Notes on Communions in Modes 2 & 4

Tracks 1–19: in second mode
Tracks 20–37: in fourth 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.

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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).

Communion antiphons in second mode 

Of the 143 Communion antiphons provided in the Sextuplex , nineteen are in second mode, which makes them the third most numerous, exceeded only by those in the first mode (twenty-five) and eighth mode (twenty-four). None of those in second mode is for one of the five feasts (Nativity, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost). For Sundays there are six, mostly for Sundays after Pentecost. For ferias there are nine, as many as the ferial antiphons in eighth mode, and more than in other modes; these ferial antiphons are mostly for days in Lent and Holy Week. With these fifteen antiphons for the temporale  the second mode seems to be used here mostly for occasions of less than first rank; but on the other hand the four antiphons for saints’ days are for prominent saints—John Evangelist, Fabian and Sebastian, John Baptist, Simon and Jude. 

Words for six of these antiphons in second mode are drawn from one of the four canonical Gospels, and there is one more from the Epistle to the Galatians. This number from the New Testament is comparable to the use in other modes, but in second mode it is small in proportion to the number of antiphons that use Psalter texts (twelve). Here the Gospel texts are mostly for saints’ days (all four saints’ days have Gospel texts), while the Psalter texts are mostly for the Lenten ferias. 

The pitch set used for second mode Communion antiphons extends from A a fourth below the D final to c a seventh above the final. Both the low B and the high b can be replaced by b-flat, variously in different contexts, and in some cases, perhaps, at singer’s option. But in some cases the option is exercised without ambiguity by notating the whole antiphon a fifth higher, with final on a. Such notation, of course, shows up only in sources notated on a staff with a clef, from the twelfth century on, and is purely facilitative: the use of final a specifies both a minor sixth above the final a and a major third below—that is, a flat on both the lower B and the higher b when notated on D final. 

The central locus in this pitch set (referring to the location on the D final) can best be identified as from D to F, with F being the principal reference pitch. The melodies move intensively and recursively with the pitches D, E, F. But the neighboring pitches C and G are used intensively, too; they provide a firm frame of a fifth for the principal reference pitch F and the final D. While the overall pitch set, A up to c, is not much smaller than that of other modes, still the way the melodies concentrate on (C) D E F (G) in this mode make them seem restricted. 

The pitch set extends downward from the D final to the A below; these lower pitches are used only for special purpose. There is a stepwise descent as far as B, which returns immediately to the final and above. In pieces notated on an a final, this descent is to F; hence, when the descent appears in pieces notated on D, the B flat is an option. Used slightly differently, for a penultimate pause, the descent can be through a gapped scale, D, C, A. This is one of a small number of distinctive idioms in this group of antiphons. 

Relatively infrequent, these extension above and below the central locus tend to emphasize the concentration on activity that remains within the fifth C G. The a just above the fifth, however, is used very frequently, as if part of a locus F G a. Occasionally there is motion through D E F G a.; or in descent c b a G F, but not maintained so as to establish either of those fifths as a locus. 

There are two low intonation idioms of a kind that can appear more frequently in other kinds of chant. One low intonation begins on A, C, E, D as if in the low gapped segment. Another low intonation is notated on the a final as F, G, b-flat, which on a D final would require an E-flat. This kind of low intonation, found more frequently in eighth mode, can be described as an opening phrase in normal idiom but placed a whole tone lower than normal. 

In general, then, these second mode Communion antiphons give the impression of intensive elaboration of the relatively restricted pitch set of simple second-mode antiphons—even more intensive than comparable Introit antiphons in second mode. Nor is there much recourse to idioms that might be considered characteristic of second mode. And a wide variety of characteristic styles is used, ranging from that of short, simple Office antiphons through the highly developed antiphon style found also in Introit antiphons, to a style characteristic of Office responsories. As a result of all these tendencies, the second-mode Communion antiphons seem to show a special concern for the peculiar needs of each individual set of words—not to “express” the words (and certainly not by way of madrigalisms) but rather to find an appropriate rendition of the phonetic qualities of the words. This must be understood as musically appropriate, not simply imitative of the words as they would be said. And while, as in all Gregorian chant, the phrase plan is all-important in the nature of the whole piece, in the Communion antiphons the usual plan of three phrases (the last being subdivided) seems to be replaced more often than usual with a plan tailored to the specific text being set.

Communion antiphons in fourth mode

Of the 143 Communion antiphons recorded in the Sextuplex eighteen are in fourth mode, a median number. There is one for Epiphany, and one for the second Mass of the Nativity (which does not count as festal, since only the third Mass of the Nativity is so counted). There are six antiphons for Sundays, mostly for Sundays after Pentecost; and only two for Lenten ferias. Assignment is made to eight saints’ days, more than for any other mode except first mode which has ten for saints. Many of the eight saints’ days are prominent, strengthening the impression that the fourth mode is here being used in important ways.

Texts are provided from the Psalter for eleven of the eighteen fourth-mode antiphons, a relatively high number among the Communion antiphons. There are five Gospel texts, and two from the Old Testament, assigned variously to temporale and sanctorale.

The pitch set used for these antiphons usually extends from C below the final E to c an octave higher; rarely there is a d above the c, and on one occasion a B-flat below the C. Unlike the other modes, there is no clearly defined central locus, nor any single prominent reference pitch: melodic movement in these fourth-mode antiphons seems uniquely varied. It is not indeterminate, and at any given point will be moving with purpose and direction, at least in the short run. The motion cannot, however, be described simply as within or outside a specific locus. Rather, account needs to be taken of two or perhaps three loci, overlapping and coexisting.

The problem of locus is intimately tied to the final on E. In third mode, the E is understood as a falling off from the central locus G a b c by way of Dom Claire’s terminal descent; but in fourth mode the central locus, if there were one, would be E F G. In these fourth-mode antiphons, motion to the final, when considered not merely in terms of a closing appoggiatura F E but rather over a longer stretch, is not so much one of descent as of resolution of tensions, on the one hand between the locus D F a, and on the other the octave form C G c. This octave form, which emerges dimly out of the overall pitch set, is implied rather than made explicit by the melodic motion. The motion is sometimes intense within and around the locus E F G in a way comparable to the motion in the locus D E F in the second mode Communion antiphons; but there, the minor third D F is bracketed by the fifth C G, and also the D is reinforced by the a a fifth above, often prominent as an extension of the locus D E F upwards.

In the fourth mode antiphons, the fifth D a seems not to work so much as a supporting bracket but rather as a set (including F) that is interstitial to the third E G. And the fifth above the final, b, tends to be used in a way that does not refer to the E a fifth below, or else it can often be replaced by b-flat, especially in the approach to an idiomatic cadence on E, in which case it forms with G and E a prominent descent through a diminished fifth. So the only perfect fifth closely associated with the minor third E G is from below, C G. The net result of these complex relationships is that after a stretch of melodic motion that can be referred to the alternate locus D F a , the final E, itself almost indeterminate in function, can appear as an evocative reference to the firm tonal frame C G c. 

Melodic motion in these antiphons can remain within a restricted range, using idioms characteristic of fourth-mode antiphon style. Style and phrase plan are sometimes relatively short and simple. But in the longer antiphons the motion can range freely throughout the octave C c , and the style of the longest can resemble that of Office responsories. All of the eighteen fourth-mode antiphons show close attention to the phonetic qualities of the words being sung; some of the melodies have lyric qualities quite independent of idiom.