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I seem to have sparked quite a debate over at the Musica Sacra Forum about the Horizontal Episema over the Clivis in the Solesmes edition. Cardine, in his Beginning Studies in Gregorian Chant, points out a flaw in the notation of the Solesmes edition of the Roman Gradual: namely, the placement of the horizontal episema on only the first note of the clivis. Cardine is quite correct to assert that the episema applies to both notes of the clivis, as supported by evidence in the Laon and St. Gall manuscripts.
My objection is that Cardine appears to be trying to reconcile the early scholarship of Solesmes (and their subsequent rhythmic editions of the chant) with the rhythmic traditions of the earliest manuscripts by means of a few minor modifications. Further study of the 9th and 10th century manuscripts, however, reveals that the Solesmes notation is entirely inadequate for giving a satisfactory performance according to the 9th and 10th century tradition.
The problem is one of determining the primary rhythmic unit. The Solesmes method treats the basic note as short (which always occurs within a group of two or three short pulses), and a few notes modified with dots or episemata as long [for the sake of our argument. Some would call the dotted notes “long” and the notes with episema “expressive.” But that’s not what Cardine was getting at when he said the episema should apply to both notes of the clivis]. In contrast, the earliest recorded tradition—that of the St. Gall and Laon manuscripts—assigns the primary unit of length to the single syllable (represented by a virga or tractulus), which is considered long. Ornamental notes are by comparison considered short. [The concept that not all longs are equally long is beyond the scope of this article and is covered in other blog entries].
Take for example the communion chant Lutum fecit, as it appears here in St. Gall notation:
The Solesmes notation lengthens the last note of each phrase as well as the first note of the clivis with episema. All the other notes are given equal length. Here is a transcription of the traditional Soelsmes reading with long notes indicated by large note heads and short notes with cue-sized note heads:
While this has successfully restored both notes of the clivis to their proper full syllabic value, it has now created an incorrect relationship between the first syllable of the word “vidi” and the the monosyllable “et” that precedes and follows it. It is folly to think that this small modification substantially approaches a reading of the St. Gall manuscript that represents the original intentions of the scribe:
In this reading we can see that the primary unit of length (that of the syllable) is long, and that the ornamental notes are comparatively short. The second syllable of “fecit,” for example, is made up of two short notes, which highlights the importants of the accented first syllable and, near the beginning of the phrase, keeps the energy of the melodic line moving forward. The two notes of the clivis with episema on the first syllable of “vidi” are comparatively not short. They serve to emphasize the weight of that syllable as well as to create a ritardando at the end of the phrase:
My usual disclaimer: I don’t object to any technique that gets the chant sung regularly in the liturgy, nor do I fault directors for making choices that they find beautiful. I do have to point out errors of interpretation that result from taking one piece of information out of context, running with it to the exclusion of more recent scholarship, and then declaring it “correct.” I hope if there are scholars out there further along in their study who find a silly mistake that I’ve made in my own readings, that they will share that experience with me.
Postscript: If there was any question how the letter “x” was pronounced at St. Gall, notice that the scribe write “ex sputo” as “exputo.” My conclusion is that the x is pronounced [ks], which is why the scribe misheard it. There are several examples of this descriptive (rather than prescriptive) type of writing in the manuscripts. Food for thought. Until next time.
I was delighted to receive in the mail this week a copy of the Fall 2012 issue of Sacred Music. In it, Charles Cole gives an overview of the Old Solesmes editions and associated methodology, and the early semiological movement beginning with Cardine’s Graduel Neumé. The bulk of the article deals with attempts by Cardine and others to reconcile Old Solesmes with elements of the new scholarship, with the 2011 Graduale Novum briefly mentioned as a sort of optional Coda.
However, in my personal Study the Graduale Novum has been the beginning, not the end, of the story of understanding medieval chant practice. This more recent resource reveals that the Old Solesmes notation is entirely incompatible with the 9th and 10th century chant traditions, unless of course one already has the music committed to memory. To suggest that there is some sort of middle ground between the 19th century tradition and medieval practice is to create a Frankenstein chant hybrid* with no historical precedent. A fine illustration of this idea is the interpretation of the horizontal episema in the quadratic (square) notation of the clivis.
The example given in Figure 9 (p. 16) is the communion Tollite hostias, with the argument that the episemata on the words “adorate Dominum” apply to both notes. This is perfectly true, but somewhat misleading. For one, saying that the episema applies to “both” notes of a clivis implies that a clivis always has two pitches, but in the case of a liquescent clivis, it can actually have three (see Cardine’s Table of Neumatic Signs from Gregorian Semiology, pp. 12–13; or Figure 8 in Cole’s article. Example 5 g). But the real fallacy is the suggestion that the Old Solesmes interpretation of the episema ought to apply to both notes.
