Release Date: March 2009
Ancient and modern, sacred and secular, this four-disc collection offers both traditional and contemporary variations on the time-honoured art form of Gregorian Chant.
Playing time over 4 hours
Disc 01 - The Brotherhood Of St. Augustus (Rouen)
1 Agnus Dei
3 Salve Regina
6 Ad Matutium
10 Recessional Et Dominus
11 Nos Autem
13 Responsorium Descendit
14 Offertory Prospa
Disc 02 - The Monastery Of The Holy Spirit (Monchique)
2 Pater Noster
4 Responsorium Descendit
5 Responsorium Hodie Nobis
7 Agnus Dei
9 Te Deum
10 Antiphona Dominus
Disc 03 - The Jesus Maria Clemente Monastery
1 Ave Maria
2 Ubi Caritas
4 Ant. Ave Verum / Magnificat / Ant. Ave Verum
5 Regina Caeli
6 Himno De Pentecostes / Veni Creator
7 Salve Regina
8 Kyrie (Orbis Factor)
9 Virgo Dei Genitrix
10 Ave Maria
11 Ant. Cumque Intuerentur / Salmo 110
12 Christus Natus
13 Missa Pro Defunctis
14 Invocacion: Deus In Adjutorium
16 Rorate Caeli
Disc 04 - Spirit And Destiny
1 Sadness Part 1
3 Blessed Essence
5 E Dulce Kyrie
6 Adagio Misericorde
9 1492 Conquest Of Paradise
10 Humming Chorus
11 The Twelfth Quatraine
14 Keep Talking
15 The Last Gospel
16 An Ending
It is easier to track down the source of the Gregorian chant’s name than trace its musical history. That came courtesy of Pope Gregory I, who reigned from 590 to 604 AD and the man who sent St. Augustine to convert Britain to Christianity. The unaccompanied singing of the Roman Catholic liturgy, the source of the music, continued to develop until the eighth or ninth century, and the results are still very much listened to today.
Gregory I has been credited with founding Schola Cantorum, the first school in Rome to train singers for the church. Illustrations exist that show a bird singing into his ear for him to transcribe, while he is said to have commanded missionaries sent abroad to return with new music they encountered, saying "Why should the Devil have all the good songs?" Unfortunately there was no usable music notation at the time of the painting, so both tales may be apocryphal, but they add entertaining flesh to the bones of the story.
The music says the rest and ‘Simply Gregorian’ is a more than apt title for our collection, since the Gregorian chant boasts the alternative names Plainchant and Plainsong. The word ‘plain’ is used in this context to distinguish the chant from later harmonic music rather than to denote any lack of interest. It is certainly a clue to the timelessness of the Gregorian chant, which is totally different to today’s popular music for several reasons. The first is its monophonic quality, the second its unmeasured or ‘free’ rhythm and the third its usually unaccompanied nature. This unique combination accords the chant a calming, spiritual quality that has, as we’ll see later, helped it find its way into mainstream music. The chant’s first four modes or group of scales were introduced by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, towards the end of the fourth century AD in an effort to establish a standard form of music for use throughout the fast-growing Christian church. Pope Gregory later approved four more modes. The eight basic Gregorian melodies or tones are each numbered, but can be varied by the use of a number of different melodic inflections or ‘flexes’. The rhythm is dictated by the words, which come from the psalms of the Bible and may be sung in Latin, French or, more occasionally, other languages.
Though the end result sounds deceptively simple, the modal system is actually quite complex and is descended from a system used by the medieval Byzantines and the Greater Perfect System of the ancient Greeks. The Gregorian chant’s arrival in the West must have occurred with the assistance of musical notation, since it crossed a thousand miles of the European continent with its basis intact.
The earliest surviving manuscripts of Gregorian chant date from the eighth to tenth centuries, a period when a standardised liturgy was being imposed on all churches by the edict of the Emperor Charlemagne. Singing teachers were dispatched from Rome to teach the Franks (a confederation of Western German barbarian tribes) to chant, but the Franks made changes to adapt to their way of singing and this is the style that eventually became known worldwide.
The first antiphonalia or written music depicting the Gregorian chant used a notation known as neumes. This was little more than an aide memoire, since it shows only the direction (up or down) that the melody moved. By the thirteenth century, the notation system had developed to indicate exact pitch, leading to the invention of the five-line stave we recognise today.
The growth of polyphonic music saw the Gregorian chant decline in popularity, and by the sixteenth century the tradition was effectively lost. The revival of the style can be accurately dated to 1903, when Pope Pius X called for "special efforts” to restore the use of Gregorian chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times."
The painstaking and time-consuming task of preserving the chant’s history had fallen to the Benedictine monks of Solesmes, an abbey north of Paris where manuscripts from all over Europe were collated and compared, initially under the inspired leadership of Dom Guéranger (1805-1875). The Vatican choir that sang at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005 used chants from editions made by the monks of Solesmes, so their work certainly stood the test of time.
It was a daughter house of Solesmes, at Silos in Spain, that brought the Gregorian chant unexpected fame in 1994. Their ‘Canto Gregoriano’ album became an international best seller as the chant’s positive properties for stress relief were recognised. The music in question had in fact been recorded between 1956 and 1962, and had been digitally remastered for this release a fact most listeners would remain blissfully ignorant of. The album’s sales success was doubtless helped by ‘Sadness’, a recent chant-inspired single by German group Enigma; this had reached the top of the UK chart in January 1991 and found popularity all over Europe. Our fourth disc, ‘Spirit And Destiny’, recognises the impact of the Gregorian chant tradition on mainstream pop music by featuring a version of that hit. Other highlights include a reading of Pink Floyd’s ‘Keep Talking’, and ‘Adiemus’, the theme of the new-age group of the same name familiar to many by its use in a Delta Airlines television ad. Vangelis’s haunting theme for the 1992 movie 1492: Conquest Of Paradise also proves a willing subject for the Gregorian treatment.
In an era when chillout is a best-selling genre, it’s fascinating to reflect that a style of music intended to bring the listener closer to God has helped many reconnect with their inner self. This four-disc collection, featuring contributions from the Brotherhood of St Augustus (Rouen), the Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Monchique), the Jesus Maria Clemente Monastery and the Holy Trinity, offers both traditional and contemporary variations on the time-honoured art form. The result is the best of both worlds ancient and modern, sacred and secular which would surely please the great Pope Gregory. After all, why should the Devil have all the good songs?
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