Notes on Graduals in Modes 3 & 4

Tracks 113: mode 3
Track 14: mode 4


The melodies of Graduals 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 serie, II (1924); and most conveniently in the Graduale triplex, where the notation from L and C (and also “E,” Einsiedeln Cod. 121) 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 René-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 bibliography, is by David Hiley, Western Plainchant, A Handbook (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993). The Graduals are discussed on p. 81.

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, p. 203.

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.

The third-mode Graduals are discussed by Willi Apel, in Gregorian Chant (Indiana University Press, 1958), pp. 352–5.

In James McKinnon, The Advent Project. The later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass Proper (University of California Press 2000), the graduals are discussed on pp. 22648.

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Graduals in Third and Fourth Modes for Temporale and Sanctorale

In the Carolingian archetype there are fourteen Graduals with final on E; twelve of these are classed as third mode, two as fourth mode, both classes ending on E.

The Graduals in third mode have given an impression of a distinctive melodic character, different in important musical respects from all other Graduals. This difference seems due to a confluence of factors, for no factor by itself is sufficient to explain the distinctive character. Relevant factors include the E final, the musical idioms shared among the various items, the pitch sets actually used, the character of the stichs selected from the Psalter, the liturgical use to which these have been put.

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).

E final

The overall impression given by any of these melodies (whether third mode or fourth) in performance is heard at the conclusion through the color of this ending on E; this can have the effect of making melodic progressions that in themselves might be different one from another, seem to share a distinctive character.

The approach to the E final is in almost all cases through one of two or three short cadential idioms. This involves a descent from G, either directly by skip from G to E, or mediated by F. The F, of course, puts the distinctive semitone F E in the foreground; the skip G to E, on the other hand, seems to make the arrival on the final even less definite.

These usual cadential idioms are not the most impressive in the family of idioms used for third-mode Graduals; in fact, they are minimal. And they have none of the stability within the pitch set that can be heard in, say, the F final of fifth-mode Graduals. Indeed, the E final of Graduals is the most convincing illustration of the important tendency, pointed out by Dom Claire, for Gregorian melodies to descend from a central tonal space to a less-than-obvious ending.

Melodic idiom

While the E final seems to suggest the use of a close family of idioms, such a family turns out to be difficult to identify. On one hand, there are half-a-dozen very distinctive idioms, some rather lengthy, all of a flamboyant and passionate nature. Among these are the repercussions that have been remarked in modern times. These distinctive idioms, however, appear in only two-thirds of the whole group of Graduals, and may provide less than half the bulk of Graduals in which they do appear.

Furthermore, much of the melodic discourse seems not to be idiomatic, sharing only in stepwise diatonic progression marked by continual avoidance of pattern or repetition, as used throughout the Gregorian repertory.

Some of the fourteen Graduals can, none the less, be grouped according to their use of idiom, and it is helpful to keep this grouping in mind when considering other factors.

Speciosus has always been identified as a different set of idioms—a different melody, in effect. Exsurge . . . fer shares in many of these, to the extent that it might be a contrafact of Speciosus, or vice versa.

Exsurge . . . non

These three Graduals use the idioms most distinctive of the group, and use them in the most intensive way. To the extent that these three are taken to be representative of the family, they can be considered the core of the modal class, along with the two Graduals for Saints, Benedicite and Iuravit.

The other third-mode Graduals resist a clear grouping on the basis of idioms. For instance, some of the distinctive idioms show up in the verses, but not the responds, of Exsurge . . . et and Ego autem; their responds both lie low, but without distinctive idiom. Some idioms appear in Tu es Deus, but not in Tibi Domine or Adiutor, although these have a strong inner affinity with the three core items.

Pitch set

While the E final has the effect of making these melodies seem to share a well-defined pitch set, more than one such set is needed to describe them, if only to accommodate those that lie lower. (The idea of a “modal” octave species, along with that of a plagal species or the latter-day idea of a modal “dominant” is not useful for this analysis.)

