Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Four Kinds of Chant

St. Ambrose
We mostly think of chant, the unaccompanied vocal music of the Roman Catholic Church, as 'Gregorian' chant after Pope Gregory I who played an important role in its formation. But there are at least three other kinds of chant: the Old Roman chant, the Ambrosian chant and the Mozarabic chant.

 Chant is the foundation of Western music and why that came to be is rather interesting. Turns out that political considerations were crucial. In the 8th century the pope, Stephen II, had to ask Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, for protection against the Lombards who were threatening Rome. Pepin agreed and this collaboration led in time to an alliance between the Franks, soon to be led by Charlemagne, Pepin's son, and Rome, whose then pope, Leo III, would crown him ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. This led to a happy time, the Carolingian renaissance, and the growth and stabilization of many civilized institutions. A system of education was developed and, in order to enable the standardization and dissemination of the chant of the church, the first practical musical notation was created. What we use today is at the end of a long period of development and improvement of this same notation.

The northern Franks practiced the Gallican Rite at the time and this was replaced by Roman liturgical texts and, at first, the melodies used with them. At this time, Christian worship was largely sung--one sang to the Lord, one didn't chat with Him. Suppressing the Gallican rite and replacing it with Roman was easy to do with the text, but harder when it came to the music. In order to teach everyone to sing the same melodies in the same way, a better method had to be found than just teaching by rote, which was the only one available at the time. No-one thought it was sufficiently important to write about at the time, so we don't know exactly where and how it happened, but this was when melodies began to be written down and it was the Franks who started the process.

The Franks took to all this with delight and soon ended up shaping the music and texts of the liturgy to their own musical tastes and gifts. This repertoire is what we now call 'Gregorian' chant even though Gregory I himself had only an indirect role. Left by the wayside in this process were three kinds of non-Gregorian chant. The first of these is the so-called "Old Roman" chant which was the original manner of singing practiced in Rome while the Franks were developing their repertoire and figuring out how to write it down.

Old Roman, Tecum principium:


Another area in which an older tradition of chant still held on (and does to this day) was Milan, the seat of St. Ambrose in the 4th century and the chant is called Ambrosian. Here is another Tecum principium from that repertoire:


Separated geographically and by the Muslim invasion in the 8th century is the Mozarabic chant of the Iberian peninsula. Here is a Beatus vir:


And finally some of that music that the Franks were so creative in developing. This is music from the earliest Frankish music handbook we have, the Musica enchiriadis (written between 860 and 900 AD) and as you will hear, this is the first time we have simple polyphony written down. For much of the first part, two voices are heard. Sorry about the video! This was the best example I could find.


9 comments:

Tom said...

Wow, really interesting. What immediately struck me was not only how similar they are to each other, but most fascinatingly, how similar they are to Byzantine chant. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Tom, welcome to the Salon. These chants all come from the least-known period in Western history. They probably came out of an oral tradition of congregational worship in the monasteries. The Byzantine chant had likely some influence as the Eastern Empire did not fall for another thousand years. But another factor may be at work as well. There is a great deal of interpretive licence in all of these performances and it may be the performers who are being influenced by Byzantine chant as much or more than the original monks who created these repertories!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bryan is right; Marcel Peres himself (the conductor of the Ensemble Organum, who produced these chants), admits that their "reconstruction" is speculative and based largely off of musical "hunches." There is no real evidence of how any of these other chant repertories were performed. There's no reason to believe that the Old Roman chants, in particular, were substantially different from Gregorian Chant... all we know, is that the Roman magisters of the time, complained that the Franks sang that chant in a "wooden" manner - to be expected from the northern psyche and the inexperience of those just learning how to sing.

The main difference between the repertories, lies in the fact that they are different rites, and therefore employ different texts with their own, locally composed melodies. Otherwise, there's no real reason to suspect widely differing styles of performance. In my opinion, the influence of Byzantium is exaggerated... and, people forget that even in Byzantium, the earlier chant sounded more like "Gregorian" - a lot of the microtonal influences and sensuality in the singing, were largely via Moslem influence, as Byzantine scholars themselves admit.

