Sunday, 30 June 2013

The demise of the Filipino chant books: Part I

This is the first part of a five-part string of posts.

Chant in the Catholic world

As there are more qualified authors who have already written about the origins of chant, in particular, we have Dr. William Mahrt, President of the Church Music Association of America (CMAA), we skip this part (though, if you want, you can read about the third paragraph of this piece) and proceed to describing the atmosphere of sacred music before Gregorian chant became the lord and master of chant in the Latin Rite.

After Luther put Christendom asunder with a schism, princes professing different confessions became the norm, for which we have the dictum: Cuius regio, eius religio. In the case of chant, which is altogether a different province of discussion, we have: Cuius cultus, eius cantus.

Whose worship, his chant.

Before the time alluded above in the first paragraph, there used to be huge variety of chant traditions in Western Christendom: Mozarabic chant in Christian Spain; Gallican chant in Christian France; Roman chant in Christian Rome; Ambrosian chant in Christian Milan; Celtic chant in Christian Britain; Beneventan chant in Christian Beneventum. Secular and ecclesiastic temperaments of the time, however, gradually paved the way to the marginalisation other chant traditions, which made a conscious and concerted effort in instituting Gregorian chant as the normative chant of the Roman Church.

Pride of place, we realise, is not a Vatican II idea. The survival of other chant traditions is to us very welcome. The prestige of Saint Ambrose of Milan helped keep Ambrosian chant alive, perhaps coupled by what is implicit in the words of this very same Doctor of the Church: While in Rome, do as the Romans do (that is: While in Milan, do as the Milanese do). Beneventan chant persisted in Monte Casino for some time until it was finally supplanted by Gregorian chant. Roman chant itself, becoming casualty to the Avignon captivity, became less favoured amongst the Popes after the return of the papacy to Rome. The same fate, in different circumstances, was precipitated upon the other Western chant traditions.

In Spain, we have the Reconquista which dealt the fatal blow to Mozarabic chant.

La rendición de Granada
Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz

What replaced it in practically all places where it used to be sung was Gregorian chant (which even replaced the proper chant of Rome, now called Old Roman chant). Later efforts to preserve or restore Mozarabic chant in some enclaves in Toledo achieved only a sort of fusion of the two chant traditions, which could be interpreted as the imposition of Gregorian practice over Mozarabic chant. In the rest of Spain, Gregorian chant probably became the norm, albeit assuming a Hispanic character.

Over the centuries, Gregorian chant, as mentioned, degenerated into severe abbreviations. Sometimes the text was sung in the melisma to save time, and which over time became galvanised in our chant books, resulting to the eventual replacement of the authentic tunes with the shortened one. This was what the Benedictine of Solesmes sought to stop, in order to restore the authentic melodies of the Church. The work of the Solesmes monks found its greatest champion in Pope Saint Pius X. Before Solesmes published its books, the liturgical books of the Church were mainly printed in Regensburg in Germany. We can call these books the Pustet lineage of chant books, which eventually the Solesmes lineage would replace, books published in Tournai in Belgium.

Thus, Gregorian chant, having been diffused throughout the Catholic world, suffered oversimplification and corruption. It would sometimes happen that in two countries where Gregorian chant is used, the music for the same chant do not coincide. In the years preceding the restoration of the authentic melodies of Gregorian chants, German bishops fought to secure the primacy of the German chant tradition over that of the Solesmes school. They would write letters to the Pope and to the Sacred Congregation of Rites asking for clarifications concerning the status of their own chant vis-à-vis the restored chant. They would issue pastoral letters informing their parishioners of any favourable response from the See of Peter.

Why so?

Because Gregorian chant in Germany was quite distinct. It even has its own notation system that, while similar to Gregorian notation, is not quite like it. We have an example of this notation from the Klosterneuburger Graduale for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Introit for the Feast of the Nativity of the B.V.M.
Klosterneuburger Graduale

Let us compare this with the chant from the Liber usualis. [Note. This is now the current Gregorian notation, fixed around the 1930’s, as used by the monks of Solesmes. The notation that persists in the universal Church today, which has the ictus, came from an earlier scholarship.]

Introit for the Feast of the Nativity of the B.V.M.
Liber usualis (1903)

We can see the slight differences: in the first neume in Gregorian chant, the second podatus reaches up only until mi while that in German chant until fa; the neume on the last syllable of puérpera in Gregorian chant is a podatus subbipunctis, whereas in German chant it is a torculus; in the first syllable of Régem, we have in Gregorian chant a clivis and a porrectus forming a pressus, whereas in German chant, we have a bistropha subbipunctis resupinus or a stropha and a climacus resupinus forming a pressus.

In theory, these small differences are what the German bishops wanted to preserve. We cannot, of course, write off the patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric with which the Germans resisted imposition of what might be deemed as French-ness.

If we were at the same time optimistic and blind, we would have invoked the sacrosanct words which have become byword in the contemporary Church: Unity in diversity. Alas, this could not hold ground in the issue of corrupted chant. For there can be no unity in chant when the chant itself is imperfect and impaired. Here we recall the wisdom of Pope Saint Pius X in Tra le sollectudini:
La musica sacra deve per conseguenza possedere nel grado migliore le qualità che sono proprie della liturgia e precisamente la santità e la bontà delle forme, onde sorge spontaneo l’altro carattere, che è l’universalità.
Universality proceeds from both holiness and excellence of form.

Hoc est ternarium musicae sacrae signum.

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