Lord have mercy, and they were sung to the way of the oriental liturgies, repeating them several times.

At the end of 6th Century the Christe eleison that means, Christ have mercy, was added.

In spite of their origin in 10th Century the so old Kyries arrived until us and are sung at our present time.

Then we will listen a Sanctus and a Benedictus. The Sanctus dates of the same beginnings of the Christianity and had its origin in the splendid liturgy of Bizantio, in 2nd Century, with the creation of the Trisage which consists in three acclamations with the same word.

We will listen a trisage that was sung originally in East, and later in West during the liturgy of Holy friday (Agios or Theos). Next the Sanctus of Mass 11th dated on 14th century and, to conclude the segment, the Agnus Dei of the mass 9th (dated on the 10th century) will be sung.

The Agnus Dei appears only at the end of the 7th Century. It consists on some brief supplications that make echo to the expression "Lamb", used by St. John in the Apocalypse.

These hymns produced deep impression in Saint Augustine, and for their simplicity they seduced to people.

We will listen three verses of the hymn Vexilla Regis that was intoned in Lent time, that is to say in time of penance, in honor of the cross.

The antiphon of the psalms was alternated between two choirs; it was practiced by Jews from the antiquity and was adopted by the Christian cult for first time in the ambrosian church of Milan.

If it was sung between a soloist and the choir, it was called responsory.

The responsory and the antiphon had, as it was said, great importance in the liturgy of the hours; it was a sentence that was sung every three hours, during the whole day, in Alexandria and Antioquia and at 5th Century in Rome.

In the 6th Century the antiphon acquires its own character and autonomy as a prelude of a Psalm, in accordance with its name, since antiphon means that it is sung previous-to. Her form is syllabic or as much adorned with simplicity.

The antiphons that we will listen in this segment correspond to the celebration of the Palms sunday.

Both begin with the words Pueri Haebreorum; they were intoned together in that occasion with the heading of the psalm N° 22: “You are the King of Israel...”

III. Characteristic of the Mass

The mass also had some parts that were variable according to the feast that was taking place.

Of these parts, three were exactly antiphons, that is: the introit, or chant of entrance, the offertory for the procession with offerings, and the communion, the oldest of these three chants, since it dates from 4th century and it was sung during the distribution of the bread.

We will listen the introit “Exurge, Dominum”, sung on sunday two weeks before beginning the time of penance, when the Liturgy took a tone of supplication.

And then we will listen the communion “Factus est repente” that corresponds to celebration of Pentecost, that is to say the arrival of the Sacred Spirit on the apostles and it is taken from words of the Gospel.

IV. Hymns, antiphons, characteristic of the Mass

There were other three parts of the mass, according to the celebration of the day, as were the last of the previous segment, that were sung among the reading of the epistle (apostolic letter) and that of the Gospel (narration of the life, doctrine and death of Jesus).

These three genders took the names of gradual, tract and hallelujah, and they stuck to the responsorial way, that is to say that they were sung between soloist and choir. Musically, they were the most important and demanding parts. They trusted for it to expert singers, and they could consist of two or more parts.

We will listen in the first line of this segment the tract “Absolve Domine”, of the mass of deceased that consists of three parts, a way of varied and enriched versions of the same melody.

And then we will listen the “hallelujah” of the feast of Corpus Christi, that is to say of Christ's Body.

Hallelujah is the old scream of Israel and means Praise to God; this chant was briskly inspired, as St. Augustine testify in the 4th Century, when referring that the singers screamed of joy to express their immense happiness. It was brought from East and quickly was introduced in Rome.

These jubilant chants consist of the intonation of the word hallelujah and have more than enough that this last "AH" is prolonged with rich and extensive vocalizations, called Jubilus, that is to say, joy.

Then a verse of a Psalm or of the Gospel is sung with a very adorned form, to conclude with the repetition of the initial hallelujah.

On the other hand the Gregorian Chant had, posthumously of Gregory the great, a constant enrichment in all of its manifestations, and it is as well as in the 10th Century, in the convent of St. Gallen, Switzerland that had been created in time of Charlemagne, one of the most remarkable schools for cultivation of religious chant.

Here they were born the well-known genders Sequence and Trope.

The Sequence was a new gender that followed Byzantine models and it consisted on accommodating Latin texts to the many notes that hallelujah chant had. It was summing up their form in strophes with measured verses, as those of the hymns, and rhymed like the verses of our modern languages.

We will listen the Sequence “Victimae Paschali Laudes”, sung on the Easter day.

The trope is a gender whose origin must be found in Bizantio, and consisted on accommodating Latin texts to the many notes of some pieces that were already on the mass or on the Holy Office.

The choir will intone the troped version of Kyrie eleison of the 2nd Mass, to which expressions of adoration among the word Kyrie and the word eleison were interpolated, being worth of the notes of melismas in the original piece.

Lastly we will mention some other genders, of which it is worthwhile to highlight the Responsory.

Following a very old tradition that was practiced, specially in the abbeys, the chant or liturgy of the hours, also called the Holy Office where the psalms, the antiphons and the responsories had great importance, as it was mentioned previously. These last ones were intoned after a biblical reading in alternate form between a singer and the choir.

The last segment of our presentation begins with the chant of the Responsory Homo quidam, of the Roman Holy Office, with text of the Gospel.

And the remaining pieces have very different forms, fruit of the Christian creativity in different times. This way the piece Attende Domine, which consists of poetic verses with a refrain that says: listen, oh Lord, and have mercy because we sin against you.

We will listen Lapis Revolutus est, of the Easter feast, and brief narrative texts.

Then we will include three pieces of Christmas time: Resonet in laudibus, Omnis mundus Jucundetur and Ecce nomen Domini Emmanuel.

And we will conclude our presentation with two of the many pieces that Christians have dedicated to Jesus' mother through the centuries: Salve Regina and Ave Maria.

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Bogotá/Colombia - 2002