Notes on Graduals in Mode 5 for Saints


The melodies of Graduals can be found in the “Vatican Graduale,” Graduale sacrosanctae romanae ecclesiae de tempore et de sanctis SS. D. N. Pii X. pontificis maximi jussu restitutum et editum (Romae: Typis vaticanis 1908); and in the Graduale triplex, seu Graduale romanum Pauli PP.VI cura recognitum & rhythmicis signis a Solesmensibus monachis ornatum neumis Laudunensibus (cod. 239) et Sangallensibus (codicum San Gallensis 359 et Einsidelensis 121) nunc auctum (Solesmes 1979).

The “signs of nuance” can be studied in the facsimiles of the chant books “Laon 239” (“L”), published in Paléographie musicale X (1909); “St. Gall 359” (“C”) in Paléographie musicale IIe serie, II (1924); and most conveniently in the Graduale triplex, where the notation from L and C (and also “E,” Einsiedeln Cod. 121) has been entered by hand by Marie-Claire Billecocq and Rupert Fischer. Here, references are given to the Graduale triplex (“GT”).

Liturgical assignments are as in René-Jean Hesbert, Antiphonale missarum sextuplex (Brussels 1935); reference is to the number of the Mass formulary, preceded by “M.”

The standard work on the Gregorian chant repertory, including bibliography, is by David Hiley, Western Plainchant, A Handbook (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993). The Graduals are discussed on p. 81.

See also The Early Middle Ages to 1300, in The New Oxford History of Music, Vol. II (new edition, Oxford 1990), ed. R. Crocker and D. Hiley, p. 203.

The nuance notation is discussed in Eugene Cardine, Gregorian Semiology (Solesmes 1982), trans. by R. Fowels from “Sémiologie grégorienne,” Etudes grégoriennes 11 (1970) pp. 1–158.

The fifth-mode Graduals are discussed, with an extensive table, by Willi Apel, in Gregorian Chant (Indiana University Press, 1958), pp. 344–50.

In James McKinnon, The Advent Project. The later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass Proper  (University of California Press 2000), the fifth-mode graduals are discussed inter alia on pp. 226–48.

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Graduals in the Fifth Mode (Saints)

The Carolingian archetype contains forty-three Graduals in fifth mode. There are seventeen Graduals in fifth mode designated for the Sanctorale in Hesbert's Antiphonale missarum sextuplex. (The remaining fifth-mode Graduals, twenty-six for the Temporale, are grouped as Graduals in the fifth mode for the Temporale.  

The fifth-mode Graduals form the largest group of Graduals in the Carolingian archetype: they form almost half of the total of more than one hundred Graduals, which is twice as many Graduals as in any other mode. As a group of fifth-mode chants, this is larger than found in any other type of Mass chant; and no other type shows such a large proportion of chants in fifth mode.

The fifth-mode Graduals are assigned to all kinds of calendric occasion in Temporale and Sanctorale. This class of Gradual, in other words, was used more than any other in filling out the circle of the liturgical year.

Throughout the Notes, I use the medieval chant scale of pitch letters:
            A B C D E F G a b c [“middle C”] d e f g
Hence, the four finals of the modes are
            D (modes 1, 2), E (3, 4), F (5, 6) G (7, 8).

Pitch set

Graduals in fifth mode came to be notated regularly on F. The pitch set actually used for these forty-three Graduals extends from the C a fourth below the final F up to the g a ninth above the final. The pitch set includes both b flat and b natural.

This pitch set is dominated by c a fifth above the final; this c functions as a strong reference pitch, often associated with the b-natural lying a semitone below. The central tonal space associated with this reference pitch is apt to take the form F G a c; in other words, the lower boundary of the space is provided by the final, which seems far more frequently present in any given chant than are the finals in the other modes. And the space seems “gapped” from a to c, with b-natural or b-flat used variously to fill the gap. It is often clear from context which pitch (flat or natural) is to be used; and the staffed sources show satisfactory agreement. There is, of course, variation among the sources in indicating the flat; and beyond that, there seem to be cases in which a choice could be made. There does not, however, seem to be any direct chromaticism involving both b flat and b natural in succession, although on some occasions one follows the other with only one or two other pitches intervening.

At the upper end of the pitch set the melodies often approach the f an octave above the final as a goal; this approach is far more frequent than in other modes, where some other high pitch (for example, c in first mode) is more apt to be prominent, and where the octave above the final (d in first mode) tends to assume only a decorative function.

