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   Gregorian Chant Notation

By Gregorian Chant is meant the solo and unison choral chants of the Catholic Church, whose melodies move, as a rule, in one of the eight Church modes, without time, but with definite time-values, and with distinct divisions.

  1. That it is not only sung in unison, but was composed as a unisonous (monodic) chant without any accompanying harmonic support;
  2. That the solo passages are distinguished from the choruses by a structure rich in melody;
  3. That it has no fixed and regular structure of bars or time, and yet is not devoid of rhythmical flow and well-balanced proportion of parts;
  4. That the various time-valuse are never formed, as in modern music, by division into one-half, two-fourths, four-eights, eight-sixteenths and so on, but by repetition of the time-units, thus making combinations of two, three or more units;
  5. That, as sung at the present day, it has no accidental beyond the simple ♭, and as two semitones may never follow in the same direction, its melody is strictly diatonic.
Pope Pius X., in the Editio Vaticana (Vatican Edition of the Chant) has restored to the Church this music which has been authenticated by manuscripts of the 9th century.

In the Gregorian system of notation there are four lines which are numbered upwards, so that the top line is the fourth. The notes, for the most part square in shape, are placed on the lines or between the spaces, being named as follows:

The pitch of notes is fixed by the placement of one of two clefs, the Do (C) clef and the Fa (F) clef . Every note that occurs on the line where the Do clef is placed, is called do (c), and similarly, notes on the line of the Fa clef are always Fa (f). The Do clef may be placed on the fourth, third, or second line; the Fa clef may be placed on the third line but seldom on the fourth.
At the end of each line, seldom in the middle of a phrase, a sign in the form of a small note is placed to indicate the pitch of the first note of the next line or passage, and called therefore custos (watchman, guide).

In the Vatican edition, these signs indicate divisions of the melody and serve as pauses. The latter, a stroke through four lines, generally closes a phrase, and is called a whole pause (diviso or pausa major). Here the last "notes are sung ritardando and a deep breath is taken". The former, a stroke through the fourth line of the stave (diviso minima) "denotes a slight pause, giving opportunity, when necessary, for a quick breath." (Preface to the Vatican Edition, P.V.) Additionally, two other strokes (not pictured) are used. A stroke through the middle two lines closes a half-phrase, and is called, therefore, a half pause (divisio or pausa minor). Here also a breath is taken after a slight rallentando. A double line (through all four lines of the stave) indicates the end of a piece or of one of its principal parts. It also closes each section of music written to be sung by alternate choirs as in the and Credo.

The form of notes now in general use for Gregorian chant are as follows:

The punctum, square note, the usual sign.
The virga, caudáta, tailed note.
The rhombus, diamond or lozenge.
The quilisma.
The form of notes indicates a difference of pitch, not a difference of length.

The Punctum indicates, in contradistinction to the virga, a lower note, the virga indicates a higher note.

The Rhombus and Quilisma are never used alone: the rhombus is employed in descending passages, the upper note of which is usually a virga; the quilisma is only found in ascending melodies.

Notice carefully that the Virga

  1. Can be used for the accented syllables of words as well as for unaccented syllables,
  2. Has no longer time-value (length of sound) than the punctum and rhombus.
The time-value of all these notes is exactly the same.

Nuems are a combination of two or more notes in a distinct group. The simplest form is the combination of the accèntus acùtus with the accèntus gravis, i.e. a higher tone with a lower one, or vice versa.

a) Neums with two notes are:

The Clivis (declívis, inclined) or Flexa (bent); the combination of a higher with a lower note.

The Pes (foot), also called Podátus; the combination of a lower tone (sung first) with a higher one.

The Bistropha; two notes of the same pitch.
Instead of the Bistropha is found sometimes the Bivirga; double virga.

b) Neums with three notes:

The Tòrculus (torquère, to turn); the middle note higher than the other two.

The Porrèctus (porrìgere, to extend); the middle note lower than the other two.

The Tristropha; three notes of the same pitch, almost always on fa and do.

The Climacus (climax, ladder); a combination of three (or more) descending notes.

The Scándicus (scándere, to ascend); a combination of three (or more) ascending notes.

c) Neums with four notes:

· The fourth note is higher (resupinus, bent backwards) than the third:

The Climacus resupinus

The Tórculus resupinus

· The fourth note is lower (flexa, bent downwards) than the third:

The Porréctus flexus

The Scándicus flexus

· The third and fourth notes are lower than the second:

The Pes subbipúnctus

The Virga subtripúnctis

d) Neums with five notes:     ( Under Construction )

Virga subtripúnctis resupina

Pes subtripúnctis resupina

Pes subtripúnctis

Scándicus subbipúnctis

Tórculus resupinus flexus

Liquescent Neums. When, immediately before a new syllable or a new word we find:

a) two or three consonants together, especially if the first of them is l, m, n, r, s, t, d (sanctus, a dextris meis, magnus, subjécit),

b) a diphthong, two vowels, or j between two vowels (autem, euge, allelúja, ejus),

c) occasionally also g and m between two vowels, then the writing of some neums is abbreviated, and the neums sung by some in a corresponding manner, "liquescent", or run quickly together. "For the very nature of the syllables forces the voice to glide smoothly from one to the other, so that it becomes, as it were, "liquid", and, confined in the mouth, seems to have no end and loses about half of its volume, but not of length." (Cf. Guid. Microl., c. xv.) (P.V.)

The following belong to the liquescent neums:     ( Under Construction )

The Cephálicus (little head), a modified form of the Clivis,

The Epiphonus (added note), a modified form of the Pes,

The Ancuc (curve), a modified form of the Clinacus,

The Tórculus liquéscens

The Porréctus liquéscens

The Pes subbipúnctis liquéscens

A New School of Gregorian Chant by The Rev. Dominic Johner O.S.B., 1912