Notes on Communions in Modes 1 & 3

Tracks 1–25: in first mode
Tracks 26–33: in third mode


The melodies of Communion antiphons 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).

Communion psalm verses have been sung here from MS St. Gallen 381, facs. ed. W. Arlt and S. Rankin, Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen Codices 484 & 381, (Switzerland: Zentralbibliothek Zurich, 1996).

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 série, II (1924); Einsiedeln    Cod. 121, (“E”) ed. Odo Lang (Weinheim 1991) and most conveniently in the Graduale triplex, where the notation from L, C, and E 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 Réné-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 relevant bibliography, is by David Hiley, Western Plainchant, A Handbook (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993). The Communion antiphons are discussed on pp. 116–120. 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, pp. 141–143, 184–190.

The Communions are discussed by Willi Apel in Gregorian Chant (Indiana University Press, 1958),               pp. 311–312; in pp. 140–178 the Communions are often used as examples of modality.

In James McKinnon, The Advent Project. The later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass Proper (University of California Press 2000), the Communions are discussed on pp. 326–355.

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.

For further resources, see the About the Archive.

Gregorian chant at Communion

In René-Jean Hesbert’s Antiphonale missarum sextuplex 143 Communion antiphons are given assignments in the temporale and sanctorale. These all appear also in the Graduale triplex, provided there with the nuance notation by Marie-Claire Billecocq and Rupert Fischer; and they are all performed and recorded here in the Archive.

 The 143 antiphons are distributed among the eight modes in this way.

first mode: 25 antiphons
second mode: 19 antiphons
third mode: 8 antiphons
fourth mode: 18 antiphons
fifth mode: 15 antiphons
sixth mode: 18 antiphons
seventh mode: 16 antiphons
eighth mode: 24 antiphons

Two modal groups, the first and eighth, have twenty-five and twenty-four antiphons respectively; together they provide more than a third of the total. In contrast, the third mode shows only eight antiphons. The second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh modal groups, each with about the same number (average seventeen), occupy a middle ground, and provide the majority, eighty-six antiphons. 

The repertory of Communion antiphons is distinguished among the Proper chants of the Mass by making much more extensive use of non-psalmic texts, mainly from one of the four canonical Gospels, but also from elsewhere in the Old and New Testament. In contrast, Graduals make virtually no use of non-psalmic texts; and Introit antiphons, while occasionally using non-psalmic texts, even in prominent formularies, only seldom draw one from a Gospel. 

The use of Gospel text in Communion antiphons varies widely from one modal group to another: in third mode antiphons, only one out of a total of eight is from a Gospel; in fifth mode, seven out of fifteen; in eighth mode, fifteen out of twenty-four. Similarly, the assignment of Gospel texts to the various kinds of occasions can vary from one modal group to the next. Gospel texts are favored, however, for saints’ days; in two modal groups all the saints’ days (four in each case) have Gospel texts for the Communion antiphons. 

Like antiphons at the Introit, Communion antiphons vary in size from relatively short with simple plans of two phrases (although none is as short and simple as an Office antiphon), through longer, more elaborate plans of three phrases, to multiphrase plans more characteristic of responsories of the Office. (Some Communion antiphons share words and even melodies with Office responsories.)  

The psalmic texts usually are set to melodic phrases that are typical in length and proportion, sometimes in the conventional form of three phrases, the third subdivided. The melodies for the non-psalmic texts, on the other hand, may show less conventional phrase plans tailored to suit the phrasing of the words, since these non-psalmic texts may be in narrative prose rather than in psalmic verse. 

