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History of Gregorian chants

Gregorian chorales, Gregorian chants … Most of us automatically associate these words with the Middle Ages (and rightly so). But the roots of this liturgical chant go back to the late antiquity, when the first Christian communities appeared in the Middle East. The foundations of the Gregorian choir took shape over the II-VI centuries under the influence of the musical system of antiquity (odic chants), and music of the East (ancient Jewish psalmody, melismatic music of Armenia, Syria, Egypt).

The earliest and only documentary evidence depicting the Gregorian choral dates back to the third century. AD It is about recording a Christian hymn in Greek notation on the back of a report on harvested grain on papyrus found in Oksirinha, Egypt. Actually the name “Gregorian” was given to this sacred music by the name of Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), who basically systematized and approved the main body of official chants of the Western Church.

FEATURES OF THE GRIGORIAN SINGING The foundation of the Gregorian chant is the speech of prayer, mass. By the way the words and music interact in the choral hymn, a separation of Gregorian chorales arose: syllabic (this is when one syllable of the text corresponds to one musical tone of the melody, the perception of the text is clear); non-rheumatic (small chants appear in them – two or three tones per syllable of the text, the perception of the text is easy); melismatic (large chants – an unlimited number of tones per syllable, it is difficult to perceive the text). The Gregorian singing itself is monodial (that is, essentially unanimous), but this does not mean that the chants could not be performed by the choir. According to the type of performance, singing is divided into: antiphonal, in which two groups of singers alternate (this way absolutely all psalms are performed); responding when solo singing alternates with choral. In the modal-intonational basis of the Gregorian chants lie 8 modal modes, called church frets.

This is due to the fact that in the early Middle Ages exclusively diatonic sound was used (the use of sharps and flats was considered a temptation from the evil one and was even forbidden for some time). Over time, the original rigid framework for the performance of Gregorian chorales began to collapse under the influence of many factors. This is the individual creativity of musicians, eternally striving to go beyond the framework of institutions, and the emergence of new versions of texts for old melodies. Such a peculiar musical and poetic arrangement of previously created compositions was called a trail.

GRIGORIAN CHORAL AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF NOTATION Initially, chants were recorded without notes in the so-called tonaria – something like memos for singers – and in degrees, singing books. Starting from the 10th century, completely notated singing books appear, recorded with the help of a non-linear, irresponsible notation. Nevmas are special badges, squiggles, which are put down over texts in order to at least somehow simplify the life of singers. According to these icons, musicians should have been able to guess what the next melodic move will be. By the 12th century, a square-linear notation, which logically completed the dumb system, became widespread. As its main achievement, we can call the rhythmic system – now the singers could not only predict the direction of the melodic movement, but they also knew exactly how long a particular note should be kept.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GRIGORIAN CHOIR FOR EUROPEAN MUSIC The Gregorian chants became the foundation for the emergence of new forms of secular music of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, going from organum (one of the forms of medieval two voices) to the melodically rich Mass of the High Renaissance. The Gregorian choral largely determined the thematic (melodic) and constructive (the form of the text is projected onto the form of the musical work) basis and Baroque music. This is really a fruitful field on which the sprouts of all subsequent forms of European – in the broad sense of the word – musical culture sprouted.

RELATED WORD AND MUSIC Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) – the most famous choral melody of the Middle Ages The history of the Gregorian choral is inextricably linked with the history of the Christian church. The liturgical performance, which was based on psalmody, melismatic singing, hymns and masses, was already internally distinguished by genre diversity, which allowed Gregorian choirs to survive to this day. The early Christian asceticism (simple psalmodic singing in the early church communities) was reflected in the chorales, with the word being pushed over the melody. Time gave rise to a hymnic performance, when the poetic text of the prayer harmoniously combines with a musical melody (a kind of compromise between words and music). The appearance of melismatic chants – in particular, anniversaries at the end of the hallelujah – marked the final supremacy of musical harmony over the word and at the same time reflected the establishment of the final domination of Christianity in Europe.

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