Notes on Tracts in Mode 8


The melodies of Alleluias with verses at Mass 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 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 Tracts are discussed on pp. 82–85. 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. 209–14.

 The Tracts are discussed by Willi Apel in Gregorian Chant (Indiana University Press, 1958), pp. 312–30.

 In James McKinnon, The Advent Project. The later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass Proper (University of California Press 2000), the Tracts are discussed on pp. 280–97.

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.

Medieval Psalm tones are discussed by Terence Bailey in “Accentual and Cursive Cadences in Gregorian Psalmody,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 29 (1976), pp.  463–71.

See also Richard L. Crocker, Introduction to Gregorian Chant (Yale University Press 2001).

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Notes for Tracts

Tracts consist of anywhere from two to fourteen verses selected from a Psalm or Canticle. The Sextuplex reflects the archetypal assignment of Tracts exclusively to the time from Septuagesima through the First Mass of Easter on Holy Saturday (one Tract is used also on the special occasion of Ember Saturday in Advent). In this season, Tracts replace the Alleluia as an introduction to the Gospel at Mass.

The melodies consistently use group style (traditionally called “neumatic”), the style most characteristic of the Proper chants of the Mass and of Matins Responsories. Most syllables are sung to a group of pitches, with only occasional syllables having only one pitch; groups are typically of two to six pitches, but Tracts frequently show groups of ten to fifteen pitches. These could be called small melismas, as long as they were seen to be different from the real melismas of twenty or thirty pitches, which are much less frequent. The melismas in Tracts are restricted in range, and mostly not brilliant. In any case, the number of pitches changes with almost every syllable, along with melodic direction and configuration.

The melodies of Tracts are traditionally—and categorically—said to be Direct Psalmody, as “a Psalm sung without the addition of an Antiphon or Respond.” The intent of this classification is to specify direct psalmody, and to distinguish it from psalmody in which the succession of verses (as given by the version in the Psalter) is interrupted by a verse out of succession, used as a refrain element of some kind.

This emphasis on “direct” tends to obscure the concomitant categorization of Tracts as “psalmody.” In the very general sense of Psalm-singing, it may be reasonable to call Gregorian chant psalmody, especially to distinguish the Gregorian repertory from subsequent repertories of medieval chant, which for the most part sing other kinds of texts. In the more specific sense of singing Psalms—whole Psalms—as they stand in the Psalter and in cursu, psalmody cannot be predicated of the texts sung in the Gregorian Mass Propers—and the most casual observation of the melodies of the Gregorian Mass Propers (the repertories recorded in this Archive) reveals that simple Office psalmody is something else. Extensive discussion of this issue is not appropriate to the Archive, and brief mention is occasioned here only because the usual treatment of Tracts has been so skewed by presuming that they were psalmody in the sense just specified. It is true that Tracts can be understood as an instance—two instances—of the practice of singing by means of a “tone,” in the sense of a well-defined pattern of pitches articulated in a certain phrase plan, performed in a certain consistent melodic idiom, and repeated exactly several times in the course of the performance of a given item. Tones in this sense are used regularly for the verses of Invitatories and Matins Responsories; and in the same sense, Tracts can be said to use tones, one in second mode (final on D), the other in eighth mode (final on G). And since in Invitatories the several repetitions of the tone alternate in some fashion with an antiphon, and in a responsory with a response, it is pertinent to say, as distinctive of Tracts, that they consist only of a tone, repeated without any other element such as an antiphon or response. 

The problem has been one of positing “Psalm tones” as the model. Simple tones have been used, presumably, for the recitation of Psalms (among other kinds of texts) for a very long time. The best documentation of them, however, as used in Western monastic practice is in the Liber usualis; the specific relationship of those Psalm tones to medieval practice has been usefully explored by Terence Bailey. The general relationship to medieval varieties of Psalm tones along with many other kinds of tones had been laid out by Peter Wagner in his Gregorianische Melodien. It seems no longer possible to base (as was once done) a linear account of the development of Gregorian melody on the simple Psalm tones, and only a doctrinaire approach uses them as models for a taxonomy of Gregorian antiphonal and responsorial forms. In simple Office psalmody, each verse of a Psalm (which is different words from the preceding verse, with vanishingly few exceptions) is sung to a pitch or single “tone,” for instance F, repeated throughout the verse as a “reciting tone,” and relieved only by two or three other pitches at beginning, middle, and end; then, in every successive verse, exactly the same pitch with the same slight inflections is repeated. This is psalmody, at least as Psalms are sung in European (Benedictine) monastic practice; and the reason such a simple-sounding practice requires such an elaborate musical description as just attempted, and why the practice itself over the centuries has sounded so peculiar, is that it is essentially different—other—than the most general sense of European melody. The unrelieved repetition of a single word throughout a poem can be regarded as an exception—and a weird one—in European poetic practice; so with unrelieved repetition of a single pitch.

