måndag 18 februari 2013

Hail Mary has been changed

ANGELICO, Fra Annunciation, c1450
The Hail Mary has been changed. Or rather, the Swedish translation has. Having gone to the trouble of learning the old one I am not going to be caught out again so it is Latin for me in future. At least one can be sure that no committee is going to get together and come up with yet another translation.

AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Here is the rest of the Rosary. You can download it, format and print on a card. It needs to be in two columns to fit on one side of A4. But when one thinks about it, the prayer is undignified. Hailing is what you do when one wants to get a taxi driver to stop and pick you up. Our Lady is not a taxi and I have never heard of anyone calling "Ave" when they wanted one.

18 Black cab

söndag 17 februari 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 1

Italian devotion in London by TheAltruist
Italian devotion in London, a photo by TheAltruist on Flickr.
My first encounter with the Catholic church was here, the Italian church of St Peter's in Clerkenwell Road, London. It was January 1975 and I was there to check out if there was enough light to enable me to take the photographs for some friends whose wedding was due to be held there a week later. As it happens, the only time available was for a Sunday Mass. I will say only that this was an instant conversion and that I did not understand a single word of the proceedings, since the Mass was in Latin and the readings in Italian. It is impossible to say what would have happened if things had been otherwise, but I doubt if my path would have been an easy one if the Mass had been said in English and the music had been the kind of thing that became the norm in Catholic churches a decade later. These things would have been obstacles. I suspect that is true for a lot of people and is a good reason why Mass should not be said in the vernacular. Being able to understand the words can get in the way of what is first and foremost an action.

At that time the reforms that were initiated by the Second Vatican Council had not fully taken effect. The church had a very competent choir and an organ with a beautiful tone. The music was the Missa Pontificale written in 1897 by the composer Perosi (1872-1956).

söndag 10 februari 2013

Four-line square-note rearguard action

It is encouraging that more enlightened counsels are prevailing in some quarters. Musica Sacra, the website of the Church Music Association of America, offers ICEL’s English missal chants in 4-line square-note Gregorian notation for the Order of Mass.

ICEL itself offers these chants along with all the other English chants (prefaces, antiphons for particular days, etc.) at its website. ICEL provided the chants to the English-speaking bishops’ conferences in 5-line notation. ICEL considered offering both 4-line and 5-line, and even planned on that for a time. Then it was decided that this would be a waste of ICEL time and resources, since no conference would choose to publish 4-line chant in its liturgical books anyway.

Then the question arose: What about those who want to publish the missal chants in 4-line in their own publications? Would that be permitted, though it was not the ‘approved’ ICEL notation? Yes, the thought was, there was no reason not to allow that.

What is striking is the clarity and cleaner appearance of the neum notation in a page of typescript text.

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.

fredag 8 februari 2013

The curse of the flying eggs


Here is a comparison of the beginning of Credo 3 in traditional Gregorian chant notation and in modern notation, both to the same scale. The upper example is from Plainsong for Schools, first published around 1930 and the lower example is from the latest edition of Cecilia. It shows how the traditional notation illustrates the phrasing and rhythm of the music in a way that the round-note style does not. The porrectus in "omnium", for instance, is replaced by three spots, which lacking even the indication of a tie which would help to emphasise the fact that here is a group of notes belonging to a single syllable. It is also slightly more compact, making the words easier to read and saving some paper into the bargain.

The comparison also demonstrates the superior clarity achieved by putting the music on a stave with four lines instead of five. The notes are larger, the spaces between the lines are bigger, and four lines are easier to read than five. A further benefit of the Gregorian chant notation is that it does not forced people to sing at a particular pitch. They might want to start on F or A, not on G as the score forces them to do. Choirs will normally choose their pitch by agreement, and what they choose can be determined by the state of the voices which is affected by facturs such as the time of day or even the weather.

Ugly on the page
And not the least of the objections is that it just looks ugly.

onsdag 6 februari 2013

Swedish Catholics get new hymn book

The new edition of Cecilia, the hymn book for the Swedish Catholic church, was published today. It retains the same general arrangement as the previous one, which dates from the mid-1980s. The most-used pages are in the middle, which means that the book is less likely to fall apart than when the most-used pages are at the front. The centre pages with the Canon of the Mass are edged with grey, to make them easy to find. The typeface is Palatino and the paper is very thin and pale cream in tint. A large-type version is available.

First impressions
The ancient Swedish favourites are in, as they should be, since they form an important part of the national musical heritage. And the lesser-used hymns have been weeded out. As the introduction explains, the recommendations of Sacrosanctum Concilium have been faithfully followed: "The universal treasury of Gregorian chant has been given a prominent place, in accordance with the desire of the Second Vatican Council that all believers should be able to sing the fixed parts of the Mass in Latin".

Thus, the Latin texts are more comprehensive than in the previous edition and the side-by-side translations are now printed in the same size as the vernacular texts. There is a Latin Kyriale and a generous selection of Latin hymns.

Also included, in Swedish, are the new Entrance Antiphons for every Sunday. Hopefully this will encourage churches with choirs to chant them instead of beginning the Sunday service with a hymn, the choice of which tends to give a Protestant flavour to the proceedings. Once again, unfortunately, there is no musical setting for the revised translated text of the Creed, which makes it much harder to remember. However, because of the big variation in the number of syllables between the Swedish and the Latin, setting the vernacular text to any of the Latin tunes would have been no easy matter and is something that can be left till later.

Gregorian chant vandalised
However, anyone browsing through the new hymnal will wonder at first glance where all this Latin Gregorian chant has been put. Unfortunately - and it makes them verging on useless, it has been set in modern musical notation. To anyone familiar with Gregorian chant, well known music has been rendered unrecognisable. It even looks ugly on the page - for all the world like rows of flying eggs. But it is worse then that, because all the nuances of the music have been wiped out in an act of artistic vandalism.

Why bother?
Why did anyone go to the time and trouble? The argument that modern notation is familiar is one that was put forward when chant settings were made for the new English translations, and was probably the rationale in this case too. However, so far as I am aware, no research has ever been carried out to show that modern notation makes Gregorian chant more accessible, and there is, on the contrary, ample experience to confirm that the traditional four-line notation is well within the ability of a class of ten-year-old children.

Anyone with a sensitivity to the music and an awareness of its historic origin would taken the trouble to make sure that it was passed on intact, and further, would have set up some kind of training scheme to spread the knowledge around the country. Given the eminent people who have been involved in the production, how could this could have happened?

The curse of the round notes
Gregorian four-line notion with neumes indicates the shape of the musical phrases in a way that modern notation does not. In the neume notation, regular notes are shown as squares, whereas descending scales of notes, intended to be sung lightly, are shown as diamonds. These scheme encourages a lively style of singing which cannot be recreated with modern notation unless it is heavily annotated afterwards. So not only does the modern notation make the chant more difficult to sing; it also makes it hard to avoid singing it in a way that sounds dreary, since the nuances are not indicated. It will not encourage anyone to sing the Gregorian chant.The decision to use modern notation has effectively sabotaged what could have been a valuable resource. The same applies also to the excellent Swedish adaptations of the chant which would have benefitted greatly from being set in the four-line neume notation.

What now?
Anyone wishing to use Gregorian chant in their parish is now presented with a problem. The people who can teach it would not want to use these settings. It is easy enough to find the right material and print it as required, but that defeats the whole object of having a book with everything in it. As a stop-gap, there is Liber Cantualis, available from the Abbey of Solemnes at €8.50 in quantities of 20 or more. This contains pretty much all the Gregorian chant that is contained in Cecilia in a slim 123 page hardback volume.

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