Below the final, the fifth-mode Graduals often move within the fourth C D E F, for, as in the other modal classes, Graduals tend to disregard any systematic distinction of plagal and authentic ranges. This space of the fourth below the final is sometimes used for a low-lying introductory phrase that has its own cadence on the low C; and may also appear as an excursion in the midst of a phrase that otherwise lies higher. And this fourth below is more apt to occur in responds than in verses, since—as in other modal classes—the fifth-mode verses tend to lie higher than the responds.

The verses sometimes use a distinctive terminal idiom that has a prominent b-flat as part of a tonal space F G a b flat; this particular idiom (as in Adiuvabit) seems to have the function of a last-minute move to a realm not much used in the piece so far, therefore capable of providing a fresh color to the sound.

Throughout these fifth-mode Graduals, the melodies insist on the F final as a conclusion—not just to the final phrase, but to many phrases throughout any given piece, and even in the midst of phrases. The pitch F seems simply more present than are the finals in the other modal classes. This presence, combined with the use of the other features described here, renders the pitch set virtually indistinguishable from the F-major scale as used in European common practice.


The forty-three fifth-mode Graduals have always given the impression of being a homogeneous group, sharing not only a pitch set but also a common group of idioms, whose use sets these Graduals apart from others. Listening to these seventeen Graduals of the Sanctorale will surely reinforce this impression. Yet observers have also always distinguished this use of idiom from the use of a single integrated melody—a model melody—as used for the twenty-three Graduals of the second mode.

The distinction has been an important one in scholarly discussion of how such melodies came into being. Because of the large size of the group of fifth-mode Graduals, they tend to be taken as the best example of “centonisation,” or (to use a better term), “formulaic composition.” Willi Apel made what seems to be the best table of formulas showing the use of idioms in every one of these Graduals.

Apel's table is good because from it one can come to conclusions very different from those for which such tables are usually constructed. On one hand, Apel identified as idioms each significant element of melody, giving each an alphanumeric code. On the other hand he carefully indicated all the places where each melody moved freely, without using an idiom.

As a result, Hiley could conclude from the table that of the forty-three Graduals only three (Christus factus est, Exiit sermo, Ecce sacerdos) were really similar. And it is possible to find, among the forty-three, pairs of Graduals such as Ex Sion and Prope est in the Temporale, or Beatus vir and Constitues eos in the Sanctorale, whose idiomatic similarity is so slight as to be limited for practical purposes to the use of the same pitch set and final. Hiley's overall conclusion, then, seems justified: these Graduals show a “seamless continuum between similarity and dissimilarity.”

But then, these fifth-mode Graduals do not seem to exemplify, so well as they might, the idea that Gregorian chant was composed by a system of formulas that resulted in a kind of music different from our own. Indeed, in default of such evidence, we may not need to think of Gregorian chant as the product of “formulaic composition” or of “oral composition”; and we may not need to conclude with Apel that a Gregorian chant is “not an individual creation, but a representation of a type.”

In any case, while the twenty-three Graduals that use the second-mode model melody can without difficulty be heard as using one and the same melody for twenty-three different sets of words, the Graduals in fifth mode can be heard as different melodies—some as individual creations, some as similar to one or more of the others. As for what they share, all use a strong pitch of reference on c and an intermediant cadence on a; all end on a pitch a fifth below the reference pitch, that is, on F.

It is ironic, then, that what has been taken as formulaic composition, and therefore alien, is most apparent in the same group of pieces (these Graduals of the fifth mode) that use the pitch set that is most familiar, seemingly most natural, in our own music.

Listening to all seventeen fifth-mode Graduals of the Sanctorale  in one playing can suggest that  these Graduals seem to sound more similar than analysis shows: it may indeed sound as if the same melody was sung over and over. Even so, most of these melodies seem to be well-shaped: even though there is no model melody, almost any of them, considered by itself, seems to proceed through a design as carefully made as that of a model melody.

I know of no analytic principle nor even a generally valid description that would account for such a conclusion. On one hand, the use of pitch set and final do not account for enough; on the other, an inventory of idiom is too specific to apply to every Gradual in the group.

Fifth-mode Graduals for the Sanctorale use the same family of idioms as those for the Temporale, but show a greater spread between short melodies with routine use of idiom and longer melodies with more individual character. The greater spread is largely due to two unusually long Graduals, the very brilliant Adiuvabit earn for St. Agatha, and the less brilliant but more emphatic Qui operatus est that uses the words of St. Paul in honor of his observance. The shorter Graduals are among those identified by Hiley as showing the most similarity—Exiit sermo and Ecce sacerdos. The rest of this group of Graduals falls in between these extremes.

