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This sounds familiar somehow…

Ensemble Organum, singing the Introit for the Midnight Mass of Christmas Day, “Dominus dixit ad me” (Ps. 2:7,1). From the recording Chant de l’Eglise de Rome (VIe – XIIIe Siècles). Old Roman Chant (perhaps c. 6th century) from an 11th century manuscript. (Consider my hat tipped to The New Liturgical Movement.)

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10 Responses to “This sounds familiar somehow…”


  1. 1 SubDn. Lucas 20 November 2009 at 8:59 am

    If we can consider this realization of Old Roman Chant authentic, then it ought to put paid to the notion that Byzantine Chant is somehow inimical to the so-called ‘Western Ear’. (Not to mention the idea that the Church’s Chant came ‘from the Turks’.)

  2. 4 Sean 28 July 2010 at 2:46 pm

    People tend to consider many things according to contemporary concepts, in every age. Thus, for most westerners, liturgical music must follow the rules of Gregorian chant (because that is the primary, dominant tradition of the west). Liturgical chant in the west evolved on the basis of a gradual progress in musical theory which established what we all now know as the typical western music system with its theory. However, what was actually happening in the first millenium? The influence of hellenistic and roman music with certain elements of syriac, jewish and egyptian elements was the rule of the day. The musical scales where non-tempered and liturgical chant monophonic. The flats and sharps where quite different than what they are now and the way of distinguishing notes in different modes was not the same one we use today. And, most important of all, there was a common tradition in east and west that was shared for a long period despite the separation that only began to be challenged after the days of Charlemagne. It was, if I am not mistaken, Theophylact the Archbishop of Achrid (head of the church in Bulgaria) and a leading scholar of his era, who in the late 11th century remarked on the similarity of liturgical music in east and west, admitting that, with the exception of language and rite, was fundamentally the same.

    • 5 Richard Barrett 28 July 2010 at 3:59 pm

      There’s a book that I was told to read called The Sound of Medieval Song by Timothy McGee that basically amounts to making the same argument you do.

      The need to fit all Western chant into the box of Gregorian is interesting, and it has interest consequences for Byzantine chant as well. Many Western scholars have assumed that the “purity” of Gregorian chant must be where Byzantine chant started, so of course what we have now bears no resemblance to what anybody was doing in the pre-Ottoman times.

      • 6 Sean 29 July 2010 at 1:17 pm

        To assume that the ottoman influence was so great as to have changed byzantine chant is not quite reasonable. Byzantine chant was indeed influenced by persian and syriac music, both before and after the birth of Islam. Yet, people tend to forget that back in those days, the Roman (byzantine) civilization and culture was the dominant one and had evolved in such ways that it is more probable it was the main influence to others. The ottomans were a collection of nomadic tribes from the depths of Asia, near Mongolia, who started their own culture by borrowing heavily from the Seljuks, who themselves borrowed heavily from Persians and Arabs who in their turn borrowed from romans and syrians and egyptians. Of course each one of these civilizations contributed and formed certain individual elements and of course they all influenced each other in the end but that’s a far cry from saying modern byzantine chant is essentially ottoman. The “purity” of Gregorian chant is rather the imposed austerity of the Carolingian court’s iconoclasm.

      • 7 Sean 29 July 2010 at 1:23 pm

        By the way, in my humble opinion, the reason many westerners say byzantine music resembles ottoman music is because they both use non-tempered scales and types of notes that to a western ear, used in tempered harmonies, sound oriental. However such a view means to me that the one who holds it comprehends neither byzantine music nor ottoman (and islamic at large) music.

  3. 8 Mark Powell 29 July 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Friends, let’s not also forget that the modern sense of the “purity” of Gregorian Chant probably has more to do with the agenda of a set of 19th-century monks at Solesmes than the 9th-century reforms of Charlemagne.

    And, going the other way, imagining that the Medieval Byzantine repertories should sound like chant from Solesmes, and not like that music of the Ottomans (or other Orientals!):

    http://www.analogion.com/Lingas.pdf

  4. 9 Mark Powell 29 July 2010 at 1:42 pm

    The first link was cut. Here it is, Katherine Bergeron’s book “Decadent Enchantments”

    http://bit.ly/9pbCvh


  1. 1 (hack) Thanksgiving leftovers (koff) « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 1 December 2009 at 3:06 pm

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