Last week, we took a little trip to the eastern half of the Roman empire and the religious music of Byzantium. This week we will take a dip into what the Latin half of that entity did and how they differ.
In the sixth century AD, a pope by the name of Gregory I took on the daunting task of formalizing and codifying the numerous melodies of the liturgy of the Catholic church. However, others believe that this sacred music was developed later, as a natural Carolingian (think Charlemagne) synthesis of Latin and Gallican chants as Frankish kings needed Papal support from Rome and vice versa. Either way, what resulted is heard on this album – the Gregorian chants.
A monophonic, plainchant (one melody sung together or alone) the orginal melodies were transmitted orally until around 930 AD when the first pieces of notated music began appearing. These chants were modified and ‘originalised’ continuously throughout Western Europe’s tumultuous history. As the Catholic church liberalized or conservatized, different groups would try to modernize chants or bring them back to their ‘pure’ forms.
In the 20th century Vatican II officially allowed for the use of polyphonic, non Latin sacred music in the church while still recognizing that the Gregorian chants were still the official religious music of the Catholic church and the type best suited for worship.
Gregorian and Byzantine chants resemble each other in the fact that they are done without instrumental accompaniment. There is a fair amount of droning in each with the Gregorian being of simpler melody and lacking meter. Gregorian chants are usually monophonic – with all the voices singing the in unison on the same pitch while Byzantine chants are generally homophonic – voices singing in unison but on different pitches such as the doubling on an octave. Again, enough theory for today…
The Schola Cantorum of Amsterdam Students was founded in 1959 with the goal of preserving the Gregorian tradition. They quickly began a smashing success not only in their homebase of Amsterdam, but around Europe as well.
Thanks to F&M and please enjoy this 3 disc set with a Storypoint Chardonnay, lots of candlelight, and a Caprese Focaccia Sandwich fresh from our menu!
Think You Got Ears:
What differences between Orthodox and Catholic chants can you hear? Let us know in the comment section below.