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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Gregorian Chant

Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett
Dedicated to Mother Angelica

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.

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, Galliean, 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 Saint 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that they represent fairly the character of the chant sung in Italy and Gaul at the time when the cantilena romana superseded the earlier forms.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.)

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Part II: But why Gregorian

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