In practice, the weirdness was relieved: Benedictine psalmody has always, in the inflections, made use of more than one pitch; indeed, in shorter verses of simple Office psalmody there may be so few reciting pitches that to an attentive listener a sense of European melody is often apparent. In the more elaborate tones (those of Invitatories and Matins Responsories) the alien effect of persistent pitch repetition is much diminished, and in the verse of Graduals in second mode (a verse melody that has sometimes been called, on other grounds, a tone) the alien effect disappears. The effect can be traced, in purely abstract terms, to the extreme amount of sameness in simple Office psalmody, and in practical terms to other factors, especially the use in each verse of the same phrase plan of two phrases articulated by an invariant plan of cadences.

Hearing these other factors in a performance of a Tract can result in the effect of tedium heard also in Office psalmody. But what is absent from Tracts is the extreme sameness of pitch repetition (brief instances of recitation, comparable to some Graduals, occur mostly in the eighth-mode Tracts, and sometimes on the final G, which never happens in strictly Gregorian psalm tones). Instead, there is a persistent matching of the melodic detail with the diction changing syllable by syllable.

To notice is the high degree, in the Psalms of David, of a persistent restatement of thought or feeling in different words; this restatement is regularly identified between two halves of a verse (parallelismus membrorum) but often found between successive verses, and at higher structural levels as well. Similarly, in Tracts the persistent differentiation of melodic detail takes place within phrase plans of a certain regularity; but the distribution of sameness and difference that can be heard in the melodies provided for successive verses of Tracts is emphatically not comparable to a simple Psalm tone in its abstract formulation.

The clearest sense in which each verse of a Tract can be said to be sung to a tone is in the phrase plan. Tract verses show, in general, a plan of two halves, the first half marked by a virtually invariant cadential idiom, the second half by a somewhat more variant one—but in length and subdivision the second halves tend to be more regular than the first halves. Indeed, the overall plan is often obscured in the first half by occasional repetition of the middle cadence, or duplication with some other cadence, or other irregularity in the number, length of sub-phrases, as well as a variety of alternative idioms. All of this works differently in the two modes, as remarked in their separate descriptions.

The resulting variety, verse by verse (always in response to varied sense and syntax of the words) is much more apparent in Tracts with only two, three, or four verses—and these, rather than the three excessively long Tracts of up to fourteen verses, are to be regarded as normal. (It is these long Tracts that have been used to show the Tract as psalmody.) Indeed, a Tract of two verses seems musically not much different from a Gradual. Dom Hesbert called attention to three Tracts labeled “RG” (responsorium graduale) in the Sextuplex; he called them “Graduals with several verses” (Graduals have regularly only one verse), and they are presumed to involve, in performance, the use of one of the verses as a response. When so performed these Tracts would not be so different musically from several regular Graduals (such as Exaltabo te Domine, third mode) with exceptionally long verses.

According to the liturgical historian Balthasar Fischer, certain texts from the Psalter could be understood in the second century ad as utterances of Jesus in his Passion. This seems especially applicable to the Tracts, in particular those whose words are drawn from the Psalter; it does not apply to the Cantica for Holy Saturday, or to the four eighth-mode Tracts for saints’ days. (It does apply, however, to a parallel set of texts for the third-mode Graduals in Lent.) Understanding these as texts of the Passion—perhaps imagined as utterances of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane—is given liturgical expression in the calendric order of appearance of the Tracts.

Tracts in eighth mode and in second mode assigned in the Sextuplex. 

M34: Septuagesima

            Mode 8: De profundis (Ps. 129: 1–4)

M35: Sexagesima

            Mode 8: Commovisti (Ps. 59: 4–6)

M36: Quinquagesima

            Mode 8: Iubilate (Ps. 99: 2–3)

M40: First Sunday of Lent

            Mode 2: Qui habitat (Ps. 90: 1–7, 11–16)

M43: feria iv

            Mode 2: De necessitatibus (Ps. 24: 17, 18, 1–4)

M46: sabbato

            Mode 8: Laudate (Ps. 116)

(Dominca vacat)

M53: Third Sunday in Lent

            Mode 8: Ad te levavi (Ps. 122: 1–3)

M60: Fourth Sunday in Lent

            Mode 8: Qui confidunt (Ps. 124: 1–2)

M67: Fifth Sunday in Lent

            Mode 8: Saepe expugnaverunt (Ps. 128: 1–4)

M73: Sixth Sunday in Lent

            Mode 2: Deus deus meus (Ps. 21: 2(=1)–9, 18, 22, 24, 32)

M76: feria iv (or vi)

            Mode 2: Domine exaudi (Ps. 101: 2–5, 14)

M78: feria vi

            Mode 2: Domine audivi (Habbakuk 3: 2(=1)–3)

M78: feria vi

            Mode 2: Eripe me (Ps. 139: 2(=1)–10, 14)

M79: sabbato

            Mode 8: Cantemus Domino (Exodus 15: 1–2)

            Mode 8: Attende (Deuteronomy 32: 1–4)

            Mode 8: Vinea (Isaiah 5: 1–2)

            Mode 8: Sicut cervus (Ps. 41: 2(=1), 3, 4)

            Mode 8: Laudate (Ps. 116)

