Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Graduale Back in St. Peter's

From time to time, I'm told that the Graduale has been depreciated in favor of the Responsorial Psalm, and this is always said as if to suggest that the Graduale, while permissible, must be looked down upon as an inferior option - even though these are among the oldest in the Gregorian books and even though they are unquestionably the great masterpieces of all the books.

Well, here we go: the Graduale is being sung again in the Vatican. Here is Christus Factus Est for Good Friday (commentator below points out that this is actually the Graduale for Palm Sunday and it is being sung to the text of the Gospel acclamation). The "function," if we can call it that, of the Graduale is to inspire reflection on holy scripture. As William Mahrt points out, it is clearly the case that the music is elevated even above the text as the preeminent thing in these pieces, as illustrated by the luxuriating melismas that occur throughout the pieces. These pieces clearly depart from the formula of the melody being a vessel for the more-important text; the music here becomes the "text" which is to say that the music here is the message, the purpose, the driving functional element, and the long elaborations on single syllables are structured create an earthly stillness so that the mind and heart can be elevated to the heavens to prepare us.

7 comments:

Copernicus said...

It's beautiful. We sing it in years when we don't sing Anerio or Bruckner. But it's not really in competition with the Responsorial Psalm, is it? It's the Gospel Acclamation rather than the Psalm in the OF Lectionary. (I'm not sure why it's labelled 'Gradual' rather than 'Tract' in the GR and the Gregorian Missal, since it's in the normal place for a Tract.)

We sing it between the second reading and the Gospel, having already sung the Responsorial Psalm after the first reading.

Jeffrey A. Tucker said...

Of course you are right. This is the text of the Gospel Acclamation sung to the Gradual of the week before! I've corrected the post.

moravocis said...

The melismas in these chants (graduals, alleluias, tracts) often highlight important words as well, in the way that a modern Christian might use a highlighter pen while reading scripture. The words "highlighted" by the music in the Christus Factus are "Illum" (Him/Christ), "obediens", "crucis". Dr. Mary Berry would often have her students read out loud an english translation of a text emphasizing the words with melismas, which gave an interesting perspective on how the early Christians viewed these texts, Christians much closer in time to Christ than we. When read like this, the Chant then again becomes the true servant of the text, bringing out the important words and phrases. (J. Morse)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments regarding the use of the Gradual - these are surely some of the most sublime chants in the repertoire (The "Christus Factus Est" is, in my opinion, one of the most sublime). At the same time, though, we need to be aware of the important place that the responsorial psalm holds in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal states "After the first reading comes the responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and hold great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God" (para. 61). The GIRM points out the need to choose appropriate music for this point in the liturgy. Whether it be Latin, English, chant or not, the music at this point in the liturgy really needs to serve the function that is intended. How sad it is that most of the itty bitty ditty refrains that have been published certainly don't fit the bill. The Chabanel Psalms, though, are a great gift to the Church.

By the way, the Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Easter Vigil celebration booklets from this year's Holy Week services at the Vatican all contain cantor/congregation responsorial psalms.

Anonymous said...

Using Gregorian Graduals in the NO can be a bit problematic if one is concerned with authenticity because some Graduals would be sung outside the context they were composed for. Using Gradual texts in other places is clearly beneficial, but the melodies may not respond to the Epistle text they were were originally composed for.

In the case of Christus factus est, this was composed as a response to St Paul's Epistle of Holy Thursday in which he relates the Eucharist to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The antiphon melody is joyous and peaceful, has melodic associations with other texts for a musical exegesis, and has formulaic theological symbols that constitute a musical narrative of the Atonement in the context of the Eucharist. This does not fit as well with the Passion and Gospel of Good Friday. In its current NO position on Palm Sunday, it merely repeats some words of the Epistle. I suppose that one can look at it as a meditation on those words, but then one would have to ignore some melodic associations.

Ted K.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Beautiful. They don't rush it so to leave time to meditate and emphasize important words. Men's choir, voices blending. Superb.

Why the Gradual is after the Tract?
http://musicasacra.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=1511
« The Ordo Cantus Missae reversed the usual order on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, probably so as to place 'Christus factus est' immediately before the Passion, which is now read on these two days only.

On Palm Sunday in the old rite only two lessons were read at Mass and the Gradual and tract were sung between them. 'Christus factus est' was sung (alone) between the Epistle and Gospel on Maundy Thursday, and two tracts were sung on Good Friday, one after each of the first two lessons.

The Ordo Cantus Missae re-assigned the chants of the gradual to make them accord with the three-year lectionary. Where the three-year lectionary is in use, it seems appropriate to follow the OCM in this particular as in others. »

Jacques P.

William Mahrt said...

Christus factus est is not a tract, because it is a gradual melody. Tracts have quite a closed system of melodic formulae. As Jeffrey rightly points out, the melody is the message in a gradual.

Traditionally, the thematic relation between lesson and gradual was not a close one. On certain days, especially high feasts, there was often such, but on ordinary Sundays, it was not the case. I believe that the cultivation of "a theme of today's Mass" is too limiting and narrow. For the ordinary Sundays of the year, the propers of the Mass serve another function: they represent the whole of the Christian message, rather than underlining a narrow theme. Lazlow Dobszay has insisted that the attempt to coordinate such thematic references is obsolete, a concern of the seventies.