In the case of the melodies for the Roman Mass Propers there exist a small number of chantbooks with remarkably extensive and detailed indications of interpretation (described briefly further on); and, by a most fortunate circumstance, these interpretative chantbooks are among the earliest preserved. Because their number is small, they cannot be taken to represent any kind of standard interpretation. But, even though lacking precise indication of the sizes of intervals and requiring collation with later, diastemmatic manuscripts, these sources provide more specific information about interpretation than any source of any European music before the seventeenth century.
These sources of interpretation are well known; they have been used intensively by a small number of scholars, even while neglected by a larger number. The early books that use the signs in question use them persistently throughout the Gregorian repertory. It is one of the purposes of this edition to attempt to read them with equal persistence.
The marks of interpretation called “signs of nuance” include modifications of normal cursive groupings of notation, small marks (mostly the “episema”) added to normal forms, and also adjunct letters. These are inscribed in very clear (if small) notation in the three manuscripts used in the Graduale triplex and some other early chant books (see the sample in Viderunt, nuance notation). Just as the references to pitch must be taken, in this notation, in context, so with the marks of interpretation: they have relative, not absolute, value. And the marks of interpretation offer ways of modifying the melody referenced by the notation.
The Vatican Graduale included special signs for quilisma and also reflected the presence of oriscus in the manuscript versions used for that edition, but otherwise left no more trace of nuance notation than that found in twelfth- or thirteenth-century sources. Certain rhythmic indications were added to Solesmes editions according to the interpretation of André Mocquereau, who knew of and referred to the signs of nuance in L and C, as well as other early sources. The signs of nuance have been the subject of a new reading by Eugene Cardine, one which differs in important particulars from that of Dom Mocquereau. Carrying out the original thrust of Solesmes research, Dom Cardine and his followers (“Cardinists”), under the program he called “semiology,” attempt to establish, by comparison of all sources, a single original reading of the signs of nuance—a complement to the hoped-for single original version of the melodies.
The main effect—also the intent?—of the signs of nuance is to differentiate and individualize single pitches, in the first instance by making a pitch longer. A start in reading the signs of nuance is provided by a list of meanings ascribed to Notker, and known throughout the twentieth century. Many of the meanings of the alphabetic signs are clear: for example, t can be read without difficulty as tenete, and that reading can be confirmed by correlation with alternate notations to be mentioned presently. Some of the alphabetic signs, for instance F, are less clear, and only suggest a reading. Dom Cardine, as part of his program to establish a critical reading, offers the candid advice that “one should not pay too much attention to those signs whose meaning is not clear”; this suggests to me that Dom Cardine's reading is as selective and presumptive in its way as was Dom Mocquereau's.
Collation of L and C in their use of the signs of nuance is extremely interesting and offers much evidence of confirmation; it has to be carried out and reported case by case, as the semiologists do. Here I only exemplify. Where L writes t, C often uses an episema, a very short dash added as a stub to a longer note; this is the principal sign of nuance used by St. Gall notation. The principal effect of the most frequent adjunct letters in L (t for tenete, a for augete), along with the use of single notes instead of ligatures in particular cases is indeed to lengthen individual pitches, in a wide variety of contexts. Many, if not most, of the lengthenings in L seem to be confirmed by C (or E), using different notations.
Dom Cardine placed greatly increased emphasis on the alternate use of ligatures and single notes, especially on the interruption of a ligature, that is, replacing a ligature by a shorter one plus a single note (“la coupure neumatique”). This is the most arguable aspect of his reading of the early notations, and some scholars have no use for it, since—as with the pitch direction to be read in staffless notation—the rhythmic significance of graphic separation is read most easily by those who not only believe it is there but also think that they know what it is. None the less, abundant concordance can be observed between the various kinds of separation and alphabetic (as well as non-alphabetic) signs of nuance; this concordance can be taken as confirmation of a rhythmic significance to be read in the separation and alternate notation. It is not my purpose here to discuss the matter systematically, to agree or disagree with the Cardinists in principle or in detail; I only perform it as I read it.
My purpose in this Archive is to record a performance that results from my own reading of L, supplemented by C (or E, where necessary). I start with the Vatican version as printed in Graduale triplex, interpreting it with as close a reading as I can of all the signs of pitch and nuance in L. I note the occasional slight differences of pitch, as already exemplified. I am happy when L and C agree; when they do not, I am interested in the difference as a possible index to alternate musical sensibilities on the part of tenth-century singers. In this Archive I usually follow L, since I usually like his version better.
In directing a group of singers, I have found it difficult to obtain a unanimous performance that seems to me to match my own reading close enough to suit me. This is a function of my own limitations as a director as much as it is a result of the individual nature of my reading of the notation. In the context of singing for an imminent performance, for instance at Mass on Sunday, agreement would of course be reached; it would represent a group reading, and perhaps, in the end, that is the most appropriate one. In any case it is required for normal performance of Gregorian chant, which is choral, except for possible solo performance of verses. In that respect, the performance in this Archive is mostly not appropriate, and merely expedient. None the less, despairing of agreement in performance—in my lifetime—I still am desirous of recording the whole repertory the way I read it.