Speaking for the moment only of Graduals traditionally classed as third mode (that is, excluding Tenuistia and Domine praevenisti), some spend significant time below the final E, some do not. Those that do almost always also go high, ascending at least once to the octave e above the final; that seems to be the reason for their classification as third rather than as fourth mode. Conversely, Tenuisti does not so ascend, hence is classified as fourth mode (Domine praevenisti is anomalous in this and all other respects). Only Ego autem seems mis-classed by these criteria: it could well be considered to be fourth mode.

The three Graduals mentioned as the core (Eripe, Exaltabo, Exsurge . . . non) use the most extensive set, from C below the E final up to the octave above, e, or even f. Their central tonal space is G a b c, the upper boundary c being the principal pitch of reference. It is a very strong pitch of reference, providing a point of arrival that confirms the central tonal space and the tonal structure of the melody as a whole. This c appears in decorative repercussion of bistropha and tristropha (sometimes considered excessive by modern observers, and certainly exceptional in the Gregorian repertory).

The way these melodies use the central tonal space is distinctive: they spill over it with abandon, above as well as below, but without seeming to establish secondary spaces. Melodic activity above the c can be spectacular, but the pitches d, e, f function only like upper neighbors. The high e functions not as the upper octave of the final (as f does in fifth mode), but rather as decoration, like the d in first mode or the g in seventh mode.

Below E the melody can descend to a cadence on D with a grandiloquent gesture, to make a penultimate pause. The low C is there more as potential than as actuality: it seems implied as the lower frame of the central space G a b c, so that touching the C can activate the framework C G c; yet the C does not sound very often, or very emphatically.

The distinctive aspect of these melodies is the way they move freely, even unpredictably, through the pitch set without defining more of it than the central space. There is, however, occasional fleeting definition of the subsets F a c and D F a, which provide tonal relief.

A more restricted set, C to b-flat, appears in Tenuisti, Ego autem, and Exsurge . . .  et (respond). The top of the set is indeterminate, for while the upper c is used, it is with neither b-natural nor b‑flat; the scale is gapped from a to c. Or perhaps this c is the latter-day version of b-natural. In any case, when the melody does use the pitch above a—whether as b-flatb-natural, or c, it is only as upper neighbor.

In this restricted set, the low C is much more important, as lower boundary to C D E F G, or to C D E F; and it can serve as cadential goal of a descent. Similarly, F has an important role, sometimes working with a to define a secondary space.

The “modal octave” E e is actually used as pitch set in Speciosus and Exsurge . . . fer, for these two melodies have nothing below the E final, hence none of the grandiloquence of the lower register; and their movement in the higher register does not use the brilliant idioms of the core group. They make sometime use of the central pitch set G a b c, but with a cadence on a and on F, with idioms not used in the core group; and        b-natural can be used as a half cadence. There is but little use of b-flat.

The high c used in these Graduals as pitch of reference can have the same function in all the modal classes of Graduals—even in the model melody of the second mode (the Haec dies melody). It is often associated with the G a fourth below, but also with the a a minor third below, or the F a fifth below; these various contexts are what individuate the respective modal classes. In third mode the G is definitive: the resulting harmonic division of the octave C c provides the framework C G c for the melodies. The strength of this framework seems to allow the great mobility of the melodies, which, even while insisting on the central space G‑c with its reference pitch c, range freely up and down the entire octave.

Within the octave C c, individual pitches can assume their separate functions, sometimes with striking effect. The F a fourth above the low C is used extensively in introductory phrases, as part of a lower tonal space C D E F. The a, b-natural, and bflat enter into various relationships as neighbor- and passing-tones. The low D terminates a broad gesture that serves as penultimate pause. That leaves the E, otherwise seemingly without a well-defined function, as the strangely unassertive ending of these most assertive of Gradual melodies.


