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Charlemagne and Church Music

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Charlemagne's interest in church music and solicitude for its propagation and adequate performance throughout his empire, have never been equalled by any civil ruler either before or since his time. Great as was his father Pepin's care for the song of the Church, Charles's activity was infinitely more intelligent and comprehensive. Aided by a technical knowledge of the subject, he appreciated the reasons why the Church attaches so much importance to music in her cult and the manner of its performance. He used all his authority to enforce the wishes of the Church which he had made his own. The key-note of his legislation on this subject, as on every other point regarding the liturgy, was conformity with Rome. To this end, tradition tells us, he not only took members of his own chapel to Rome with him, in order that they might learn at the fountain head, but begged Pope Adrian I, in 774, to let him have two of the papal singers. One of these papal chanters, Theodore, was sent to Metz, and the other, Benedict, to the schola cantorum at Soissons. According to Ekkehart IV, a chronicler of the tenth century of the monastery of St. Gall, the same pope sent two more singers to the Court of Charlemagne. One of these, Peter, reached Metz, but Romanus at first being detained at St. Gall by sickness, afterwards obtained permission from the emperor to remain there, and it is to the presence in St. Gall and elsewhere, of monks from Rome, that we owe the manuscripts without which a return to the original form of the Gregorian chant would be impossible. The great Charles made strenuous though not wholly successful efforts to wean Milan and its environs from their Ambrosian Rite and melodies. In 789 he addressed a decree to the whole clergy of his empire, enjoining on every member to learn the Cantus Romanus and to perform the office in conformity with the directions of his father (Pepin), who for the sake of uniformity with Rome in the whole (Western) Church, had abolished the Gallican chant. Through the synod held at Aachen in 803, the emperor commanded anew the bishops and clerics to sing the office sicut psallit ecclesia Romana, and ordered them to establish scholae cantorum in suitable places, while he himself provided for the support of those already in existence that is, those in Metz, Paris, Soissons, Orléans, Sens, Tours, Lyons, Cambrai, and Dijon in France, and those of Fulda, Reichenau, and St. Gall. The sons of nobles of his empire and of his vassals were expected, by imperial commands to be instructed in grammar, music, and arithmetic, while the boys in the public schools were taught music and how to sing, especially the Psalms. The emperor's agents and representatives were everywhere ordered to watch over the faithful carrying out of his orders regarding music. He not only caused liturgical music to flourish in his own time throughout his vast domain, but he laid the foundations for musical culture which are still potent today.

About this page

APA citation. Otten, J. (1908). Charlemagne and Church Music. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Otten, Joseph. "Charlemagne and Church Music." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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