Thursday, 4 July 2013

The demise of the Filipino chant books: Part II

This is the second part of a five-part series.

I. Chant in the Catholic world

Sacred music in Catholic Philippines

Filipino chant is Hispanic in character. It is amongst the chant family that developed in the scholae cantorum of the august cathedrals of Spain, forming a chant tradition that is distinct from the more widespread Gregorian chant, which had fallen into abbreviations sometime after the Middle Ages that very little has been preserved from its authentic modulation. Gregorian chant itself, as has been noted elsewhere, is an amalgamation of the florid Gallican chant and the austere Roman chant. Different places had different chant traditions.

The cathedral chant of Spain may be related to Mozarabic chant, and influenced by it, but per se it is not. It is difficult to reconstruct the practice and execution of Mozarabic chant as the manuscripts that survive are adiastemic, and nobody since the time of Cardinal Cisneros had been able to interpret them according to the original tradition. The published chant books for Spain, which have an appearance akin to the graduals published by Pustet (the unreconstructed Gregorian chant), make a distinction between canto llano (plainchant) and canto figurado (figured chant). The first visible difference between the two is time. Figured chant developed from or simultaneously with measured chant (canto mensurado) which imparted time duration on a note, a practice that eventually necessitated different forms or figures (hence, figured chant) for each time duration.

This is the chant tradition that came into the Philippines, and for three solid centuries reverberated from each consecrated edifice in the Isles, from the smallest ermita (shrine) to the grandest cathedral, under the direction of a village cantor mayor (principal cantor) or a cathedral capiscol (choirmaster). The books of Spain also came to the Philippines, and we have Arte del canto llano y figurado by D. Francisco Marcos y Navas as an example, which went through many editions. The lessons, unlike the manner of the Método de canto llano y figurado by José Flores Laguna, are presented in catechetical manner; that is, in a question-and-answer format.

An example of the chant from this book is given below, taken from the very same Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

Introit for the Feast of the Nativity of the B.V.M.
Arte del canto llano y figurado

Note that that all the notes are a punctum, regardless of whether it is ascending or descending. While the neumes on the first syllable of Sálve and on the first syllable of Régem coincide with the neumes in Gregorian chant given here, the neume for the last syllable of puérpera is just a punctum, as opposed to the podatus subbipunctis of Gregorian chant and torculus of the chant from Germany.

Now, let us look at the chant for the same text abstracted from a Filipino chant book.

Introit for the Feast of the Nativity of the B.V.M.
Misal o yntroitos del Coro de esta Iglesia de Baclayón 1827

Immediately, we notice that both chants are written on a five-line stave, as opposed to the standard Gregorian four-line stave. Both are divided at every word. Both are written only with puncta or a combination of puncta. These, in themselves, are not a great distinction as some mediaeval chant books were also written in this manner, with the exception of having puncta inclinata and the quirky quilismata where they ought to appear.

Filipino chant was written on large books called cantorales, which were meticulously reproduced by a music scribe known as escribano or escribiente de solfa. The books were usually written on parchment or cowhide. According to Filipino musicologists, the most complete set of cantorales is in the Parish of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, Bohol. They are perhaps called complete because the pages are still intact and are physically still organised into blocks (the binding has long deteriorated).

Large parishes were often able to fund the production of chant books, a process which took many years since the writing is tedious, the preparation of each page, and the confection or procurement of the ink, not to mention the historiations and illuminations themselves that were coloured with more than one pigment.

The cantorales were propped on a special lectern called facistol to facilitate the flipping of the pages, and the sightreading of the neumes. Taking our example from the cantorales of Baclayon, it would necessitate two chant books to musically decorate a solemn liturgy.

A page from the antifonario of Baclayon

Each book is ordered for a specific set of sacred music. The four books of Baclayon are classified into [1] Mass ordinaries (kyriale), [2] Mass propers (introitale, since the gradual is omitted), [3] Office antiphons (antiphonarium), and [4] Office psalms (psalterium). The kyriale and the introitale go together for the Holy Mass, and the antiphonarium and the psalterium go together for the Divine Office.

[Note: From above we see dark blotches in the lower margin. The dark blotches create a corona or halo around an area that had been eaten away, forming a lacuna. These lacunae correspond to the places where the cantors placed their fingers to flip the pages. Sweat from the hands would then be imprinted on the folios. In other areas of study, human sweat had been proven to serve as food for some type of bacteria that would live on antique materials such as these folios. Also the acidity of human perspiration would have weakened the signatures made of cowhide material, embrittling them. Finally, this provides insight into the type of ink used as it apparently bled off when sweat made contact with it.

Notice also from the above that the subsequent folios have no lacunae. This would imply that these first pages with the lacunae were extensively used, meaning there were many feasts honouring the Holy Cross sung in those days.]

These books expressed in their music the flowering of faith in God, and their size the magnitude of that faith, that worship, that could not bear to elevate the supreme honour to the Triune Godhead without the sacred music of the ages, sung from a book that was so lovingly and meticulously confected as though it itself embodied the holiness of sacred Liturgy.

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