AMEN CORNER: “Authentic” Chant Interpretation

from  Anthony Ruff, “‘Authentic’ Chant Interpretation,” Worship  92 (November, 2018), 484-491:

What makes the singing of Gregorian chant in the liturgy authentic? How should it be sung, so as to be authentic? …

Enough Gregorian chant is still sung in enough places, and is even increasing in some places, to make it worthwhile to think about how to sing it authentically. And before we’re done, I hope that these reflections on authenticity will help us think about not only Gregorian chant but the other music we sing in the liturgy as well. …

There are several possible meanings of “authenticity. : …: faithfulness to composer’s intention, exact reproduction of original sound, faithfulness to original context, and … “the other authenticity”— personal authenticity. …

Semiology is certainly the best means for appropriating the original intention, sound, and practice, as is suitable and possible in each case, of Gregorian chant. But for chant to become authentic, something more, this “other authenticity” is called for. It is that singers make chant truly their own, with the hope that this musical and spiritual sincerity will be conveyed to the liturgical assembly. This presumes, of course, that there is a place for participating by listening to chants sung by a vocal ensemble alongside the more basic mode of participation by assembly singing. …

There is something unique and irreplaceable about Gregorian chant, a level of spiritual reflection upon a sacred text issuing forth in a highly nuanced musical setting that has never been surpassed, and most likely never will be. This is why it is worth reflecting deeply on the use of Gregorian chant in our worship today, across all the expanse of the centuries between us and our forebears. For this reason it is worth reflecting on the “other authenticity,” the liturgical authenticity, of Gregorian chant. It is about so much more than getting the rhythms right. It is about singers making the liturgical chant their own, so that the assembly can receive it as authentic. That is true of all music sung in the liturgy; it is certainly true of Gregorian chant.

Read the whole thing here:

Authentic Chant Ruff

Pray Tell is pleased to feature the first article from each issue of Worship, the “Amen Corner. Gracious thanks to editor Bernadette Gasslein and Worship for reprint permission. Subscribe to Worship here.


  1. Perhaps to insert a cat amongst pigeons…

    Having learnt what little of the chant repertoire during my time as an (Anglican) seminarian alongside the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, where the Office and much of the Mass are chanted in mostly English, would an authentic approach today be to use the chant in vernacular translation?

    Nearly everything is English renderings of the current Solesmes editions (the exceptions mostly coming from where the Community have followed the pre-Reformation English chant tradition and gone to Sarum sources instead), and preserved the melodies of the chant so far as possible, whilst trying to follow the same ideas of how the chant emphases certain words or phrases because of their meaning rather than simply location in a sentence.

    1. Oh yes, there is an argument to be made for English chant as more authentic.

      But there is something so *fantastic* about what was accomplished in Latin that I don’t want to see the Latin repertoire be lost to liturgical use. It has something that you don’t find in English chant, even very fine English chant. Which is not to deny that English chant has something you don’t find in Latin chant.


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