There arose in the 8th or 9th century, probably under byzantine influence, a custom of making interpolations into the church chant, which in course of time spread through almost the whole range of liturgical song. Such interpolations had the generic name of Trope.
They speedily affected all the music of the Ordinary of the Mass; till then only one or two melodies of the simplest sort have been utilized for the congregational elements, viz. the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus and Agnus; now new melodies of an elaborate character grew up, and even the new melodies were further elaborated by Tropes.
Similarly long melodies were added in other parts of the Mass, particularly at the end of the Alleluia; and the ornamentation extended also on great occasions to special parts of the Hour services.
Soon a need arose for words to be fitted to these elaborate intercalated vocalizzi, and then the habit came in of intercalating words as well as music. The words were either adapted to the already existing music, or both words and music arose together. Thus the sequence developed as a Trope, and acquired an independent position of its own.
Words were also fitted to Kyrie, Gloria in excelsis, Santus and Agnus in the form of Tropes; but never so the Creed. Similarly, Epistels were ‘farced’ but not Gospels. In the Hour Services the topes invaded especially the closing Respond of Mattins, thus making a final peroration to that service; but as the development went on there was little left that had not suffered from these parasites. Even the short closing vericle and response Benedicamus domino, Deo gratias was troped, and here as elsewhere the trope grew into an elaborate and almost independent composition.
Then came a revulsion; as the 16th century drew on the tropes began to disappear, and finally, in the Tridentine revision of the Latin service-books all trace of tropes was banished unless the one or two surviving sequences may be counted as such. But some tropes had sufficient merit to preserve their existence in a separate form; e.g. the popular melody set to ‘Of the Father’s love begotten’ is in origin a trope to the Sanctus, while the popular poem is a trope to Benedicamus.« Back to Dictionary Index