söndag 1 november 2015

A Gregorian chant repository for Sweden

Swedish texts have been set to Gregorian chant both for the Catholic and national Lutheran churches, as well as for religious communities, although there are important gaps. There is no setting for the Creed, nor for the Entrance or Communion antiphons, or the Alleluia verses.

All of the settings appear to have been written in five-line notation instead of the four-line neum notation which was invented for Gregorian chant. This gives rise to difficulties.

(A) With five-line notation the lines must be closer together. It is more difficult to see a note on a four-line stave than a five-line one. In most cases the upper line, and often the two upper lines, are redundant because Gregorian music does not normally extend over the range provided by a five-line stave.

(B) A five-line stave with clef mark indicates an absolute pitch, whereas the four-line Gregorian notation has a doh or fa clef and indicates relative pitch, like tonic solfa notation. This allows choirs to decide where to pitch their doh, by agreement between them, depending on the state of their voices and the weather, etc.

(C) Neum notation more clearly indicates the shape of the music phrases in Gregorian chant. This promotes a livelier style of singing, as well as making it is easier to recognise music and phrases within the music that singers have performed.

(D) Modern notation occupies more space, and also spreads the text out along the lines in separate syllables. It is then no longer possible to apprehend it as text. Singers then lose the sense of the text, which should not happen in given that it is the text that is important and the music is essentially ornamentation of that text to give emphasis to certain words and phrases.

The lack of compactness means that scores do not always have all the music written out for every verse of a strophic hymn, when each verse may have adaptations to fit the text.

(E) Gregorian notation better preserves the flow of the text instead of breaking it all up into separate syllables and spreading them across the width of the page.

A further difficulty arises due to the format of Cecilia. With 1300 pages, it has had to be printed on extremely thin paper which makes it difficult to handle. The typeface in the standard volume is only 2 mm high ie just over 8 point, and the typeface which appears to be Palatino is light in weight, making it hard to read. Due to its size, Cecilia is also an expensive book – three times as expensive as the average English hymn book from Kevin Mayhew, and it is important to minimise wear and tear to maximise their life.

Cecilia includes a selection of Ordinaries of the Mass as well as a collection of the better-known Latin hymns but these are also in five-line notation. There are also some discrepancies between the music in Cecilia and that in the standard Solemnes editions. This usually does not matter because congregations normally sing the Solemnes version, presumably because that is what they remember. However, it sometimes becomes noticeable when young musicians sing from Cecilia; the Kyrie from Missa de Angelis is an instance of this.

In the light of the above considerations, the aim is to make available clearly legible musical settings, in neum notation, of those Swedish and Latin Gregorian chants in most common use.

It is suggested that a web site be established to serve as a repository for work which has not been included in Cecilia but which would be of use in the Diocese of Stockholm, and to anyone else who wished to make use of it. The site would be moderated by a committee of musicians and subject to quality control and agreed standards.

A model would be the work done by the “Church Music Association of America”. This has music for both the Novus Ordo and Usus antiquior.

The scores made available on the web site would be produced as copyright-free A4 sheets and A5 booklets, available in PDF format for downloading and printing as required. This would reduce wear-and-tear on Cecilia. At some time in the future the work might be compiled into a printed and bound book or separate volumes. The very useful and comprehensive collection in “Plainsong for Schools” would probably have a wide appeal since it fills a particular need.

As part of this project, Gregorian settings to Swedish texts would be prepared, of the Entrance Antiphons, Alleluia and Communion verses, (“Propers”) also in neum notation; in addition, it would be desirable to make available musical settings of texts for special occasions, such as the Maundy Thursday foot-washing.


As regards the Proper of the Mass, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from The Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop.

Does the same instruction apply in Sweden? It is not altogether clear how this might be approached, because the texts from the Roman Gradual are not always those in Cecilia, which are presumably taken from the Swedish Missal. Some of the entrance antiphons are so short that they would not allow sufficient time to process from the sacristy to the altar.

A possible solution might be this. The texts from Graduale Romanum are taken from the Vulgate. They might be replaced by the same scriptural passages from a Swedish bible translation. However, it appears that there is not an approved Swedish bible approved for Catholic use. One option might be to use the 1917 translation, which is widely appreciated for its literary quality. Given the present practice of replacing the Proper texts with hymns chosen with considerable freedom and usually of Lutheran or Anglican origin, any attempt to follow the texts of the Gradual Romanum more faithfully must be more in accord with the principle of Liturgiam authenticam.

The aim would thus be to set these texts to the same Gregorian psalm tones as are used for the Latin settings of the Proper in Graduale Romanum, as well as the complete chants for the Alleluia.

The lack of a musical setting for the Creed needs to be addressed. In the absence of one, people mumble. Neither the Credo I or Credo III settings are suitable for use with the Swedish text without adaptation. The less ornamental Credo I is in Mode 4 which makes it difficult to sing. Credo III is in the easier Mode 5 which is close to a normal major key but the ornamentation, with many porrecti, makes it even more difficult to adapt. One option would be to sing Credo III at all sung Masses. Everyone seems to know it and it can be taught to children. Another possibility is to use the tune used in some Swedish Orthodox communities.


Most of the Latin texts can be scanned from Liber Usualis or Plainsong for Schools. These books appear to be out of copyright. It is usually necessary to carry out some work to the scans so as to ensure clarity. The originals were printed by a letterpress process and the quality of the impressions is variable.

New work can be written out using an ordinary word processor with one of the Gregorian fonts from St Meinrad. The text font should also be standardised. News Plantin is a good font for this purpose. It is a heavier type than Times Roman and makes for better photocopies. It is also slightly condensed compared with Palatino ie it takes up less space, though not as condensed as Times New Roman. It must be purchased from Monotype, however, and the appropriate license would be required.

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