In the Western church four main dialects of plainsong developed—Ambrosian, Roman, Mozarabic and Gallican—that seem to have been derived from similar sources. Gregorian chant is named for Pope Gregory I , whose credited role in compiling liturgical books during his papacy (590–604) is now considered questionable.
The origins of the chant go back to early Christian times, and it seems to have derived from musical practice in the Jewish synagogue and Greek musical theory. During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and also in later times, the chant melodies were used as the basis for polyphonic composition. In the 19th cent. the Benedictine monks of Solesmes sought to restore the Gregorian chant to its original form and their published editions from 1889 onward became the official music of the Catholic Church. The texts of plainsong are the words of the Mass, the Psalms, canticles, and certain verse hymns.
The tonality of Gregorian chant is based on the system of eight modes (see mode ). The notation of the chant evolved into systems of neumes (see musical notation ) that were still used in the 20th cent. in preference to modern mensural notation for plainsong. Little is known of the rhythm with which the chants were performed in the Middle Ages. The chants were contained in two principal books: those for the Mass in the
Gradual, those for the Office in the
Antiphoner. The modern Liber usualis is a compilation of most frequently used chants from the two.
See W. Apel, Gregorian Chant (1958) J. R. Bryden and D. G. Hughes, ed., An Index of Gregorian Chant (2 vol., 1969).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: Theory, Forms, and Instruments
Browse by Subject
- Earth and the Environment +-
- History +-
- Literature and the Arts +-
- Medicine +-
- People +-
- Philosophy and Religion +-
- Places +-
- Australia and Oceania
- Britain, Ireland, France, and the Low Countries
- Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic Nations
- Germany, Scandinavia, and Central Europe
- Latin America and the Caribbean
- Oceans, Continents, and Polar Regions
- Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and the Balkans
- United States, Canada, and Greenland
- Plants and Animals +-
- Science and Technology +-
- Social Sciences and the Law +-
- Sports and Everyday Life +-