Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

A Teaching Hymn

Several weeks ago we celebrated the Nativity of John the Baptist, and I was reminded that the Vespers Hymn served as a great teaching tool in medieval times! Guido d’Arezzo, a famous music theorist and educator, noticed that each of the first six phrases of the hymn began on a new note of a rising scale.  

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These notes have been circled in green, and the corresponding syllables in red. The syllable DO used to be known as UT, (the first word of the hymn itself.) Back in the eleventh century, scales were sets of six notes called hexachords.
 

The scale pitch names shown in this hymn are:
UT (DO)
RE
MI
FA
SOL
LA

A note of interest — The 7th degree of the scale was referred to as SI, later known as TI.  S and I were the initials of “Sancte Joannes,” the last words of the hymn. Although the hymn doesn’t actually reach that pitch, the name has prevailed as part of the solfege scale.

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