22 July 2009

The Staying Power of Gregorian Chants

Today, something a little different. SoundRoots has covered a number of sacred music traditions, but guest blogger Britney brings us a little new territory with a primer on Gregorian chant. Enjoy.


Gregorian chants have infiltrated the global music scene for centuries, dating back to the early Middle Ages in which singing the “Divine Service” nine times a day was upheld according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Singing psalms was one of the vital parts of the day for many in the monastic community, while the Gregorian Chant in specifics have undergone a number of changes and reforms over the past centuries.

Organized in the Frankish lands of western and central Europe during the 11th and 13th centuries, Gregorian chants have been dated to this time although they have many antecedents going back centuries earlier. Popular belief still credits Pope Gregory the Great with having personally invented Gregorian chant in the sixth century, although many other scholars believe it arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of Roman and Gallican chant. Pope Gregory is merely credited in the latter regard for universally recognizing the “one church, one chant” motto that began to permeate through the church. While Gregorian chants reached their heyday before the baroque period, the 19th century saw a revival of the melody through the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Communion. While Gregorian chants are still not a major part of anyone’s musical library and merely stay within the boundaries of communal blessings, they still remain a deeply-rooted part of Catholic history in which monks continuously chanted these melodies while performing their duties. The Latin root of most of their hymns and melodies holds true today and gives the monks who still perform these chants an added mystique about them, performing a type of age-old musical composition in a seemingly “dead” language.

Gregorian chants had a great deal of influence on the music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as much of the staff notation developed directly from Gregorian neumes. In modern cases, Gregorian chants continue to influence classical compositions, specifically ones which are used within choral church settings. Even more recently, modern society has seen a rise in interest in new age and world music, causing artists like the monks of Solesmes to release albums in order to inspire timeless calm and serenity. Thus far, the many chants have proven themselves capable of influencing many different forms of music around the world and continue to inspire the devout Catholics of this day.

This post was contributed by Britney Wilkins, who writes about online accredited colleges. She welcomes your feedback at BritneyWilkins81 at yahoo.com

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