We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more


Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 2 New Styles and Forms
Richard Taruskin

Finally, Frankish composers were responsible for creating fancy melodies for the invariant texts of the Mass liturgy, the ones recited at every Mass regardless of the occasion. There had not been any need for such settings in pre-Carolingian times, because these texts—acclamations all—had not yet been assigned stable liturgical positions. Their adoption by the Franks reflects a love of pomp, most likely transferred from civic ceremonial (like the laudes regiae, the “royal acclamations,” with which Charlemagne was greeted after his Roman coronation). Once these texts became fixed, they could be written down as part of the Mass ordo (Latin for “order of events”), which listed things to do at a given service.

The Mass Ordinary

fig. 2-4 Ivory book cover, probably of a sacramentary or a graduale, from the court of Charles the Bald, Charlemagne’s grandson, who ruled the kingdom of the West Franks from 843 to 877. It shows the Eucharist service—the second part of the solemn Mass, in which the wine and host are miraculously transformed.

The texts (and chants) proper to the unique occasion were collected in their own books (antiphoners, graduals, and the like). Those that were sung at every Mass were included in the ordo itself. Hence to musicians the term “Mass Ordinary” (from ordinarium missae) has come to mean, precisely, the five invariant texts sung by the choir: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. These began to receive significant musical attention in the Carolingian period; much later they began to get set as a unified polyphonic cycle, spawning a tradition of Mass composition that lasted into the twentieth century, to which many famous composers of the standard concert repertory (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, to name a few) made contributions. Another text that was often included in the early ordinary formularies was the dismissal versicle (Ite, missa est—from which the term Missa, for Mass, was adopted) and its response, Deo gratias (“Thanks be to God”).

The Gloria, also known as the “Gloria in excelsis” or Greater Doxology (to distinguish it from the “Gloria patri” formula or Lesser Doxology, inserted at the end of psalms and canticles), was the first to be cultivated. Its text begins with two verses or stichs from the Gospel of St. Luke, quoting the angels’ greeting to the shepherds on the night of the Nativity. For this reason, before it was assigned to its fixed position in the Mass, the Gloria in excelsis was often used as a Christmas processional hymn, forming the culmination of the celebrants’ entrance. (It was also used this way at Easter; and after it joined the Mass, it was not sung during the penitential weeks preceding those two feasts so that its reappearance would express seasonal gladness.) Following the angelic hymn are a series of laudes that may actually have originated in the context of ruler worship. Next come a series of litanies, or petitions, and finally a concluding praise-song. While its earliest use seems to have been congregational, implying a simple, formulaic style, the Glorias preserved in Frankish manuscripts are neumatic chants with occasional melismas, and (once past the celebrant’s intonation) are clearly intended for the clerical or monastic schola. Ex. 2-10 is a ninth-century Gloria melody, one of the earliest of the forty or so surviving Frankish settings. (Its number, IV, is the one assigned to it in modern chant books.)

The Sanctus is a biblical acclamation (from the book of Isaiah). Under its Hebrew name, Kedusha, it has been part of the Jewish worship service since ancient times, whence it was taken over by the earliest Christians as the congregation’s part of the “eucharistic” (thanksgiving) prayer. Even in its Latin form, the text retains a pair of Hebrew words: Sabaoth (“hosts”) and Hosanna (“save us”). The earliest Frankish settings, like Ex. 2-11, date from the tenth century. By then, like the Gloria, it was sung not by the entire congregation but by the trained schola.

The Agnus Dei has a much shorter history in the liturgy than the Sanctus, having been introduced to the Mass only in the seventh century, to accompany the breaking of bread before communion. At first it was cast as litanies, with an unspecified number of repetitions of the acclamation to the Lamb of God, answered by the congregational prayer, “have mercy on us.” Later the chant was standardized and abbreviated, limited to three acclamations, and with the third response changed to “grant us peace.” This happened right around the time the Franks were busy composing their “ordinary” chants, and so the early melodies were in this case coeval with the text. Of the two following examples, the first (Ex. 2-12a) probably represents a survival from the older litany practice, while the second (Ex. 2-12b), a Frankish arrangement and abridgment of the earliest (Greek) surviving melody for the Agnus Dei, is cast in a rounded “ternary form” (ABA) to match the adapted text. Its neumatic antiphon-like style makes it suitable for performance by the schola.

The Mass Ordinary

ex. 2-10 Gloria IV

Since the ordinary chants were composed precisely when the practice of antiphon-troping was at its height, they too played host to sometimes very extended tropes. Particularly rich is the repertory of Gloria tropes, many of which were proper to specific feasts or classes of feast (such as those in honor of the Blessed Virgin). These tropes often took the form of additional laudes or acclamations, inserted in between the standard ones. One such verse that seemed to live a life of its own in the manuscripts went Regnum tuum solidum permanebit in aeternum (“Your abiding reign will endure forever”). It is found following “Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe” in many sources, associated with many different Gloria melodies.

The Mass Ordinary

ex. 2-11 Sanctus I

The Mass Ordinary

ex. 2-12a Agnus XVIII

What is especially fascinating is the way in which Regnum tuum solidum itself became a site for embellishment. In some sources, an impressive neuma (as Amalar would have called it) has been grafted in to coincide with the first syllable of the word permanebit (“will endure”). This seems to be an example of what would later be called “tone painting,” since the melisma, by stretching the word out, in effect illustrates its meaning. And then, in other sources, the melisma is subjected in turn to syllabic texting in the form of a prosula. Thus two types of liturgical embroidery—melodic (neuma) and textual (prosula)—have been combined with a melodic/textual interpolation (trope) in one magnificent clump (Ex. 2-13).

The Mass Ordinary

ex. 2-12b Agnus II

The Mass Ordinary

ex. 2-13 Aprosula within a neuma within a laus within a Gloria

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 New Styles and Forms." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 May. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-002007.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 2 New Styles and Forms. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 May. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-002007.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 New Styles and Forms." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 May. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-002007.xml