Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

The Mood of the Mode

One of the beauties of chant is that it teaches through sound. It is difficult for most of us to realize, without considerable effort, what life would be like if we could not read — it seems unimaginable. Yet, in the centuries when many of our most ancient chants were newly composed, only the educated minority could read. So, in an effort to teach the chant, composers often united certain sounds with certain texts or seasons. In this way, through repetition, people started to learn things such as the seasons of the church year, feast days, etc., through association with sound.

However, these composers did not just wake up one morning, get out their “catalog of modes” and say, “today, I shall compose in Mode II.” The definition and categorization of modes actually came after the chant already existed. It was a subtle skill they employed which was based upon a sense of using particular sounds to evoke or underscore certain emotions, thoughts, or ideas.

The image below is actually a chart with simple, modal descriptions of some of the great music theorists and composers of the last 1000 years: Guido d’ Arezzo (11th century), Adam de Fulda, (15th Century) and Juan Espinoza (17th Century). If you look at these descriptions and then take a look at some of your favorite chants, you might find you have a  fresh perspective of some pieces that you know quite well!

The Community of Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit:  Mode Chart copyright Community of Jesus, Inc, 2014.

This entry was posted in Church, Culture, Feast Days and Celebrations, Gregorian Chant, Learning, Seasons, Teaching by Cantor. Bookmark the permalink.


About Cantor

I have been a cantor for over 25 years and an organist for most of my life. Chanting with people at home and across the country is one of my greatest joys. I remember the days of staring at the section of our undergraduate music text thinking to myself "what are all those dots and WHY do I need to know about them?!" Now, 33 years later, I am so grateful that those "dots" have helped teach me many things about God and His love!

One thought on “Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

  1. This is fascinating – do you have a larger, better quality copy of the image? It’s interesting to see how some of the modes are experienced consistently across different eras and in different places (and therefore in different musical cultures) – mode V is always “happy”. But others are experienced in very different ways – mode III goes from “mystic” to “inciting anger”!

    I wonder, if you were to do a kind of “blind tasting” of a group of people familiar with chant, but not experts in the field, asking how they experienced each mode, what the results would be today? I’m kinda winking while I write that, since it seems to me you’re perfectly placed to ask just that question… 🙂

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