Notes on Communions in Modes 7 & 5

Tracks 1–16: in seventh mode
Tracks 17–31: in fifth 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).

Communions in seventh mode 

Of the 143 Communion antiphons there are sixteen in seventh mode; only modes five and three contribute fewer. One of the sixteen is prominent at Nativity, Third Mass. There are four for Sundays, three of them being for the winter cycle that extends from Advent through Nativity into Epiphanytide. There are seven for ferias, five of these for Lent and Holy Week. There are four for saints’ days, two of these also being in the winter cycle. 

Of the sixteen Communion antiphons in seventh mode, five have words drawn from the Psalter, while twice as many, eleven, have words from elsewhere in Holy Scripture—five from a Gospel, three from elsewhere in  the New Testament, and one from the Old Testament. This is the next-to-largest proportion of non-psalmic texts among the Communion antiphons, exceeded only by the proportion in eighth mode. The four antiphons for saints days each have a Gospel text; but the other non-psalmic texts do not show such a striking concentration in any one kind of occasion.

 The overall pitch set extends from F below the final G to g an octave above. The low F however, is not very frequent, occurring mostly as a lower neighbor to G or occasionally in the subset F a c; and the high g is even less frequent. Hence, the effective pitch range is from the G final up a seventh to f. Many of the melodies move freely throughout this range, without consistent reference to the d or c that functions as a reference pitch in other kinds of seventh-mode chant. Both the d and the c can, none the less, be felt as reference points behind certain strings of two-note and three-note groups, sometimes including more elaborate decoration. The characteristic leaps from G up to d (and back down to G ) occur occasionally, and also moments of the brilliant movement in the upper register of d e f that distinguishes the seventh-mode melismatic style.

Communion antiphons in fifth mode

Of the 143 Communion antiphons assigned in the Sextuplex, those in fifth mode number fifteen, which is next to the least, third mode contributing only eight. Fifth mode typically provides only a moderately small proportion to antiphonal chants of the Mass (in contrast to the responsorial chants of the Mass, where fifth mode provides half of all the Graduals but only three Alleluias. None of the fifth-mode Communion antiphons is for a feast day; three are dominical (for Sundays after Pentecost). No less than eight are ferial, mostly for Lent, but also three for the Vigil and week of Pentecost. There are four for relatively prominent saints’ days. 

Words from the Psalter are provided for seven of the fifteen fifth-mode antiphons, especially for the Lenten ones. The same number are Gospel texts, and there is one from the Old Testament. Of these seven Gospel texts, three are assigned to saints’ days; another three are assigned to Lenten ferias.

In these fifth-mode Communion antiphons the overall pitch set extends from C below the F final to the f an octave above, and includes b-flat along with b-natural. The extremities of this set, however, are very much less used than is the central locus bounded by F and c. The pitch set could almost be described as restricted to the fifth F to c with occasional use of d or e (rarely f) above, and D and C below (the E below the final F does not appear save in a quilisma, giving the scale a gapped appearance at that point).

Motion within the central locus, then, is intensive and recursive, since these melodies are in continual motion, often by thirds. An upper reference pitch can be identified as c (and a complementary lower one on F); but the continuous motion suggests, rather, that it should be understood as ranging quickly and easily within the locus F to c, using all the included pitches without reference to one or two as most prominent—a more intense form of the motion in Communion antiphons of the second mode, and also the fourth.

The alternative use of b and b-flat is indicated by notation only in the staffed sources, and has to be surmised from them in the tenth-century sources of the Triplex. But the use seems to be frequent, and in such a way as to suggest that here, as in some other fifth-mode Mass chants, b-flat is to be understood not as “accidental” but rather as normal to certain phrases (such as cadential approach) and kinds of melodic motion. In any case, b-flat seems to be frequent, and in the cadential approach it gives the clear descent       b-flat a G F. Sometimes, however, the descent is through C a G F, as if a gapped scale. None the less, the   b-natural is to be read not just as an arbitrary result of the abstract diatonic octave species F f identified with fifth mode, for it is clearly integral to many of the other kinds of melodic phrases. Here as elsewhere the fifth-mode pitch set includes both kinds of b.