Notes on Graduals in Modes 5


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 fifth-mode Graduals are discussed, with an extensive table, by Willi Apel, in Gregorian Chant (Indiana University Press, 1958), pp. 344–50.

In James McKinnon, The Advent Project. The later seventh-century creation of the Roman Mass Proper (University of California Press 2000), the fifth-mode graduals are discussed inter alia on pp. 226–48.

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Graduals in the fifth Mode (Temporale) 

The Carolingian archetype contains forty-three Graduals in fifth mode. Twenty-six of these are designated for the Temporale (Sundays and feast days) in Hesbert's Antiphonale missarum sextuplex. The remaining seventeen are grouped as Graduals in fifth mode for the Sanctorale.

The fifth-mode Graduals form the largest group of Graduals in the Carolingian archetype: they form almost half of the total of more than one hundred Graduals, which is twice as many Graduals as in any other mode. As a group of fifth-mode chants, this is larger than found in other types of Mass chants.

The fifth-mode Graduals are assigned to all kinds of calendric occasion in Temporale and Sanctorale. This class of Gradual, in other words, was used more than any other in filling out the circle of the liturgical year.

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).

Pitch Set

Graduals in fifth mode came to be notated regularly on F. The pitch set actually used for these forty-three Graduals extends from the a fourth below the final F up to the g a ninth above the final. The pitch set includes both flat and natural.

This pitch set is dominated by c a fifth above the final; this c functions as a strong reference pitch, often associated with the natural lying a semitone below. The central tonal space associated with this reference pitch often takes the form F G a c; in other words, the lower boundary of the space is provided by the final, which seems far more frequently present in any given chant than are the finals in the other modes. And the space seems “gapped” from a to c, with b-natural or b-flat used variously to fill the gap. It is often clear from context which pitch (flat or natural) is to be used; and the staffed sources show satisfactory agreement. There is, of course, variation among the sources in indicating the flat; and beyond that, there seem to be cases in which a choice could be made. There does not, however, seem to be any direct chromaticism involving both b-flat and b-natural in succession, although on some occasions they seem to be separated by not more than one or two other pitches.

At the upper end of the pitch set the melodies often approach the f an octave above the final as a goal; this approach is far more frequent than in other modes, where some high pitch other than the octave above the final (for example, c in first mode) is more apt to be prominent, and where the octave above the final (in this case, d) tends to assume only a decorative function.

Below the final, the fifth-mode Graduals often move within the fourth C D E F, for, as in the other modal classes, Graduals tend to disregard any systematic distinction of plagal and authentic ranges. This space of the fourth below the final is sometimes used for a low-lying introductory phrase that has its own cadence on the low C; and may also appear as an excursion in the midst of a phrase that otherwise lies higher. And this fourth below is more apt to occur in responds than in verses, since—as in other modal classes—the fifth-mode verses tend to lie higher than the responds.

The verses often use a distinctive terminal idiom that has a prominent b-flat as part of a tonal space              F G a b-flat; this particular idiom (as in Omnes de Saba) seems to have the function of a last-minute move to a realm not much used in the piece so far, therefore capable of providing a fresh color to the sound.

Throughout these fifth-mode Graduals, the melodies insist on the F final as a conclusion—not just to the final phrase, but to many phrases throughout any given piece, and even in the midst of phrases. The pitch F seems simply more present than the finals in the other modal classes. This presence, combined with the use of the other features described here, renders the pitch set virtually indistinguishable from the F-major scale as used in European common practice


The forty-three fifth-mode Graduals have always given the impression of being a homogeneous group, sharing not only a pitch set but also a common group of idioms, whose use sets these Graduals apart from others. Listening to this disc of twenty-six Graduals of the Temporale will surely reinforce this impression. Yet observers have also always distinguished this use of idiom from the use of a single integrated       melody—a model melody—for the twenty-three Graduals of the second mode.

The distinction has been an important one in scholarly discussion of how such melodies came into being. Because of the large size of the group of fifth-mode Graduals, they tend to be taken as the best example of “centonisation,” or (to use a better term), “formulaic composition.” Willi Apel made what seems to be the best table of formulas showing the use of idioms in every one of these Graduals.

Apel's table is good because from it one can come to conclusions very different from those for which such tables are usually constructed. On one hand, Apel identified as idioms each significant element of melody, giving each an alphanumeric code. On the other hand he carefully indicated all the places where each melody moved freely, without using an idiom.

As a result, Hiley could conclude from the table that of the forty-three Graduals only three (Christus factus est, Exiit sermo, Ecce sacerdos) were really similar. And it is possible to find, among the forty-three, pairs of Graduals such as Ex Sion and Prope est in the Temporale, or Beatus vir and Constitues eos in the Sanctorale, whose idiomatic similarity is so slight as to be limited for practical purposes to the use of the same pitch set and final. Hiley's overall conclusion, then, seems justified: these Graduals show a “seamless continuity between similarity and dissimilarity.”

But then, these fifth-mode Graduals do not seem to exemplify, so well as they might, the idea that Gregorian chant was composed by a system of formulas that resulted in a kind of music different from our own. Indeed, in default of this evidence, we may not need to think of Gregorian chant as the product of “formulaic composition” or of “oral composition”; and we may not need to conclude with Apel that a Gregorian chant is “not an individual creation, but a representation of a type.”

