Another Gregorian hymn suggestion

Since it is not possible to place music examples in comments on a thread, but only in new posts, here is a suggestion for Anthony’s first example. It is a more radical solution and does not take much account of the original neums, while remaining very close to the melody (only one note is added, and there is an implied horizontal episema over the last two notes of line 3). What it does do is redistribute the syllables, and seems to me a more obvious and more natural solution than the one Anthony posted.

If we are going to use chant melodies, this kind of syllable-redistribution principle might be one to look at more seriously.

My suggestion:

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  1. Thanks, PF.

    I realize that my suggestion does not stick to the neums (but then see what happened in the latest Roman Missal through a slavish adherence to the neums, resulting in false accents and unsingable settings) and that lines 2 and 4 are inconsistent (but then so are the accentuations in the text, and that’s precisely the point: you have to be flexible). But I think this kind of “natural solution” is the way to go, if we are going to give the Gregorian melodies new life in our day.

  2. There are pros and cons to every solution and it’s not an exact science. This approach is certainly interesting. But I must say that I don’t believe this is the best approach.

    The problem in the first line is that the modality is changed so that the emphasis now is on a D Major triad, with much accented sounding of A. The relief to this is welcome, and it’s provided by the emphasis on G at the end. But this is too different from the original for my taste, for the original doesn’t stress G at all. I think the modal essence of the first line of the original is a D triad moving quickly to the most striking note of the whole line, the B, which is accented melodically and textually. And then, after that modal high point, it simply drifts down from A to F#.

    I think the goal is to preserve as much “feel” of the original as possible, but make it “fit” the English as well as possible. I disagree with those on one side who preserve the original by changing nothing and just using white-out to put English text under Latin melodies; I disagree with those on the other side (like the above) which are so different that you might as well just write a new melody.

    In my experience, if the English (or German) is done convincingly, it sounds so “right” that one goes back and forth between Latin and vernacular without being confused, for each one seems right for its text, and it feels like virtually the same melody being sung.


    1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

      I disagree with those on the other side (like the above) which are so different that you might as well just write a new melody.

      But it’s the same melody, apart from two notes. What is different is the relationship of words to notes, as you would expect when dealing with two languages that have very different rhythmic characteristics.

      I could have produced something related to the melody, but introducing major melodic differences, as in your German examples, which is the sort of principle that the Stanbrook nuns used, following the general contours but not thinking it essential that every note be preserved. The point of doing it in the way I did is to preserve most of the notes but to avoid the false accents that inevitably occur when the melody dominates the words, instead of the two being in equal partnership, and at the same time to avoid falling into the trap of sticking to the neums.

      Today’s singer does not care whether it is a clivis or not. What they hear is two notes, and they also hear whether having a verbal accent on the first of the two does violence to the natural rhythm of the language, or whether having two notes on an unimportant syllable creates the impression of importance when it shouldn’t be there.

      An alternative solution to line 2 would be to have three notes on “God” (F# D E) and then the rest of the text on the remaining notes. It may be that in other verses of the hymn it might be necessary to do precisely that. And to vary the distribution of notes in the other lines according to the rhythmic demands of the text. I see little problem in having a different syllabic distribution in every verse, if it is necessary because of the way the translator has handled the text (because, let’s face it, translators often produce texts with the same number of syllables in the corresponding lines of each verse but with variable verbal accents…).

      As far as modality is concerned, I think we might be talking (and thinking) at cross-purposes. The tenor in lines 1 and 3 is A, in lines 2 and 4 it is D. (And these notes occur more frequently in their respective lines than any other.) I don’t think G is stressed at all.

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