Notes on Communions in Modes 8 & 6

Tracks 1–24: in eighth mode
Tracks 25–42: in sixth 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 asrecursive, 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 theLiber 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 eighth mode 

There are twenty-four Communion antiphons in eighth mode assigned in the Sextuplex, the next-to-largest number, exceeded only by the twenty-five antiphons in first mode. Together, these two modal groups provide slightly more than half of the Communion antiphons. There is no eighth-mode antiphon, however, for one of the five feasts (Nativity, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost). There are seven for Sundays, ten for ferias, and seven for saints’ days. The dominical as well as the ferial assignments are distributed out over the year. 

There are only four texts drawn from the Psalter; the rest, twenty in all, are drawn from Scripture—Gospel (fifteen), other New Testament (three), Old Testament (two). This is the largest concentration specifically of Gospel texts, and of non-psalmic texts generally, among all the modal groups of Communion antiphons. Of the fifteen Gospel texts, six are for the seven saints’ days, the seventh being from Acts. The remaining Gospel texts are distributed among various occasions.

The overall pitch set extends from D a fourth below the final G to e a major sixth above. While some of the melodies do move freely throughout the range D e, the movement more typically is focused on limited loci in ways characteristic of the eighth mode. The principal locus is, as usual, the fourth from G up to c, with c maintaining its function as upper reference pitch in spite of the melodic motion, which, as in all Communion antiphons, can be intensely recursive. The plagal nature of the mode is manifest in the frequent use of a locus extending from the G final down to D. Then there is a third, interstitial locus associated with the F below the final, and expressed in various ways—a, c, a, and F up to c through b-flat. Indeed,      b-flat is infrequent, and appears only in some relationship to F.

The recursive melodic movement seems particularly intense because of being mostly in the central locus, G a b c. While the d above and the F below are used frequently as upper and lower neighbors respectively, they are included in the line with the smoothness of passing tones. Movement to e above and D below are in the nature of occasional excursions; not too frequent, and always carefully placed, they accentuate the confinement to the central locus and at the same time give the impression that the melody is actually moving through a much wider range than it is. Aside from cadences, idioms characteristic of eighth mode antiphons are not very evident.

As throughout the Communion antiphons, there is continual attention to melodic projection of the phonetic qualities of the words; occasionally, and subtly, the melody can accommodate less obvious and less easily identifiable features of the words.

Communion antiphons in sixth mode

Of the 143 Communion antiphons provided in the Sextuplex, eighteen are in sixth mode—roughly the same number as in the second, fourth, and seventh modes; these four modal groups lying midway between the extremes of modes 1 and 8 (twenty-five and twenty-four antiphons) and mode three (eight antiphons). There is one sixth-mode antiphon for Easter, the prime feast; six for Sundays; seven for ferias, many in Lent; and four for saints’ days. There are seven with words from a Gospel, most often that of John, one from an Epistle, and two from the Old Testament, these altogether being slightly more than the eight from the Psalter.

The overall pitch set for these sixth-mode Communion antiphons extends from C a fourth below the final F to the e a seventh above—but only to accommodate an infrequent d and one special case (Dicit Dominus) requiring an e. In general, these antiphons give the impression of occupying the octave C-c. Usually this appears in three clearly distinguished areas, F a, F c, and C f, and in many of these antiphons the melodies occupy these loci in a very straightforward way. In the simplest cases the melody can be heard to remain within the locus F a, only once or twice sounding the D below. In more complex motion down and back in the fourth F D C D F, these melodies give the impression of a gapped scale, passing over the E.

The staffed sources show the b-flat used frequently to provide a perfect fourth above the F final, regularly in descents to the final, and also for other purposes; but the b-natural is often used in ascending patterns. A few antiphons are notated on a c final to facilitate the perfect fourth above; and on one occasion this notation provides a b-flat below the final, which would be an E-flat below the F final. (While apparently unique in these Communion antiphons, such an E-flat can be found in other kinds of sixth-mode chant.)

Throughout the repertories of chant in sixth mode, especially in antiphons of the Office, the melodic motion tends to be smoothly stepwise, especially through the central major third F G a, and this combined with the comparatively clear and simple tonal plan of the pitch set, C F c, gives sixth mode a prevailing impression of melody flowing easily in a familiar context. All of this is true also in the sixth-mode Communion antiphons, even while these melodies sometimes move with the intensive recursiveness characteristic of Communion antiphons in other modes, say, the second or fourth; or even on occasion the fluttery back-and-forth motion characteristic of responsories of the Office. And the smooth melodic flow is combined just as easily with the close attention to the phonetic qualities of the words being sung, as in Communion antiphons of the other modal groups.