Fr. Augustine

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much for the comments! I think that one difference between the Old Roman chant and the Frankish ones came from the development of modal theory. The newer Frankish chants were influenced by and fit into the theory of mode quite well. But the Old Roman chants precede the theory and don't fit well into it. One example would be Haec Dies, an Easter Gradual of great antiquity.

John said...

I am curious how much the Byzantine music influence Islamic music? The Arabs took over the Greco-Roman world and I wouldn't think they would have had a sophisticated musical style develop on their own.

My wife was listening to a Missa Asturiano de Gaita while we were driving and thought I had a CD of Arabic music playing. Asturias wasn't occupied by the Moors and I would think the style more Mozzarabic.

Bryan Townsend said...

Boy, I wish I had an answer for you, John! I know so little about Islamic music. But I suspect that this kind of knowledge is not too available anyway. Is there a good history of Islamic music?

Again, a lot of performers in the early music field have taken their inspiration from contemporary Arabic music in order to develop a performance practice for, for example, the music of the troubadours. There doesn't seem to be a real shred of evidence for this though...

Cynthia Choo said...

This is interesting, as a newcomer to chant. I am really curious about figuring out the history concerning Moslems - including chant, as well as Jewish chant and Chaldean Chant. I had the opportunity to hear some Chaldean Catholic Chant in Aramaic almost weekly for a year while serving in the army in Iraq. We had a Catholic Chaldean deacon who would sing chant in Aramaic during communion. It reminded me of both the music that Moslem Iraqis played on the radio on the bus, and the example of the Old Roman Chant. I don't know if the Chaldean and Byzantine are similar, because I have not heard Byzantine, that I am aware of.

I thought the question of whether Islam had taken on the chant forms of Byzantines is a valid question. One our Chaldean Catholic Arabic interpreters who grew up in Iraq ascribed "the glory of Islam" in its historic greatness as actually being the work of the Christians who were dhimmis in that society. Mohammed was born in 570, and died in 633 AD. The Mohammedan Era began in 622 AD (7th century.)

Besides that, how has the use of the equal temperment or well temperment, compared to what was used previously, impacted chant?
Bach's first book was compiled in 1722, according to a Wikipedia article on the Well-Tempered Clavier. Have we lost what the former meantone sound was like?

Can timelines help in figuring this out? It might help with some speculation. The website mapsofwar.com has interesting quick general overviews of both the History of Religion and the Imprerial History of the Middle East that might be generally helpful (or an interesting distraction.)

Additionally, thinking of the Biblical reference of the Babylonians wanting to hear the Jewish songs... How much of that music was oral tradition, and how has it survived?

I wonder if there are survivors of the Baghdad Seminary who would be able to tell more about this music tradition and history. Babylon was not far from present-day Baghdad. There is a website, chaldeancatholics.com that has links to quite a few such churches, that could be starting places for research direction. I understand the Bishop of Basra is in exile from Basra, Iraq. He might have plenty of information to share as well, if he has time, and probably via an interpreter. Just to find him!

Maybe this is a can of worms, but may offer some subjects for research, if you have students needing such. I am not ready to pursue this at length, but maybe it would be a contribution.... Hopefully this comment is also a contribution.

Blessings!

Sincerely,

Cynthia Choo
(Will see you at the Colloquium in SLC, the Lord willing! I am registered.)
University Place, WA

Bryan Townsend said...

Wow, you have the kind of real life listening experience few of us do! What a wonderful opportunity to hear Chaldean Catholic chant in Aramaic.

There is an historical problem, though: what we have been wondering about were practices dating back to sometime in the first millennium. Good evidence would be something written down at that time that we could refer to. Alas, what was written down at that time was meager.

How Chaldean chant is sung now cannot help but be deeply influenced by more than a thousand years of being surrounded by Islamic music and culture. But it would be fascinating to have some clues as to how it sounded before the Muslim conquest...

Marc said...

Thanks for your very interesting post! (followed Jeffrey Tucker's Chant Café link here): I too was delighted to read about Cynthia Choo's experience of the Chaldean chant.