A method of intoning the mass and selections from the Scriptures, which was perfected by Pope Gregory in the Sixth century from material which had already been arranged by Ambrose of Milan in the Fourth century, the origin of which is lost in antiquity, being attributed variously to the Hebrews, Greeks, the early Christian Church or even to the Phoenicians or Egyptians.
The Gregorian chant was written in eight different modes or scales, four of which are said to have originated with Gregory.
These modes correspond somewhat to the Greek manner of writing music, and differ from the modern major and minor scales in the placing of the semitones.
In the free recitation of the text with cadences, especially at the ends of sentences, each syllable may receive either a single note or one or more groups of notes.
The original manner of writing the chants, by means of a shorthand character called a neuma or neume, was replaced in the Eleventh century by a staff of four lines upon which the notes appeared as square or diamond shaped characters.
The neuma indicated the rhythmical movement, but the later notation, while a more exact manner of representing pitch, left the rhythm to be handed down orally. As a result much of the original character of the rhythm has been lost, and the efforts of modern church musicians are being exerted toward its restoration.
The earnestness and solemnity of the Gregorian chant peculiarly adapts it to the celebration of the mass and other church ceremonies.« Back to Dictionary Index