In any case, while the twenty-three Graduals that use the second-mode model melody can without difficulty be heard as using one and the same melody for twenty-three different sets of words, the Graduals in fifth mode can be heard as different melodies—some as individual creations, some as similar to one or more of the others. As for what they share, all use a strong pitch of reference on c and an intermediant cadence on a; all end on F a fifth below the reference pitch c.

It is ironic, then, that what is taken as formulaic composition, and therefore alien, is most apparent in the same group of pieces (Graduals of the fifth mode) that use the pitch set most familiar, seemingly most natural, in our own music.

Listening to all twenty-six of these fifth-mode Graduals, however, can suggest that they sound more similar than analysis shows: it may indeed seem as if the same melody was sung over and over. Even so, most of these Graduals seem to be well-shaped: even though there is no model melody, almost any one of them considered by itself seems to proceed through a careful design.

I know of no analytic principle nor even a generally valid description that would account for either of these conclusions. On one hand, the use of pitch set and final do not account for enough; on the other, an inventory of idiom is too specific to apply to every melody in the group.

Calendric assignment

Graduals in fifth mode show the same kind of calendric distribution as do those in second mode. They appear on certain very prominent feast, then on some Sundays, and provide material for filling out the assignments for Lenten ferias. They also provide material for many saints' days.

It has been observed that fifth-mode Graduals seem to be found especially in the Christmas cycle of feasts, weeks, and saints' days. Indeed, in going through the liturgical calendar from the end of Advent as far as Septuagesima, it is tempting to imagine that the high proportion of fifth-mode Graduals is due to a program of assignment, carried out presumably during the sixth, seventh, and eight centuries by liturgists and singers. But on the one hand, there are so many fifth-mode Graduals in the repertory as a whole that a high concentration would be likely to occur in at least one region of the calendar. And on the other hand, it is not clear what kind of musical insight is achieved by imagining such a program.

In evaluating the high concentration in the Christmas season, it can be observed that there are only three Sundays to be provided for in Advent (the fourth being vacant in the earliest stage), and one of the three has a fifth-mode Gradual. There are also in Advent four ferial masses needing Graduals, and most of those are provided for by Graduals using the second-mode model melody; one, however, is Prope est, a fifth-mode Gradual whose words have an important function in the Advent thematic program, that of the Lord's coming. Thus, when the fifth-mode Gradual Benedictus qui venit shows up at the Mass at dawn on Christmas day, this is not an abrupt or unprepared change of mode.

While observing the increasing frequency of fifth-mode Graduals from this point on, it is important to notice that the frequency is largely a matter of mode only—final and pitch set. For if the selection according to these factors was deemed important, one would have to add that the selection at the same time maximized the variety available from the broad spread of options already noticed among the forty-three Graduals; no attempt seems to have been made to select closely related melodies. Another observation, frequently made, is that Viderunt, for Christmas Mass of the day, makes less use than any other of the family of idioms found in fifth-mode Graduals.

In considering this or any stretch of the liturgical calendar, it is important to keep in mind the several     layers—festal, dominical, ferial, saints’ days. In the Christmas cycle there are two feasts, Christmas and Epiphany; they both have fifth-mode Graduals, and those two would be the foundation of the presumed program (even though Omnes de Saba is significantly different in idiom from Viderunt). There is one Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany, and three after Epiphany; the one between, and the first one after, do not have fifth-mode Graduals. There are no ferial masses to be provided for. Reckoning those up, the Christmas Temporale shows no higher concentration of fifth-mode Graduals than that found among Graduals as a group, namely about half.

It is the Sanctorale that provides the strongest evidence for a fifth-mode program. There are five masses for saints in the Christmas octave, and they all have fifth-mode Graduals. In this case two of them, Exiit sermo and Ecce sacerdos are among those that are most similar. (For John Evangelist there is a Vigil Mass, which is logically given a second-mode Gradual in accord with a quasi-ferial status.)

This concentration in the saints' days of the Christmas octave can be compared to the three sets of saints' days interspersed between the three Sundays after Epiphany. Out of twelve formularies there are eight Graduals in fifth mode and only four in other modes, a proportion significantly higher than that of fifth-mode Graduals to those in other modes in the whole group of Graduals. If, however, we consider only the Sanctorale, but as a whole, the proportion of fifth-mode Graduals is high enough to make any concentration of them seem very likely on that basis alone.

No Sunday in Lent has a fifth-mode Gradual, but these provide for more ferias in Lent than any other modal class. Indeed, it is the frequency of fifth-mode Graduals for Lenten ferias that seems chiefly responsible for the large size of the group—unless we consider the other use to which many of these same Graduals are put, which is the Sundays after Pentecost. In some of the Sextuplex sources, fifth-mode Graduals appear on almost all of the first eleven Sundays of Pentecost. In evaluating those concentrations, we must again keep in mind that no Graduals are used during the time between Lent and Pentecost, for that is the time of the Easter alleluias (except for the Gradual Haec dies in the Easter octave).

This is the kind of problematic calculus that makes it hard to establish far-reaching programs of liturgical assignment. Surely, such programs could have operated over relatively short stretches of the liturgical calendar, with reference to selected kinds of chants and occasions. A general understanding of the calendar, however, seems obliged to deal with a preponderance of individual reasons for individual assignments. And in studying the musical aspects of the assignments we should keep in mind the possibility of looseness or even indeterminacy between the words that are to be sung and the melody that the singer chooses for singing them.