INTROITUS: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominus fortitudo plebis suae, et protector salutarium Christi sui est: salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic haereditati tuae, et rege eos usque in saeculum.

“The Lord is the strength of his people, and he is the protector of the salvation of his Christ (his anointed). Save your people, Lord, and bless your heritage, and govern them until the (end of) age(s).” (Ps 28(27):8–9)

Click here to listen to an audio of the chant.
Sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

I only want to give a short analysis of one melodic phenomenon in Gregorian Chant: The first syllable of plebis in the first line is expressed by a slow repercussion: A single tone (a virga in this case, meaning “rod” and looking like one) is elongated (to be seen as a thick bar at the upper end) and then doubled. The same happens at the second syllable of usque in the fourth line. But the meaning is different: In the first case the doubled elongated virga expresses the importance of the word itself (Whose strength is the Lord? His people’s!). In the second case the reduplication expresses rising tension, the crucial message is about to come immediately afterwards (Until when? Forever!).

This is how accurate Gregorian Chant interprets words, phrases, and sentences; and that is what scholars of Gregorian Chant love so much about it.

2 comments

  1. Thank you for this series. I have a question about these two examples of repercussion. Why is the first one notated with virgas whereas the second one is notated with puncta?

    1. I would not say that there is exactly one explanation. There are different rhetorical techniques in Gregorian Chant, and you can use them for different purposes. But in this case, I would say: When articulating a stressed syllable (ple-bis), the composer preferred the virgas and preferred to make the stressed syllable automatically longer (and louder?). In the second case (he-re-di-ta-tem) he used a different strategy: The stressed syllable he-re-di-TA-tem is the only one with a quick single note! That makes the articulation of the entire word quite complex – and that is what interesting about it: As a singer, you are led to a very careful “meditation” of the entire word. Using virgas here might have led to a wrong articulation of unstressed syllables.

      But this is just my personal guess, we cannot look into the composer’s brain 🙂

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