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Gregorian Chant for the Choir


Much of the Latin chant repertoire was written for a trained choir. Being more difficult, it was sung primarily in monasteries, cathedrals, colleges, and parishes with more extensive resources. In the right circumstances, some of this chant can still be sung by parish choirs.

Graduale Romanum (“Roman gradual”). A graduale (also called a “gradual” in English) is a large book of Mass propers, with the order of Mass and Mass ordinaries included at the end. The five main proper chants of the Mass are the introit (entrance antiphon), gradual (a pre–Vatican II type of chant now generally replaced by the responsorial psalm), alleluia with verse, offertory, and communio (communion chant). The Gregorian chant form of the gradual and alleluia are not very useable today, since they do not follow the post–Vatican II lectionary and do not provide for congregational singing. More useable from the propers are the introit, offertory, and communio, because the reformed liturgy allows these parts of the liturgy to be sung by the choir alone.

After the Second Vatican Council in 1974, the 1908 Graduale Romanum was issued in revised format (G-2414). The old melodies are taken over without change, but some chants are relocated in order to fit better with the revised liturgy and revised calendar. Some medieval gems not in the 1908 book are reintroduced, and many imitation chants of recent origin are eliminated. Scriptural references are now given for each antiphon, and after the communion antiphon (communio) a suggestion is included as to which psalm verses to sing. Note: The accompaniment volumes do not include the Mass ordinaries.

Gregorian Missal for Sundays. Issued in 1990 (G-4211), this is a helpful excerpt from the 1974 Graduale Romanum with an English translation of the Latin text next to each chant, and with all headings and directions in English. For each Sunday or feast day (not weekdays), there are the proper chants with notation, the texts of the three presidential prayers (opening prayer, prayer over the offerings, prayer after communion) in Latin and English, and citations for the readings of the postconciliar three-year lectionary. The book also contains the chants of the order of Mass, chants of the ordinary, four of the eucharistic prayers in Latin and English, and many preface texts in Latin and English. This book will need to be reissued when the revised English translation of the liturgy comes out.  

Graduale Triplex. This “triple gradual” appeared in 1979 (G-2588). It is identical to the 1974 gradual, but with lineless neumes from the Middle Ages written in above and below each chant melody (hence the “triple” in the title, with a total of three notations for each melody). The earliest notation in the West was lineless neumes, squiggles that vaguely suggest the shape of the melody (for singers and conductors who knew the whole repertoire by heart) but contain a wealth of information about rhythmic subtlety and interpretation. This is a book for specialists. But for anyone seriously interested in chant, it is recommended to study the Graduale Triplex in order to get a sense for contemporary chant interpretation. The principles of interpreting and conveying the Latin text, while somewhat arcane and complicated at first, are in fact applicable to the entire chant repertoire and to chants of every level of difficulty.

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