Plan of the words

Non-psalmic selections appear in fifth-mode Graduals more frequently in the Sanctorale than in the Temporale. For twenty-six fifth-mode Graduals, the Temporale shows only two non-psalmic selections (from Isaiah and Philippians), while the Sanctorale shows seven (from Exodus, Sirah, Wisdom, Jeremiah, John (2), Galatians) for seventeen Graduals.

Whatever the source, the words are usually arranged according to the plan normal for Graduals.

            (respond) First hemistich: second hemistich.

            (verse)      First hemistich: second hemistich.

The longer selections are regularly so disposed; the shorter ones, in Temporale as well as Sanctorale, often show no colon, that is, do not consist of two hemistichs, and sometimes have no clear syntactic division, being a single simple sentence.

The coordination of musical phrasing with the words has to be studied in each instance. The florid style (and, of course, each melisma) seems to require phrasing more frequently than just at the colon or other major division; hence, many melodies show cadential idioms that divide long hemistichs into two phrases.

 In the fifth mode, the principal cadences occur on the final, F (often used within a hemistich) and on a; less frequently, cadences are placed on c or on G. I find that, on one hand, careful attention needs to be paid to the continuity of the long phrasing implied by the normal plan of bihemistichs; and, on the other, that the shorter phrases are often designed and located so as to give a clearly articulated sense to the whole respond or verse. 

Calendric assignment

Graduals in fifth mode show the same kind of calendric distribution as do those in second mode. They appear on certain very prominent feast, then on some Sundays, and provide material for filling out the assignments for Lenten ferias. They also provide material for many saints' days.

It has been observed that fifth-mode Graduals seem to be found especially in the Christmas cycle of feasts, weeks, and saints' days; and it has been argued that this concentrated use is programmatic—an aspect of overall design of the calendar of Mass Propers. There are five masses for saints in the Christmas octave, and they all have fifth-mode Graduals. In this case two of them, Exiit sermo and Ecce sacerdos are among those that are most similar. (For John Evangelist there is a Vigil Mass, which is logically given a second-mode Gradual in accord with a quasi-ferial status.)

This concentration in the saints' days of the Christmas octave is continued, if less strongly, throughout the cycle of “Winter saints” extending to Septuagesima. For the long cycle of Summer saints, fifth-mode Graduals are assigned to the most important feasts John Baptist, Apostles Peter and Paul, St. Laurence, Matthew Evangelist, St. Andrew, and Assumption of St. Mary.

Date Saint Mass
(25 December) (Christmas)
26 December St. Stephen M12
27 December St. John Evangelist M14
28 December Holy Innocents M15
29 December St. Silvester M16
1 January Nativity of St. Mary Ml6bis
(6 January) (Epiphany)
(First Sunday after Epiphany)
(Second Sunday after Epiphany)
18 January St. Prisca M23
21 January St. Agnes M25
(Third Sunday after Epiphany)
1 February St. Agnes (second Mass) M28
2 February Purification of St. Mary M29
5 February St. Agatha M30
14 February St. Valentin M31
25 March Annunciation of St. Mary M33
10 May St. Gordian et al. M98
Date Saint Mass
11 May Dedication of "Sancta Maria ad Martyres" M100
18 June St. Marcus et al. M115
24 June St. John Baptist (Vigil) M117 M177bis
24 June St. John Baptist 119
29 June St. Peter M122
30 June St. Paul M123
6 July Octave of Sts. Peter and Paul M125
9 July Seven Brothers M126
29 July St. Simplicius et al. M129
7 August St. Felicissimus et al. M133
10 August St. Laurence M136
11 August St. Hippolytus M138
15 August Assumption of St. Mary M140
29 August St. Sabina M145
16 September St. Euphemia et al. M153
21 September St. Matthew Ap. & Ev. M155
30 November St. Andrew M169
Date Saint Mass Gradual
5 February Agatha M30 Adiuvabit
21 January Agnes M25 Diffusa est gratia
1 February Agnes (second Mass) M28 Specia tua
30 November Andrew M169 Constitues eos
11 May Dedication "S. Maria ad Martyres" M100 Locus iste
16 September Euphemia et al. M153 Diffusa est gratia
29 July Felicissimus et al. M133 Iustorum animae
10 May Gordian et al. M98 Iustorum animae
28 December Holy Innocents M15 Anima nostra
11 August Hippolytus M138 Iustorum animae
24 July John Baptist (Vigil) M117 Fuit homo
24 June John Baptist M119 Priusquam
27 December John Evangelist M14 Exiit sermo
10 August Laurence M136 Probasti me