Adam Bartlett (English chant pioneer, disciple of Columba Kelly, and otherwise stand-up guy) has publicly accused me of espousing Mensuralism (the belief that music, including Gregorian chant, has any sort of discernible rhythm), which he states was “one of Cardine’s greatest fears.” Cardine! Who wrote THE BOOK on Gregorian Semiology. What was it called again? Oh yeah: Gregorian Semiology.
Apparently, Cardine and Kelly, both of whom devoted their lives to studying the notation of medieval manuscripts, have come to the conclusion that the length of the notes in Gregorian chant “cannot be measured.” Now, I remember when Robert Shaw once told us in a rehearsal that “music is based on the belief that time can be measured, and that anyone who has ever held someone’s hand while they were dying or being born knows that it cannot.” It was touching, really. But then he went on to lead a hundred and fifty people in count-singing every single subject and counter subject in the contrapuntal sections of the Brahms Requiem. Why? Because Robert Shaw was a mensuralist.
The idea that Gregorian chant could have been passed on through oral tradition for centuries before it was written down without any sort of “measurable” duration of notes is far-fetched enough. But when you examine a number of independently produced manuscripts that in all but a few cases agree with one another about which notes are long and which are short, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t some sort of regularity to them, some way to measure the lengths of notes.
But who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. So before I put any more time into developing a practical method for normal people who are not medieval scholars to actually sing this stuff, I guess I should try to find out if I’m just totally bonkers.
Here is a recording of me singing the Introit Rorate caeli as it appears on p. 15 of the Graduale Novum. Again, as in my previous few recordings, I did not spend hours studying this chant. I just looked at the limited information about pitch and rhythm found in the Graduale Novum and sang what it appears to say. Then, for comparison, I have superimposed Columba Kelly’s rhetorical analysis (which IS the result of many hours of study, in addition to textual and modal analyses), where he uses small, medium, and large notes to indicate normal, augmented, and diminished syllabic value. [Note: he uses a different source for the actual pitches, so we're primarily concerned with the rhythm].
With one exception (the first syllable of “super,” which anyway I think I hold a little bit too long), these do not appear to me to be in wild disagreement. But maybe that’s because my judgement has been clouded by mensuralist brainwashing. What do you think?