Except for Speciosus and the three Graduals for saints, this group of melodies uses Psalter stichs that voice complaints, sometimes bitter, or else thanksgiving to God for deliverance, sometimes with exaltation. Such texts would be traditionally ascribed to King David; B. Fischer made the important observation that they were placed by early Christians in the mouth of Jesus on his way to the Cross on Good Friday.

The language of these Psalter stichs is often passionately abundant (redundant, in terms of somber Roman public utterance). As a result, some of the responds as well as verses of these Graduals are longer than usual, even though they do not often exceed the usual syntax of two or three clauses; nor does any have recourse to more than one verse, although some verses suggest more clauses by their complex musical phrasing.

Calendric assignment

One of the most distinctive features of the third-mode Graduals is the way their liturgical assignment is limited to Pre-Lent and Lent; and the few saints' days provided for are those that fall within the same penitential period. This assignment of course goes with the pre­vailing character of the sentences: they are precisely proper to Passiontide; hence, it would be due only to the complex and inscrutable ways in which the Lenten season was extended backwards in the calendar that Graduals in modes three and four were placed earlier, all the way back to Septuagesima (Speciosus remains anomalous, in assignment as well as in melody).

In connection with the liturgical assignment, but in some sense beside or beyond it, there are curious features of repertory that can be glimpsed in this listing.

Ego, Eripe, Exaltabo, Exsurge ...fer, Exsurge...non
Tenuisti, Tibi, Tu es

Such a listing would be unremarkable were it not for a similar disposition of the Tracts, the other category used systematically in Lent—and only there. The Tracts, along with two Graduals in the eighth mode, are assigned according to a lengthy liturgical program leading through Pre-Lent, Lent, and Holy Week. A summary of these Graduals and Tracts is shown here:

Graduals in third and fourth mode Tracts in eighth mode Tracts in second mode
3 before Lent 3 for saints before LXX 3 in Lent
Speciosus Qui seminant Qui habitat
Adiutor Desiderium Deus deus meus
Tu es Deus Beatus vir Eripe me
3 Sundays in Lent 3 before Lent
Tenuisti (mode 4) De profundis
Exsurge . . . non Commonvisti "Graduals with several verses"
Eripe me lubilate (=tracts in second mode)
5 ferias in Lent 3 in Lent 3 in Lent
Exsurge . . . fer Ad te levavi De necessitatibus
Tibi Domine Qui confidunt Domine exaudi
Exaltabo te Saepe expugnaverunt Domine audivi
Exsurge . . . et 3 as Cantica
Ego autem Cantemus
Venea facta est
Attende coelum Graduals in eighth mode
3 for saints 3 sundry 2 in Lent, 1 for saints
Benedicite Laudate Dominum Deus vitam
luravit Sicut cervus Deus exaudi
Domine praevenisti (mode 4) Qui regis (Advent) Dilexisti, St. Lucy (Advent)

The Lenten liturgical program included all the Propers of Pre-Lent, Lent, and Holy Week; it was a Lenten Project” that could well be considered by itself. As an extensive collection of sentences carefully culled from the Psalter, it was the most striking illustration of the Christian turn to the Old Testament beginning in the fourth century. Some sentences were used several times during Lent, in various different liturgical functions, with an effect exactly duplicating that of the disposition of antiphon and responsory texts throughout the monastic Office.

This use of texts is most clear beginning with the Introit for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, and continuing, ever more insistent, through the Sixth Week, Holy Week.” The festive character of the Sixth Sunday is due entirely to the ceremony of the palms, and the re­enactment of the Lord's entry into Jerusalem, that precedes Mass, and, while giving the name “Palm Sunday,” has all but obliterated the character of the Mass formulary. Only the prominence of the St. Matthew Passion reasserts the nature of this as the “ Second Sunday of the Passion.”

The Graduals with several verses,”so called by Dom Hesbert and labeled RG in the Sextuplex, have the melody better known in its use for the second-mode Tracts. The Tracts can be listened to at Tracts in second mode and Tracts in eighth mode.