The Old Solesmes school teaches that the value of an individual note of a clivis is the same as an undotted punctum, so that the rhythm of the phrase “adorate Dominum” would be short-short-short-long-long-long-short-long-short-long-short-long (where the shorts are of average value and the longs augmented). But an informed reading of the St. Gall notation (above) of the same reveals that the single syllable on the punctum “do” of “adorate” is long. Therefore, the individual notes of the clivis that procede it are each shorter than the punctum, and the individual notes of the clivis that follow it are each the same length as the punctum, or short-short-long-long-long-long-long-long-long-long-long-long (where the longs are of average, not augmented, value). In other words, correcting the interpretation of the clivis with episema is meaningless unless the rhythms of all the other notes of the chant have also been corrected to the proper proportions. Here is my own transcription:
Further compounding the problem is that St. Gall scribe does not always explicitly write the episema when it is to be understood in context (or sometimes by downright omission). A literal transcription of the St. Gall text would be insufficient for a proper rhythmic interpretation. But the Solesmes notation does not even always transcribe the episema from St. Gall (e.g. on the fourth note of “ejus” in the Tollite hostias example). And if you really want to get detailed, the Laon notation of the same chant gives the rhythm of adorate Dominnum as long clivis with augmentation, long clivis, short clivis with augmentation, short clivis. The effect is one of acceleration, or of decreasing ritardando—a practice that might have been so universal at St. Gall that the scribe didn’t think it necessary to go into that much detail.
My intent is not to frighten anyone away from the study of 9th and 10th century chant traditions. I have personally made recordings with amateur singers that, unbeknownst to me at the time, agree substantially with those of Agostoni. It is possible! I would, however, like to suggest that until one has a thorough grasp of the earlier tradition, they not attempt to mix their discoveries with the tradition of the Old Solesmes method, which is capable of producing its own beautiful and worthy performances in its pure 19th century glory.
*Of course, if someone wants to follow this interpretation because they find it especially beautiful, I would not discourage them. We would not have, for example, the masterful choral works of Maurice Duruflé had he not based his compositional style on what has turned out to be entirely incorrect theories concerning the rhythm of Gregorian chant. It is an entirely different matter to go about peddling this mixed-breed chant as beloning to the pedigree of any 9th or 10th century source.
I must add two additional comments about Cole’s article:
On p. 21 he refers to the letter “r” as standing for “rursum,” meaning “elevate.” This should of course be “s” and “sursum,” as in “sursum corda.” The medival s often looks like an r, numerous examples of which can be found in the above St. Gall notation of Tollite hostias.
Secondly, I’ve noticed a trend in this and other articles using the term “semiology” to refer to the neumes themselves, rather than to the study of the neumatic signs (e.g. p. 23 “If you try to sing everything marked in the semiology…”). I find this confusing, and have not been able to track down a primary source that uses the term semiology in this way. I wonder if it stems from a mistranslation of Cardine’s original French, or if I have personally misread the term to mean “the study of paleographic signs.” Anyone?
No, not that one. The Communion for the Third Sunday of Advent: Dicite pusilanimes.
Say to the fainthearted: “Take courage, and do not fear; behold, our God will come and he will save us.”
I’m very honored to have two of our performances featured today on chantcafe.com.
Here’s another chant that we will be recording on our new CD Those Who Sow in Tears Will Reap in Joy:
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Here’s a selection from our recent Day of the Dead concert, the tract Qui seminant in lacrimis.
I was recently criticized for suggesting that through knowledge of 9th century notational practices and familiarity with the chant repertoire one could arrive at the proper interpretation of the St. Gall and Laon manuscripts. While I admit “proper” is a loaded word, I don’t think it’s fair to call my research “guess work.” While performing chant from medieval manuscripts might require a little more effort than simply reading from a performing edition of a Bach keyboard work (where the editor has already made choices from several divergent manuscripts in Bach’s own hand), the result is no less verifiable.
Here are two examples from the offertory Illumina as it appears in the St. Gall notation of Einsiedeln 121:
Look at the words “dicat” and “inimicus” [third line of text, first and second words]. The last syllable of each has a bivirga followed by a climacus. These are both the same musical figure, although they are written differently. The first one cautions “l(evate),” i.e. “the second note is higher than you think.” For the second figure, the copyist adds an “e(galiter)” to remind the singer that the first note of the climacus is the same pitch as the bivirga. The fact that the second bivirga has episemata does not imply that it is to be treated as a double long or that the previous bivirga is short.
If one encountered either of these figures in isolation, they would not be able to arrive at the “proper” interpretation because each case presents only some of the necessary information. But with an understanding of the notational practice (that not all signs are to be interpreted literally) and familiarity with the repertoire (being able to compare other notated examples of the same melodic figure) one can arrive at the “proper” interpretation: that is to say, the one intended by the copyist.
For another example in the same chant, look at the cadence on “morte” [N.B. the neumes extend over the next word] and on “eum.” They each have a double climacus just before the final syllable. In the second instance, the first climacus shows the third note as long, while in the first instance all three are written as short. Was the first an oversight? Or was the second a slip of the pen?
First of all, we know these figures are identical, even though differently notated. Comparison to the Laon manuscript of the same chant confirms this. It also confirms the “short-short-long, long-short-short” reading in both cases with its more explicit notation. Again, while the one manuscript did not provide the necessary information, comparison to another source reveals the explicit meaning of an implicit notational system.
So, what do you think—does this sound like a guessing game? or like science?