Shorter or longer, Communion antiphons move from one syllable to the next with the same kind of melodic motion found in Introits and Offertories (and less characteristic of melismatic chant). This style proceeds through a succession of two- and three-note groups with occasional single notes or longer groups. Its most important aspect—as used in Gregorian—is the continual re-directing of the melody to avoid repetition, either of the kind of group (for instance ascending or descending), or of the length of the group (two, three, or more pitches). Ascents of more than three or four in the same direction are avoided; but repetitions that would suggest a reciting tone are also avoided. (Hence, a psalm verse, sung to a tone, always comes as a contrast.) This melodic style can be described as recursive, with the curves occurring at the lowest level, that of the succession of individual pitches. This recursive style is the most distinctive feature of Gregorian melody; its artistic use is a principal source of Gregorian excellence. 

In the Communion antiphons this recursive style is used to a subtly greater degree than in Introits; and, when confined within the central locus of a fifth or a third, the recursive effect can become intense, as in some antiphons of the second mode, or of the fourth. Also in Communion antiphons, however, is evident close attention to the phonetic details of the diction, even more than in the other kinds of Mass chants. The association of verbal and melodic details, their accommodation to each other and to the sense of the whole, repays the closest study. 

In four of the six manuscripts of the Sextuplex (Mt. Blandin, Compiègne, Corbie, Senlis) the Communion antiphons are usually given a cue to a psalm verse, to be sung to a psalm tone in alternation with the antiphon. The cue can take the form of citing a verse complete, or by incipit; or by an abbreviated form of the word “Psalm”; or by the mere reference ut supra, which usually means the psalm verse already given for the Introit of the same formulary. That the choice of verse is a relic of cantor’s choice is apparent in the variation from one manuscript to another. A single verse is meant, however, in spite of the use (as also at the Introit) of the term “Psalm,” and in spite of the fact that the verse cited is sometimes (especially at the Introit) the first verse of the Psalm, which might be taken to imply that part or all of the Psalm is to be sung in antiphonal manner of some kind. The verse is usually chosen as appropriate to the sense of the formulary (and in at least one case the verse is not from a Psalm, but rather some other Scriptural verse.) Infrequently one or the other of the manuscripts selects an additional verse “ad repetendum.” 

Such verses are cued in the tenth-century manuscripts (L, C, and E), and while these are not consistently notated in L, they are in E (not many in C). A complete set of verses, for Introits as well as Communion antiphons is available in apparently better versions in a remarkable Versarium in the St.-Gallen MS 381, published in facsimile by Arlt and Rankin. This source has been used for the performance of verses in the Archive, in spite of occasional indeterminancy in the staffless notation of the pitches. In contrast to the standardized versions of psalm tones constructed at Solesmes for the Liber usualis, these versions from       St.-Gallen MS 381 show the small variation typical of the medieval psalm-tone sources, hence will seem unfamiliar to modern singers in a few details; but the differences from modern practice will be no greater than that between the versions known in the tenth century by the scribes, say, of Einsiedeln as compared to Laon. 

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).

Communions in first mode 

Communion antiphons in first mode are provided for twenty-five Mass formularies, more than any other mode. Together with the twenty-four in mode eight this is a third of the whole repertory.  

First-mode antiphons are assigned to two of the five festal occasions, Nativity and Ascension, and this, also, is more than the other modes. First mode is prominent among dominical assignments (seven) and ferial assignments (six). And more are provided for saints’ days (ten) than any other mode. 

The dominical occasions include the First and Second Sundays in Advent, Septuagesima, and Quinquagesima, but only one Sunday in Lent (the Third). With only two Lenten ferias assigned first mode antiphons, it seems that the numerous Lenten formularies were provided mostly with antiphons from other modes. 

First-mode antiphons are provided for saints’ days throughout the calendar, all the way from Vincent in January to Caecilia in November, for prominent as well as less-than-prominent saints.

As mentioned, words taken from one of the four canonical Gospels are not used for most of the other Mass Propers; Communion antiphons are different in making frequent use of words taken from a Gospel. Of the twenty-five communion antiphons in first mode, ten use words taken from one of the four Gospels. This is to be compared to the eleven antiphons that use words from the Psalter, which, while still substantial, is less than half of the Communions in first mode. Of the ten that use Gospel words, four are for saints’ days, six for the temporale, with the greater part of that being for ferias.

