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Antiquity in the Middle Ages

Chapter V: Plainchant Transfigured: Innovation and Reformation Through the Ages

Kayla Krapf
Music History 3584-001
Dr. K. Fenton
Essay No. 1 Final Draft
January 29, 2016

Chapter V: Plainchant Transfigured: Innovation and Reformation through the Ages





Introduction: The Writing Down of Plainchant

A. Decision to keep a written record of chant melodies (sometime in 9th century)
1. Wanted to improve what little notation there was
2. Disagreement among scholars
a. The decision on when to keep records of chant melodies
b. Where the earliest chant books come from
B. Notation
1. Specific pitches are not noted clearly
a. Singers would have needed to already know the melody
2. Neumes notational signs that told how the note/syllable was sung
a. By 900 they were present across Western Europe
b. There was little need for pitches to be written down due to services
every day
The Frankish Enrichment of the Roman Chant Repertory
A. Roman and Frankish paths crossed at some point.
1. During feast days, evidence shows they began with Roman worship,
switched to a Frankish form of chants, and back to Roman
B. Tropes were denied, but are now considered good
1. They added to liturgy without altering it
a. These were recited and added on to previously existing melodies
Changes in the Language of Music
A. Modes differ from East to West
1. The East used the eight modes within the span of eight weeks
2. The West cycled through modes per item each day
B. The Council
1. Decided to rewrite chants in order for them to be the same in every church
2. New volumes published in 1614 and 1615
Plainchant and Polyphony
A. A 990s manuscript holds over 150 pieces of music recorded by the church
B. A change occurred in polyphony plainchant by adding contrary motion between
two moving parts
1. Eventually, moving parts were added
C. Because of change, people cannot appreciate plainchant as the way it was


originally intended to be
Plainchant and the Last Hundred Years
A. The music was never meant for dramatic changes or entertainment
1. It was to be used to get meaning across
2. It was made to adapt to the life of people and instrumentation

B. Dom Prosper Guranger at Solesmes was an important figure in recreating books

to server the Roman Church between 1860 and 1912

A. More could be found in the years to came as research continues
B. Plainchant has changed, but it still holds beauty within it
Many scholars have difficulty agreeing on when chant melodies started to be recorded,

but find that the small amount of evidence present comes from the late ninth century.1 With the
notation, or neumes, in pieces from the ninth century, there is not a way to figure out a specific
pitch. Neumes only told singers how to perform their notes. Some directors would have had
reference books in order to see if the pitch went up or down. For vocalists, music was generally
simple to memorize seeing that the same melody could be used for several different chants.
Although notation could be of assistance to directors, there were several different forms of it,
which meant it was difficult to share.
New compositions were written in churches across Europe, and it has been found that churches
shared their works because Roman mass consisted of music of their own as well as chants that
were popular in Frankish areas. Essentially, it was a combination of new and old music that,
unfortunately, has quite a few gaps from old to new.2 Tropes, however, were added to liturgy but
did not alter what already existed. Some were added to the beginnings of melodies commonly
sung with a call from leaders and a response by the choir.3
One concept that helped choirs sing was the use one of eight different modes. In the East, modes
were based on an eight-week time frame, which allowed for a different mode every week.
However, in the West, the first item for a service would begin with mode item while the next

1 David Hiley, Plainchant Transfigured: Innovation and Reformation through the Ages in Antiquity and the
Middle Ages: From Ancient Greece to the 15th Century, ed. James McKinnon (Granada Group and The Macmillan
Press Ltd, 1990), 120142. The remainder of the paragraph can be found in 120-124, especially 122.
2 Hiley, 125.
3 Hiley, 126.

would be mode two and so on.4 The West could end up going through all eight modes in a single
service. Therefore, the eight-mode system did not work out as well for them. After a while, there
were differences that grew between churches because of how their music had changed. Part of
the change came from one church sharing music with another.5 The Council of Trent decided to
rewrite chants to try and have consistency throughout the churches. This resulted in two different
volumes, which came out in 1614 and 1615.6
Plainchant still continued to change. People began experimenting and came up with the idea of
having contrary motion between two voices while others liked giving one voice more freedom
and make melodic phrases longer than it had been before.7 Unfortunately, due to all of the
exploration in ways to expand polyphony, it lost part of its meaning and originality.8 The music
got better, but the text involved got lost within the music along the way.
Chant has changed several times throughout the years. Old ideas have been brought back while
new ones continue to make their debut. It has never vanished or taken hold of an entirely new
purpose.9 It is still sung today, and will continue to be sung as long as people endure to find an
interest for it. The intent of chant music was not to be used for an imaginative expression, but
rather to portray messages and share stories within the church. Chant has never been pushed on
churches to perform it the same way. It is growing music that allows change. Dom Prosper
Guranger at Solesmes is one person who helped try to revive how plainchant used by forming
books to be used by the Roman church from 1860 to 1903.10 There may still be doubts and
4 Hiley, 131 133. The bottom paragraph of 132 and into 133 describes the differences between the use of Modes in
the East and West.
5 Hiley, 135.
6 Hiley, 136.
7 Hiley, 136137. Focus should be directed to page 137.
8 Hiley, 138.
9 Hiley, 139.
10Hiley, 139140. The two sentences prior to the books for the Roman church can be found in the middle of page
139.The text covering the books as well as what follows is found in the top and bottom paragraphs of page 140.

disagreements between scholars that may never be solved, but there is still enough information to
continue to decipher until new answers arise.
Although there have been several books and manuscripts created through the years, there is still
more to find as researchers and scholars continue to dig deeper into the past. Plainchant should
not be looked at as tired and forgotten. Instead, it should be viewed for the many different
beauties it has exemplified over the years. It will continue to change as years go on because
people are always changing and learning. There will always be more to learn.
I like the fact that this chapter expanded on the Bonds textbook readings.11 I knew there
was controversy over exactly when chant was first written down and how long it had been sung
before that time, but I never realized how much was truly missing. The chapter talks about
disagreements on information because there is conflicting evidence that supports both ideas. This
chapter told of several different pieces that either were not written down or got lost creating a
large gap in history.
What I could have used more clarification on was some of the names Hiley was mentioning.

There were names of pieces of music, a collection of music, or terms in a language unfamiliar

to me. I would have liked an interpretation of the words in order to help further my
understanding. I also wish he would have incorporated more music from groups of work. There
were collections of music mentioned and named, but I would have had a better idea of what the
collection was if there was an example to go from. He does provide examples in some of the
newer versions, however.
Hiley fails to use the map that is presented within the chapter.13 I believe it may have helped me
more pinpoint where the people and churches were that he mentioned. He could have also made
11 Mark Even Bonds, A History of Music in Western Culture 4th ed. (NJ: Prentice Hall, 2013), 2556.
12 Hiley, 132 and 133. See middle of each page.
13 Hiley, 134.

reference to the East and West along with how they use modes and maybe even where the lie was
drawn. However, it would depend on the information available. Personally, I learn and retain
information better if I have visual.
I really enjoyed looking into how plainchant has transformed over the years to make it what it is
today.14 It is sad to know that a part of chant has changed with the ideas and same meanings but
lost part of its character along the way. I do, however, admire the fact that plainchant has come
so far and lasted for so many years simply by creating new pieces of music using the same texts.
It truly is a work of ever changing art.

14 Hiley, 139-141.

Bonds, Mark Evan. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice Hall, 2013.
Hiley, David, Plainchant Transfigured: Innovation and Reformation through the Ages in
Antiquity and the Middle Ages: From Ancient Greece to the 15th Century, ed. James
McKinnon et al. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991.