Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gregorian Chant

As an individual who was raised as Roman Catholic, there were certain times of the year when Gregorian Chant would permeate through my house. Most often, the music was played during the Lenten season (time between Ash Wednesday and Easter). I always found the chanting of the monks captivating. I generally didn't understand all that they were saying since Gregorian Chants tend to be in Latin, but I enjoyed the music nonetheless. 

Gregorian chant was developed in the 6th century and is often associated with St. Gregory. The chants are musical repertoires used to accompany liturgical parts of the Roman Catholic mass. Gregorian chant can be related to a "sung Bible" because it comes from sacred Latin text of the New and Sacred Testament. The whole purpose of the chants is to encourage spiritual growth and reveal the full gifts of God. 

Gregorian chant in its inception was an aural music. I have often heard of music being passed down orally or through manuscripts but rarely through hearing. The Gregorian chants were heard and committed to memory. This aural tradition was much more common in the early centuries of music-making. As Gregorian chant became widespread in the 8th century, we began to see more manuscripts of the music. This initiated quite a change in the past traditions of Gregorian chant. The music became less interpretive and no longer required the use of memory. During the Renaissance, melodies that used to contain long vocalises were reduced to a few notes; while, literary compositions representative of the Roman liturgy were "corrected" against verbatim biblical readings. These changes continued for two hundred years and came to be known in English as "plainsong." 

In the 19th century, a young monk, Dom Prosper GuĂ©ranger, took it upon himself to restore Gregorian chant back to its pre-Renaissance state. He was successful in his mission, and the chants we hear today are reminiscent of his work. I'm especially glad that GuĂ©ranger restored the music back to its previous state. If he had not, I don't know that the Gregorian chant would have continued to touch so many people and achieve the objectives it was designed for (i.e. spiritual growth). Listening to the Gregorian chants during Lent helps me achieve a greater understanding of my religious background and enriches my Lenten devotions. 

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