Sarum Chant

This recording has been around for a number of years and is now on Youtube. With a Canterbury cap tip to Rad Trad, I reproduce this link. See Sarum Christmas Mass.

I made the observation over there:

I was in charge of music at Gricigliano from late 1990 to summer 1992. I tried to bring in a more robust style of singing like in English choral music. Fr Mora, the seminary rector, wanted the “old” Solesmes style and replaced me when I got sent for my pastoral stint in France. The Ensemble Organum and Marcel Pérès have done some interesting recordings of medieval chant using the influence of Corsican harmonised chant for faux-bourdon.

That being said, I find unaccompanied Gregorian chant rather dry and arid. I always accompanied the chant at seminary using a soft 8ft stop and simple harmony, and it added something to the dry cake. The relationship between Gregorian chant and polyphony has always been tumultuous, as the Council of Trent came within an inch of abolishing all music other than plain chant. Most of my readers will know about Palestrina, Pope Marcel II and the Missa Papa Marcelli – and the saving of Renaissance choral music.

Also, I find plain chant outside a liturgical context deadly boring. There aren’t the sounds you hear – bells, the thurible, noises from the congregation. Above all, with a recording, one isn’t there to see the ceremonies. It is a document that helps to preserve a patrimony that seems to interest many, but motivate few to do it.

With the resources we usually have in churches, Gregorian chant and Anglican hymns is about all we can do, preferably with organ accompaniment. We need to form quartets and double quartets of competent singers, and wonders can be done with less cost than full choirs. Preferably, the only female singers would be the sopranos, and many women these days learn to sing with a pure non-vibrato voice.

Autumn is here and the nights draw in. I go out in the boat less frequently as the weather begins to close in for the winter – time to do some more compositions. My own quartet will be performing (in a secular concert) two of my works in December, a setting of In pace in idipsum and a verse from John Keats, What but thee, Sleep. I should do a Mass and a lovely Sarum text to Our Lady which is not found in the Roman rite:

Felix namque es, sacra virgo Maria, et omni laude dignissima : quia ex te ortus est sol justitiae Christus Deus noster, alleluya.

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10 Responses to Sarum Chant

  1. The Rad Trad says:

    I don’t mind unaccompanied chant at all particularly the propers, but I think the French practice of the organ alternations is the best for the ordinary of the Mass (alternating between the cantors and the congregation).

    Do you ever get to sing high Mass in your current situation?

  2. ed pacht says:

    Actually, there’s little I like better than unaccompanied traditional chant, be it Gregorian, or Eastern; and I tend to be more than a little annoyed when traditional chants are given an organ accompaniment. They evolved as an a cappella form and in my humble opinion should be left that way. More recent musical forms (including Anglican chant) are designed for accompaniment and work well that way. What the traditional forms were designed to include (or so it seems) is an a cappella vocal drone (what in Byzantine Chant is call the “Ison”). This is rarely heard with Western chants, but does work well, and apparently has a very long history.

    No, I don’t find Gregorian chant to be boring at all — if it is done well without organ I find myself transported by it. With organ – well – it’s OK, but I’d rather have later hymn style music in such a case.

  3. Dale says:

    Yes, I remember many years ago attending a presentation of Corsican Gregorian chant in Paris; after that experience the Solesmes style seemed stilted and very unnatural, and boring. I personally prefer chant to be sung slightly quickly and with a rhythm as well. I also think that a small portative organ accompaniment can be very helpful (actually small reed organs do this quite nicely as well, which is what we used to have in my school chapel); this is especially true when one tries to have chant sung by the whole congregation, it dispels congregational doubt and help keeps people on key!

    • The Rad Trad says:

      I always doubted the use of organ with chant and, while I generally do not like it aesthetically, I found at Vespers (old Latin rite) it does encourage people to sing along and keeps them on key. Otherwise, the congregation would likely shy away from the challenge of singing plainsong on note with those trained in it.

      • Dale says:

        Yes, exactly my point. I could tell you horror stories of trying to sing Evensong without organ accompaniment! Not only did it seem that everyone was singing in their own key, but also tended to wander off into little enclaves of their own…some slower, some faster, some simply confused.

    • Rubricarius says:

      There is clearly something wrong with the Solesmes chant. I understand their ‘restoration’ was done on a bar by bar basis. Not being a musicologist I refrain from further comment except to say I far prefer the ‘Mechlin’ and other versions but give me decent (early) polyphony any day.

  4. Dale says:

    Here is an example of Gregorian done with quite a bit more life in it than found in the Solesmes method (which I readily admit, I have never liked). I think that this is what Fr Anthony is writing about:

    • Philipot says:

      Thank you for posting this clip Dale. I found this very powerful. Is there any name for this setting or style that might bring up other similar examples? I am a complete novice in these matters so I am not even sure how to ask the right question here, but I appreciate any lead.

      • Dale says:

        Hello Philpot; personally, I would call this Gregorian on steroids! But when one compares this to the Solesmes method, well Solesmes sounds like a bunch of castrati singing so slowly and high that sleep appears the only release (for those who love the Solesmes method, I apologise); here is another selection from the same service; Great stuff:

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