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8.550712 - Salve Festa Dies: Gregorian Chant for Seasons of the Year

Gregorian Chant for Seasons of the Year

Gregorian chant represents the continuing musical tradition of the Catholic Church. In legend, at least, the regularisation of Christian chant has been attributed to the sixth century Pope St. Gregory the Great. Gregorian chant is, in fact, the form of plainchant that largely 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 term Gregorian chant is generally acceptable, in popular usage, to describe the official chant of the Church. This chant has musical value and interest in itself. Its historical musical importance is immeasurable, since much of the liturgical music of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance was based on melodies drawn from this body of music. In later years, particularly in the nineteenth century, the connotations of elements of the chant continued as part of the common fund of music to which composers might refer, notably in the chant for the Dies irae (Day of Wrath) from the Requiem Mass, the opening notes of which provided a thematic allusion for Liszt's Totentanz and an idée fixe for Rachmaninov.

Gregorian chant is monodic, modal and in free rhythm. 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 by the 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 from the different ancient Greek modes; the rhythm of the chant follows that of the words. 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 may use groups of from two to four notes to a syllable, as often in the hymns of Gregorian chant, and melismatic chant indicates the use of a large group of notes for one syllable, as found in the florid music for the Alleluias of the liturgy.

The liturgy of the Catholic church centres on the Mass. The Ordinary of the Mass, the elements that remain constant throughout the year, includes Kyrie(Lord have mercy), Gloria (Glory be to God in the highest), Credo (I believe), Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). The chants of the Proper of the Mass are those that differ from day to day, according to the season or the saint or event to be celebrated. The Proper consists of introit, gradual, alleluia, tract, offertory and communion, to which may be added sequence and possible tropes, these last representing additions to the liturgy, musical, verbal or both, many of which were removed in the changes that took place as a result of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

In addition to the Mass, the worship of the Church 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 at 6 a.m., Terce at 9 a.m., Sext at midday, Nones at 3 p.m., Vespers in the evening and Compline to finish the day. Correctly speaking, the Divine Office also has an unchanging Ordinary and a Proper that changes according to the day and season. The Office, revised after the Council of Trent and again by the Second Vatican Council in 1972, makes use principally of Biblical texts, with additional newly written hymns.

Salve festa dies (Hail thee, festival day) takes examples of Gregorian chant throughout the Church year, starting with the season of Advent, the preparation for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ. Ecce Dominus veniet (Lo, the Lord shall come) is an antiphon from Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent, a verse that precedes here the third Vespers psalm. Veni, Domine (Come, O Lord) is the antiphon for the Magnificat to be sung on the Saturday before the Second 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 of heart), a neumatic chant, is to be sung at the communion on the Third Sunday. Verbum salutis (Word of salvation) is an Advent hymn from the Office.

Christmas, Tempus Nativitatis (Time of the Nativity), is here celebrated in a trope Ecce nomen Domini (Lo, the name of the Lord). Puer natus est (A boy is born) is the introit for the Christmas Mass of the Day, with the Alleluia: Dies sanctificatus (Sanctified day), an example of melismatic chant, to be sung after the Gradual that follows the 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 five survived later reforms, were medieval additions, often rhymed, to be sung after the Alleluia on major festival days. One of the most frequently imitated of all sequences is the eleventh century Laetabundus (There is to be rejoicing), the musical source of a later French drinking-song and of a mid-fifteenth century English composition Glad and blithe mote ye be.

Lent, the forty days of Quadragesima that precede Easter, is represented by a responsory chant Prosternimus preces (We bow down in prayer) and the respond Media vita (In the midst of life), of possible Gallican origin, part of the chant used in France and elsewhere North of the Alps before the reforms of King Pepin and Charlemagne. Media vita assumed an unfortunate reputation because of its use as a miraculous means of avoiding troubles, such as, in one thirteenth century monastery, the imposition by an Archbishop of an unwanted Abbot.

The Passion season of Holy Week brings the gradual from the Mass for Maundy Thursday, Christus factus est (Christ was made obedient unto death), music with a strong melismatic element. The verse Crux fidelis (Faithful cross, tree noble above all) is a surviving element of the Gallican rite, to be sung at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. Vexilla regis (The king's banner) is the hymn to be sung at Vespers on Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, a characteristic example of neumatic chant.

Easter itself, In die resurrectionis (On the day of the resurrection), starts with the interesting trope Quem quaeritis (Whom do you seek), the source of the liturgical Easter drama, added, perhaps in the tenth century, to the introit for Mass on Easter Sunday, Resurrexi (I have risen). The drama itself arose from the biblical text, the words of the angel to the three Marys as they approached the sepulchre of Christ (Whom seek ye? Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here, he has risen as he foretold. Go, announce that he has risen from the dead). This was possibly the earliest liturgical drama, leading to 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 festival liturgy. The elaborate Alleluia: Christus resurgens (Christ rising from the dead) is taken from the Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Easter and the sequence Victimae paschali laudes (Praise to the paschal victim), from Easter Sunday and surviving the reforms of the Council of Trent, has been attributed to the eleventh century Wipo of Burgundy. The sequence melody later provided a source for the well known Lutheran chorale Christ ist erstanden. The Feast of Pentecost, Whit, is represented by the communion from Mass for Whit Sunday, Factusest repente (And suddenly there came from heaven), in neumatic form.

Some of the most interesting music has been written in honour of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Christ. Mass for feasts of the Blessed Virgin start with the introit Salve sancta Parens (Hail, holy mother). The text of the Ave, Maria (Hail Mary) as an offertory for feasts of the Blessed Virgin has an important melismatic element. The prose and sequence had their probable origin in tropes, words added to existing melismata, making something largely syllabic from the previous melisma. The present recording ends with the respond and prose for feasts of the Blessed Virgin, Gaude Maria (Rejoice, Mary) and Inviolata (Inviolate).

In Dulci Jubilo

Soloist: Manuela Schenale
Choir: Giuliana Benato, Roberta Berti, Giliola Bianchini, Paola Cardace, Rosanna Cecconi, Maria Grazia Dalai, Elisa Frattini, Piera Garbellotto, Maria Claudia Gelmini, Emanuela Guizzon, Cristina Maestrello, Franca Sacchi, Laura Saccomandi, Anna Solinas, Marta Turco, Letizia Zaghis, Patrizia Zanni, Laura Zocchi.

The women's Gregorian choir In dulci jubilo was established in 1988 at the annual international Courses in Gregorian Chant at Cremona. The group is unusual, in that plainchant is more often regarded as the territory of men's choirs. Performances have been given throughout Italy and are based on the most authoritative scholarly research. In dulci jubilo draws its members from the cities of Emilia, Lombardy, Marche, Tuscany and the Veneto.

Alberto Turco
Alberto Turco, an authority on Gregorian chant, is director of the musical establishment of Verona Cathedral. He is a lecturer in Gregorian chant in the Pontifical Ambrosian Institute of Sacred Music in Milan and of the Fermo School of Music Education, as well as serving as a guest lecturer of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome and at various international congresses. Alberto Turco is the author of various studies on Gregorian and Ambrosian chant and has directed a number of recordings. Since 1982 he has been artistic director of the Nova Schola Gregoriana and since 1988 of the women's Gregorian schola, In dulci jubilo.

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