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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > G > Gregorian Chant

Gregorian Chant

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The name is often taken as synonymous with plain chant, comprising not only the Church music of the early Middle Ages, but also later compositions (elaborate melodies for the Ordinary of the Mass, sequences, etc.) written in a similar style down to the sixteenth century and even in modern times. In a stricter sense Gregorian chant means that Roman form of early plain chant as distinguished from the Ambrosian, Gallican, and Mozarabic chants, which were akin to it, but were gradually supplanted by it from the eighth to the eleventh century. Of the Gallican and Mozarabic chants only a few remains are extant, but they were probably closely related to the Ambrosian chant. Of the latter, which has maintained itself in Milan up to the present day, there are two complete manuscripts belonging to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively, and a considerable number belonging to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. An incomplete manuscript belongs to the twelfth century. It is at present in the British Museum and has been published in the fifth volume of the "Paléographie musicale". All these manuscripts contain the chants both for the Office and for the Mass. The Office chants are antiphons and responses, as in the Roman books. The Mass chants are Ingressa (corresponding to the Introit, but without psalm), Psalmellus (Gradual), Cantus (Tract), Offertory, Transitorium (Communion), and, in addition, two antiphons having no counterpart in the Gregorian Mass, one post Evangelium, the other the Confractorium. There are, further, a few Alleluia verses and antiphons ante Evangelium. Musically it can easily be observed that the syllabic pieces are often simpler, the ornate pieces more extended in their melismata than in the Gregorian chant. The Gregorian melodies, however, have more individuality and characteristic expression. Though it is very doubtful whether these Ambrosian melodies date back to the time of St. Ambrose, it is not improbable that they represent fairly the character of the chant sung in Italy and Gaul at the time when the cantilena romana superseded the earlier forms. The frequent occurrence of cadences founded on the cursus at all events points to a time before the latter went out of use in literary composition, that is before the middle of the seventh century. (See Gatard in "Dict. d'arch. chrét.", s.v. "Ambrosien (chant)" and Mocquereau, "Notes sur l'Influence de l'Accent et du Cursus toniques Latins dans le Chant Ambrosien" in "Ambrosiana", Milan, 1897.)

The name Gregorian chant points to Gregory the Great (590-604), to whom a pretty constant tradition ascribes a certain final arrangement of the Roman chant. It is first met in the writings of William of Hirschau, though Leo IV (847-855) already speaks of the cantus St. Gregorii. The tradition mentioned was questioned first by Pierre Gussanville, in 1675, and again, in 1729, by George, Baron d'Eckhart, neither of whom attracted much attention. In modern times Gevaert, president of the Brussels music school, has tried to show, with a great amount of learning, that the compilation of the Mass music belongs to the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century. His arguments led to a close investigation of the question, and at present practically all authorities, including, besides the Benedictines, such men as Wagner, Gastoué, and Frere, hold that the large majority of plain-chant melodies were composed before the year 600.

The principal proofs for a Gregorian tradition may be summarized thus:


Sources

GEVAERT, Les Origines du Chant Liturgigue de l'Église Latins (Ghent, 1890); IDEM, La Melopee Antique dans le Chant de l'église Latine (Ghent, 1895); MORIN, Les Veritables Origines du Chant Gregorien (Maredsous, 1890); CAGIN, Un Mot sur l'Antiphonale Missarum (Solesmes, 1890); BRAMBACH, Gregorianisch (Leipzig, 1895, 2nd ed., 1901); FRERE, Introduction to the Graduale Sarisburiense (London, 1894); Paleographie musicale, IV; WAGNER, Introduction to the Gregorian Melodies, Pt. I (1901, English ed. by the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society, London, chapter xi); GASTOUE, Les origines du Chant Romain (Pris, 1907), pt. II, i; WYATT, St. Gregory and the Gregorian Music (London, 1904).

About this page

APA citation. Bewerunge, H. (1909). Gregorian Chant. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06779a.htm

MLA citation. Bewerunge, Henry. "Gregorian Chant." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06779a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Mother Angelica.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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