M30: Agatha (5 February)

            Mode 8: Qui seminant (Ps. 125: 5, 6)

M31: Valentinus (14 February)

            Mode 8: Desiderium (Ps. 20: 3, 4)

M32: Gregory (12 March)

            Mode 8: Beatus vir (Ps. 111: 1, 2, 3)

M33: Annunciation (25 March)

            Mode 8: Qui regis (Ps. 79: 2(–1), 3) 

The eighth-mode Tracts were assigned simply to Sundays from Septuagesima through Lent, but were then replaced on the First and Sixth Sundays of Lent with second-mode Tracts (see the account of this development by Hesbert in the introduction to the Sextuplex). De profundis for Septuagesima is clearly programmatic as is Saepe expugnaverunt for the Fifth (“Passion”) Sunday; and Ad te levavi can be included in this series. Commovisti, however, and Iubilate seem rather to express communal worship; the brighter tone of Qui confidunt is appropriate to the stational program for the Fourth Sunday (the station is that of the church in Rome titled “Holy Cross in Jerusalem,” and the Propers use Psalm 124, with reference to Jerusalem).

For an analogous reason, but with a darker tone in keeping with the Passion program, the second-mode Tract Qui habitat along with the other Propers for the First Sunday use Psalm 90, traditionally associated with Jesus’ fast and temptation in the desert, which is the Scriptural model for the Lenten fast. And again, Deus deus meus sounds out Psalm 21, the Psalm Jesus started on the Cross, as told in St. Matthew’s Passion sung on the Sixth Sunday immediately following. As the second of the three longest Tracts, Deus deus meus provides ample opportunity for meditation, on a lyric Psalm text, in anticipation of the narration in the Gospel.

The Passiontide program is consummated, then, with Tracts of the second mode rather than the eighth. In Holy Week (with slight variation among the sources of the Sextuplex) comes the passionate outcry Domine exaudi, the strange vision in the Canticle of Habbakuk, Domine audivi, and the most passionate of all, Eripe me on Good Friday, as the last words of Jesus before the Passion according to St. John and the formal liturgical commemoration of the Crucifixion. The Improperia, following as part of that liturgy, are also understood to be utterances of Jesus, but of quite another kind. The First Mass of Easter on Holy Saturday begins with the Paschal Candle and the brighter tone of the eighth-mode Cantica.

In general, Tracts are considered to function as Lenten replacements for the Alleluia as introduction to the reading of the Gospel. This function, essentially one of praise, can best be seen in the Tract Iubilate for Quinquagesima. The intent of the texts of the Passiontide program, on the other hand, seems rather to be one of matching the intense diction of the words with intense melodic expression, achieved in this case by maintaining difference from one syllable to the next while at the same time maximizing presentation of all the relationships among these pitches by continual recursive motion throughout the relatively small pitch set. Such motion requires art, of course, and the Tracts seem to be among the most artful of the Gregorian repertory.

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).

Tracts in Eighth Mode

The calendric order of eighth-mode Tracts has been sketched together with those of the second mode in the foregoing paragraphs.

The pitch set for eighth-mode Tracts extends from F below the final to e a major sixth above; and includes a D a fourth below the final, usually as a simple leap to the G in a particular idiom, but in one case (Saepe expugnaverunt) the opening phrase moves with effect down to C. Similarly, the e above is specific to three idioms, one of them being the regular approach to the mediant cadence. The central locus is the fourth G a b c, flanked by the d above and the F below. Another locus, F a c, is only suggested by the intonation idiom that usually follows the mediant cadence, and by other idioms from time to time. The stepwise movement upwards to the upper reference pitch c is strongly emphasized in certain idioms. The pitch set includes b-flat as part of a specific idiom based on the F a fourth below.

The upper reference pitch c is used for one of the reciting pitches in the Cantica, and in that function is one of the clearest examples of the well-known mi/fa shift of b instead of c. While this is made clear by the staffless notation of L, C, and E, it is not unambiguous in all cases, suggesting that at the time of these sources it involved cantorial option.

The eighth-mode Tracts show three to five verses. When the verses are labeled (in the Sextuplex) "V," the labeling begins only with the second verse, and when these are numbered, as in some of the sources, this second verse is numbered ”I.” Some of the verses are long, and show a multiple subphrase plan. When this is combined with a variety of idioms, the result obscures a sense of a regular verse structure. The Cantica draw on a smaller selection of idioms, which is one reason their verse structure seems more regular—as if the singers who adapted the eighth-mode Tract melodies to those texts reduced the material to a simplified tone by selecting a fewer number of idioms.

Each verse of eighth-mode Tracts has a. final cadence on the final G and a mediant cadence on F a whole tone below. The mediant cadence includes an invariant approach c c a c G G F; in the approach the nuance notation shows a clear articulation between the drop of a fourth c G and the cadential appoggiatura G F. There is more than one approach to the final cadence. The mediant cadence can come more than once in a verse; and there can be internal cadences on G before the mediant cadence. The mediant and final cadences are firmly coordinated with the verbal syntax.