Communion antiphons in first mode, with a final on D, use a pitch set that usually extends from the C below the D final up an octave to c, with occasional use of the d above. Both b and b-flat are available. The b-flat is sometimes used in such idiomatic ways as to be normal to the diatonic set rather than the b. At other times b and b-flat can alternate in close succession. An A a fourth below the final is available but rarely used, usually with the implication that the item could be classed as second mode. An E-flat is used in one piece, notated by way of transposition of that whole chant up a fifth.

There is a central locus F a, with the a being an important upper reference pitch, the F an important lower reference pitch, and much activity running through this major third. (It is this locus that corresponds closely to the first psalm tone, concordant with this mode.) Frequently the c above functions as an expressive expansion of the central locus, yet not so clearly as to be the upper reference pitch (as it can be in Graduals). Still, the activity can run throughout the fifth F c, sometimes making the triad F a c to be heard. And the c is, in these antiphons, always more prominent than the d above, which is used occasionally but—as throughout the Gregorian repertory—in a decorative or expressive way, not as the top of a structural framework D a d.

 Another frequent locus, more characteristic of the Communion repertory, is D F, or sometimes D F a. Often the C below has an important function in this locus. And sometimes the flow in and out of the two loci F a and D F is so frequent and easy that there seems to be no locus more specific than the octave C c.

Communion antiphons in third mode

 Of the 143 Communion antiphons provided in one or more manuscripts of the Sextuplex, only eight are in third mode, far fewer than in any other mode. None is for one of the five feasts (Nativity, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost). Only two are for Sundays, three are for ferias, three are for saints’ days.

Third-mode antiphons are not numerous, and not assigned to the most prominent occasions; none the less some of them suggest that their selection and assignment was the result of careful thought. One of the Sunday assignments (Scapulis suis) is for the First Sunday of Lent, a formulary distinguished by having all its Proper chants use the same Psalm, Qui habitat. The other Sunday assignment (for Sunday 8 after Pentecost) uses a verse from Psalm 33, long thought to be the prototypical Communion verse, if not the prototypical Communion psalm (Gustate et videte —“Taste and see!”), although this verse appears in the earliest chant books at Communion only on this one Sunday. Of the three assignments to saints’ days, one (for Silvester, 31 December), fills out the Octave of the Nativity, while another (for Alexander et al., 3 May) is one of the relatively few of the Paschaltide cycle. And while the five dominical or ferial antiphons use words from the Psalter, for the three saints;’ days there is one Gospel text, and two from the Old Testament (non-psalmic).

The overall pitch set for the third-mode Communion antiphons extends from C a major third below the E final to e an octave above; b-flat is frequently used instead of b. While in most pieces the C below and the e above are scarcely used, the D below and the d above are more frequent.

 These eight Communion antiphons vary greatly in their use of characteristic third-mode idioms. Most maintain the central locus of G up to c, this c being the upper reference pitch; but some maintain it more firmly than others. And most of the eight use Dom Claire’s terminal descent from the central locus to the E final through the customary cadential idiom and an emphasized F. In some cases the final E is preceded by movement to the D below. Once or twice the E does not appear in the piece until the very end. 

Beyond idioms of cadence and intonation, however, some of the eight seem to make relatively little use of characteristic idiom, giving instead an impression of individuality associated with attention to their diction; there are allusions to idioms from other modes. One antiphon (Beatus servus) is written in later staff sources on a as final, so that b-flat has to be provided for the semitone above the final. In a subsequent phrase no flat is provided (in the staffed version) for a phrase ending that proceeds nicely through b-natural—which would be F-sharp if the piece were notated on E. The melodic progression through this semitone shift has the effect of a temporary shift to seventh mode. While the shift is of course not specifically indicated in the staffless notations, there seems to be nothing to prevent it being read there.