Gregorian Chant Plainchant Include Characteristics Genre History  Essay

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Gregorian chant (plainchant) include characteristics genre, history, developed forms chant ( polyphonic Gregorian chanting), influence western music a . Use scholarly sources

Gregorian chant (plainchant)

The Gregorian chant is considered by experts to be part of the foundations of religious chants, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. Despite the fact that along the time, it has known several variations and influences, it remains one of the most significant liturgical accompaniments for both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The present research considers the evolution of this genre and points out the main contributions to the way in which religious sermons are conducted as well as the influences it had in time over religious chants and even modern music today.

The Church has always been seen as the only means thru which the religious message could be sent across. The role played by music in this context was vital. More precisely, "The significance of religious chant and music for the study of religion cannot be overestimated: there is virtually no religious tradition without it. Before the Western Renaissance, all religious texts in all religious traditions of the world were sung or recited orally."

Therefore, music, regardless of its form was used as a means of actually transmitting the message of the Bible. It was not necessarily a means of improving or embellishing the sermons and in this way to capture the attention, but rather a means through which the message could be transmitted to the believers and the faithful. The spoken word was rarely used. From this point-of-view, the chants gained ground instantly and became the norm of religious practice.

Characteristics of the genre

The genre is not extremely different from other religious music. However, "at certain moments the ritual action amounts merely to a sung text, by the soloist or by all the assembly (chants between the readings, for example)"

However, it must be pointed out from the onset that the most important part of the Gregorian chant is the actual text

. This is the reason for which the person performing the chant must be a very good connoisseur of the text and understand it in its fullest meaning.

Aside from this aspect, there are several key issues related to the Gregorian chant. Among other element that distinguishes from other types of religious music (gospels for example), the Gregorian chant is a vocal music that does not imply the use of any instruments; the text is in Latin that reflects the origin of the chant to the Roman Empire. These elements together with the need for skilled performer allowed the genre to focus on providing an accessible line to the music. It can be noted that the melodic line in itself is rather accessible, as long as the text is very well understood, as mentioned above.

An aspect that should be pointed out is related to the way in which the Gregorian chant is written. More precisely, unlike current music stave, "The Gregorian Chant is written on a stave of four lines (…) The notes have different names: square point (punctum quadratum) or virgas if they appear individually, or neumes if they turn out to be grouped; they have equal value for its duration with the exception of: those that have an horizontal epicema, the previous note to the quilisma and the second note of the Salicus which duration extends lightly more with a sense of expressiveness, and the notes that have a point after them which has the duration of a simple note"

In describing the types of chants, these are strictly related to the Liturgical practices

. In this sense, the categories refer to the chants at the Mass, at the Devine Office, and other types of chants that are sung part of the sermons for different religious holidays such as Easter, or in different circumstances. Even so, this comes to point out that the Chants are indeed related to the religious text and follow its strict letter.

History of the genre

There has been a lot of debate on the actual origins of the Gregorian chants. The common belief is that it relates to the first centuries after Christ and belong to both the Christian and the Judaic religious spectrum. The Oxford History of Western Music points out that there is little consensus on what the Gregorian Chants were. More precisely, "It was a huge collective and anonymous enterprise that seems to have achieved standardization in Rome by the end of the eighth century"

. That period was one of important significance for the Church, especially the Catholic Church that was experiencing the first strong papal activities, which often were in contradiction with the so-called divine rulers, that were the princes or the authoritarian kings. From this point-of-view, the association with the Gregorian chants and their place in the religious sermons was very important.

Another opinion further stresses that, most likely, the origins of the Gregorian chants are Latin. Thus, "What we call Gregorian chant today first appears distinctly in the Roman repertory of the fifth and sixth centuries. Its implementation and perhaps some of its composition was in the hands of a group of ministers in a service specially dedicated to the Roman basilicas, the schola cantorum. Gregorian chant also appears to have been an aural music, that is, transmitted by ear and committed to memory - like all other music of the world at the time."

Despite these initial assumptions, there are few answers on exactly the origins of the Gregorian chants. In this sense, "Until very recently it was assumed as a matter of course that the origins of Christian liturgical music went back, like the rest of Christian practice and belief, to the "sacred bridge" connecting the Christian religion with Judaism, out of which it had originated as a heresy. The textual contents of the Gregorian antiphoner consisted overwhelmingly of psalm verses, and the recitation of psalms, along with other scriptural readings, is to this day a common element of Jewish and Christian worship"

The Gregorian Chants are in fact a collection of religious melodies that have been used as part of the Western religious sermons. More precisely, until the appearance of this religious music, the "plainchant was monophonic: that is, it comprised a single melody without any harmonic support or accompaniment. (…) As these chants spread throughout Europe, they were embellished and developed along many different lines in various regions and according to various sects. It was believed that Pope Gregory I (reigned 590-604) codified them during the sixth-century, establishing uniform usage throughout the Western Catholic Church. Although his actual contribution to this enormous body of music remains unknown, his name has been applied to this music, and it is known as Gregorian Chants"

The Catholic Church has constantly assumed the Gregorian chants and identified its sermons with the chants. More precisely, the Vatican has stated "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman


Even more, in order to prove the special place the chant has in the Catholic Church, "many actions of the rite are accompanied by chants (processions, for example)"

There were others who stated that "Gregorian Chant is the official music of the Catholic Church as Latin is her official language. No other melodies translate into music so perfectly the trie meaning and feeling of the prayers of the Catholic liturgy"

It must be pointed out in this case however that given the intimate relation the chant has with the biblical text and with the actual religious processions, the liturgical process is crucial and needs to be in full accordance with the chants.

The Gregorian chants experienced a downfall in popularity towards the end of the Middle Ages, as the interpretation process was affected by the actual popularity of the musical practice needed to be interpreted by almost anyone. During the Renaissance period, the texts of the Chants were altered. More precisely, "The melodies, which show the correct reading of the literary text by highlighting keywords and phrases, were "corrected" by official musicologists -- (…) the words, literary compositions which are the official text of the Roman liturgy, and that constitute a lyrical catechism, were also officially "corrected" against a verbatim reading of the Vulgate Bible. The mangled result, which persisted for two hundred years, is generally known in English as "plainsong"

. A part of the initial archive of chants was re-established mid 17th century in Solesmes.

Influence on Western music as a whole

The Gregorian Chants remain some of the most beautiful and melodic presences in a Liturgy. If performed properly, they provide a very appealing and rewarding musical experience, reason for which they are part of modern choral music and sources of inspiration for modern music as a whole. An example of modern music being subject to Gregorian chants is Morten Lauridsen, American choir music composer, whose work is greatly influenced by this music genre.


Canticum Novum - Schola Cantorum Bogotensis. "Characteristics of Gregorian Chant," 2002, available…

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