lördag 9 februari 2013

The curse of the flying eggs - continued

The problems with the new Swedish Cecilia referred to previously are a re-run of those caused by ICEL when introducing the new English Mass settings. Here is the dialogue at the introduction to the Preface in the two forms of notation. The upper one is as published by ICEL, the lower is the the Solemnes setting of the Latin text. The flying eggs are not, in fact, part of the musical sequence of breve, semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, etc, which have their familiar long-established forms of notations. So far as I can tell they are an invention which has popped out from nothing and nowhere. They are not included in the popular music setting programme Musescore. They are less readable as they do not show the phrasing anything like so clearly as either the traditional square notation or, for that matter, conventional musical notation with tied quavers. The wobbly eggs look ugly in themselves and the musical staves out of place in the context of a page consisting mostly of text.

A further issue is that five line notation indicates an absolute pitch with the note of A defined according to ISO 16:1975 as 440Hz. In the illustration above, with the dialogue being introduced by the priest, this is not going to happen unless the priest has absolute pitch or the initial note is sounded by an organist or someone with a pitch pipe, and even then it assumes that the priest will sing the note that was played. The difficulty is entirely avoided when square notation is used, since these indicate only relative pitch, so that the priest can sing at whatever pitch he is comfortable with. In reality, that is what he will do anyway, which defeats the object of the exercise.

The reason given for this fiddling about - for that is what it is - is that modern notation is easier to understand. It is one that comes from professional musicians. It is spurious. Most people in a congregation, who can barely read music anyway, and all beginners, will find the correct notation easier. The same goes for those whose eyesight is not 100% and for everyone when the lighting is not 100%. All of them will find a four-line notation easier, because the lines are spaced further apart, and it is easier to pick out a note on four lines than on five; 20% easier, to be precise.

However, the more serious problem with modern notation is its effect on the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Anyone competent enough to teach Gregorian chant will be aware of the inadequacy of the modern notation, which wipes out all the nuances of the music, and consequently they will want to teach from square note scores. This is the reason why it is so unfortunate that publications are being given out with this invented notation. The Solemnes publications such as Liber Cantualis is expensive for what it is, and Liber Gradualis even more so. Parish Book of Chant is affordable in hard copy and freely downloadable but the translation is in English. Having to buy expensive books would be an obstacle for beginners, especially young people who are studying and living on grants. And it is a good thing to have things in a book rather than keep on printing sheets of paper. So books like Cecilia, which so far as its contents is concerned is the ideal model of what a Catholic service book should be, should include the settings in the correct notation. The same applies to hymn books from private publishers.

What is will probably be required is action at the highest level. So far as I am aware, material for use in Catholic services needs a formal Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat. Cecilia does not appear to have them, though there is a forward from the Bishop of Stockholm which obviously indicates approval. In any case, however, additional guidelines would have to be promulgated to ensure that the correct Gregorian chant scores are used for Gregorian chant settings. This raises the further issue that the most recent and best settings are from Solemnes, which owns the copyright, since the monks there depend on the royalties for their livelihood. One solution might be for the Vatican to pay the monks for the copyright so that they can then be freely distributed for use within the whole church.

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