Gregorian Chant

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plainsong

plainsong or plainchant, the unharmonized chant of the medieval Christian liturgies in Europe and the Middle East; usually synonymous with Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Western church four main dialects of plainsong developed—Ambrosian, Roman, Mozarabic and Gallican—that seem to have been derived from similar sources. Gregorian chant is named for Pope Gregory I, whose credited role in compiling liturgical books during his papacy (590–604) is now considered questionable.

The origins of the chant go back to early Christian times, and it seems to have derived from musical practice in the Jewish synagogue and Greek musical theory. During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and also in later times, the chant melodies were used as the basis for polyphonic composition. In the 19th cent. the Benedictine monks of Solesmes sought to restore the Gregorian chant to its original form and their published editions from 1889 onward became the official music of the Catholic Church. The texts of plainsong are the words of the Mass, the Psalms, canticles, and certain verse hymns.

The tonality of Gregorian chant is based on the system of eight modes (see mode). The notation of the chant evolved into systems of neumes (see musical notation) that were still used in the 20th cent. in preference to modern mensural notation for plainsong. Little is known of the rhythm with which the chants were performed in the Middle Ages. The chants were contained in two principal books: those for the Mass in the “Gradual,” those for the Office in the “Antiphoner.” The modern Liber usualis is a compilation of most frequently used chants from the two.

Bibliography

See W. Apel, Gregorian Chant (1958); J. R. Bryden and D. G. Hughes, ed., An Index of Gregorian Chant (2 vol., 1969).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gregorian Chant

 

the general designation of the liturgical chants of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant developed as a result of the selection and recasting of local Christian chants by the Catholic Church. The process of arranging prayer texts was begun under Pope Gregory I the Great (died 604 A.D.). Canonization of the melodies and their strict distribution according to the days of the liturgical year was concluded toward the end of the seventh century. The chorales of the Catholic Church were named after Gregory I 300 years after his death.

The church tried to impart to the chants the qualities of otherworldliness, mystical contemplation, and religious ecstasy. At the same time, the chants reflected the centuries-old development of musical culture, embodying artistically valuable elements from the song cultures of various peoples. A male choir singing in unison is prescribed by Gregorian chant. Most of the chants are based on prose texts taken from the Bible, and the melodies are constructed on the so-called medieval modes. Notes of equal duration were dominant (hence, the later designation for Gregorian chant— cantus planus, even or plain chant). When church music assimilated multivoiced music, Gregorian chant remained the thematic basis (cantus firmus) for sacred polyphonic works.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
CALAHORRA MARTINEZ, P., <<Liturgia y musica: una historia cuatro veces quebrada>>, en VIH jomadas de canto gregoriano: canto gregoriano en Aragon, Zaragoza: Institucion Fernando el Catolico, 2004, 129-151.
San Pio X concede la primacia, como forma musical nacida del mismo corazon de la Liturgia romana y extendida por todo su ambito de influencia, al canto gregoriano, al que atribuye la primacia y un caracter de ejemplaridad (modelo).