Old Roman Chant

Okay, anyone here interested in Old Roman chant, its relation to ‘Gregorian’ (sic) chant, or even do not know what the heck it is? :slight_smile:

Simply put, Old Roman chant is, by definition, the liturgical plainchant repertory formerly performed in Rome, closely related to but distinct from Gregorian chant, which seems to have gradually supplanted it between the 11th century and the 13th century. This chant comes primarily from a small number of sources, including three graduals and two antiphoners from between 1071 and 1250.

I never heard about that, but interested in the form of the notations. Do you have access to any note samples?

Here are a few samples. :slight_smile:

For centuries, it has become common wisdom that Pope Gregory was the source of Gregorian Chant, and people pretty much assumed it to be the chant tradition of the Roman Church. However, certain discoveries in the 19th century (which were not given proper attention until the 20th century!) has put the veracity of the story into question, at least among experts.

Before 1891, no serious enquiry had been made into the direct origins of Roman Chant or its forerunners. It was in that year when a monk from the famous Benedictine monastery of Solesmes, Dom André Mocquereau (1849-1930), as part of his research into the manuscript tradition of Gregorian chant, published an account of three books he discovered in the Vatican Library: two Graduals (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Archivio di San Pietro, MS lat. 5319 and MS F. 22) and an Antiphonary (MS B.79), all dating from somewhere between the 11th and the 13th century.

Dom André Mocquereau.

Now what intrigued Dom Mocquereau about these manuscripts was that although the material in these sources covered the same liturgical feasts as did the Gregorian books (showing that they were related to each other), it was melodically distinct from both it, as well as with Ambrosian chant. He wrote a letter to his abbot:

I must tell you of a discovery we made at the Vatican, and that continues to astonish us. Perhaps Dom Pothier will be able to explain what I am going to say? It is a 12th-century Gradual, certainly of the Roman liturgy, with the exception of some slight peculiarities, but in which the chant is not the one used in all manuscripts in all countries. This is a singular exception that intrigues me. For a time, I had thought that the Ambrosian chant had replaced the Gregorian chant; but this is not the case, because in this new chant the universal Gregorian chant is easy to recognize, but with constant variations that give it a very special character. This is surely an Italian manuscript, as proven by the notation. One note that I found, I no longer know where, advances the unsubstantiated notion that it belonged to St. John Lateran. We have yet to see the Archives at that Basilica; are surprises of this kind awaiting us there, perhaps? I have no idea. I would be most interested to know what the Reverend Father Dom Joseph Pothier thinks about all this. I have not yet studied this curious manuscript in detail, because I had hoped to manage to get it to Solesmes.

(for the record, Pothier wrote a reply dated the 8th of April, asking to “bring us as many details as possible,” and noting that at St. Peter’s “they still use not only ancient hymns, but even a special Psalter that dates from far back.”)

Eventually publishing the results of his study of the manuscripts, Dom Mocquereau then concluded that this repertory, which he recognized as distinct from Ambrosian and Gregorian chant, seems to date from a “relatively recent period, when the rules of Gregorian composition were beginning to fall into disuse.” (Paléographie Musicale, volume II, pp. 4-5, footnote 1) In short, it was a later corruption of Gregorian chant.

Contrary to this view, fellow Benedictine Dom Raphael Andoyer, who after analysing the same sources, expressed the opinion in 1911-12 that they actually represented an earlier stage of musical development than that of Gregorian - a stage he defined as ‘pre-Gregorian’ (ante-grégorien). For Dom Andoyer, these melodies are the ones which Pope Gregory the Great organized and revised (thus he views Gregory’s ‘authorship’ of plainchant, rather than composing it outright, in the strict sense) into what would become known as Gregorian chant.


After this, the subject was abandoned and left to gather dust; no new or authoritative conclusions were reached until 1950, when German musicologist Bruno Stäblein published several articles dedicated on the subject, declaring these manuscripts to be prime examples of what he called “Old Roman” (Altrömisch) chant. From his time on the problem of Old Roman chant became the object of wide-ranging investigation, and even today it claims the close attention of many experts.

We must note here a couple of interesting and inescapable questions, for which an explanation was needed: among the hundreds of medieval manuscripts of Gregorian chant, there is not one which is known to have been used or written at Rome before the mid-13th century, and the very few sources of definite Roman origin which date from before that period contain similar material to that of Gregorian books, but are different from a melodic point of view - and these manuscripts happen to be the ones which Dom Mocquereau discovered (and dismissed as late corruptions)!

In Stäblein’s view, both the ‘Old Roman’, which he takes to be the one edited by Gregory the Great, and the newer ‘Gregorian’ - a later revision which he dated from the reign of Pope Vitalian (657-672) - coexisted and were being used simultaneously in Rome. Basing his argument on the evidence of an Ordo Romanus which ascribes an active interest in the revision of chant to eight Popes - from Damasus (366-384) to Martin (649-653) - and to three abbots of the Roman monastery of St. Peter (Catolenus, Marianus and Virbonus), Stäblein held that the three abbots are to be credited for the reformation of Roman chant.

The transformation, according to him, would have taken place before 680, when John the archicantor of St. Peter’s was sent by Pope Agatho (reign 678-681) to England, ostensibly to teach singing there. This dating, in Stäblein’s opinion, is confirmed by what certain sources relate about the work of Vitalian, during whose pontificate the chant in the Papal liturgy was apparently performed by the group of cantors named Vitaliani after their founder. By the 11th to the 13th centuries, Stäblein continues, the situation was such that the Old Roman style of plainchant continued to be employed in the monasteries of the Lateran, while the Papal palace used the ‘Gregorian’. The substance of his argument went largely unchanged as time went on, though Stäblein was compelled to make slight adjustments due to the criticism of other scholars (for example, about the mission of the cantors to England). In brief, he hypothesizes the idea of a transformation at Rome of Old Roman into Gregorian, and the coexistence of the two traditions (respectively, as the chant of the Papal liturgy and the chant of the other Roman churches) until the 13th century.

A similar position was taken up by Joseph Smits van Waesberghe, who believed however that the monastic institutions of Rome used Gregorian chant, while the secular clergy kept using the Old Roman style of plainchant. His idea was criticized, however, by other scholars due to his excessive dependence on the Liber Pontificalis (which has undergone intense modern scholarly scrutiny) and for making an over-strict and historically unfounded distinction between Roman monks and secular clergymen. His critics also raised an objection used against Stäblein’s thesis: that there is no incontrovertible proof either that a reform of chant took place in 7th-century Rome or that the two repertories existed side-by-side there until the mid-13th century.


Allowing for more or less personal emphases, other scholars (such as Fr. Stephen J.P. Van Dijk O.F.M., and Ewald Stammers) accepted Stäblein’s idea of the coexistence of the two repertories, and also took into account a fact confirmed by liturgical historians, according to whom Rome had witnessed over a long period the coexistence of the Papal liturgy (which was undergoing a continual, yet gradual, process of reform) and the liturgy of the presbytal tituli, i.e. the parish churches served by non-Curial clergy.

In 1954, Michel Huglo published an exhaustive directory (Le chant ‘vieux-romain’: liste des manuscrits et temoins indirects, Sacris Erudiri 6) of Old Roman sources both direct - that is, Graduals and Antiphonaries - and indirect, demonstrating thereby that this chant was the official repertory at Rome towards the mid-8th century, in about 1140, and in the 13th century. Old Roman was thus to be seen as a local repertory of specifically Roman origin (like the Ambrosian chant of Milan or Beneventan chant) which had nonetheless spread into central Italy and had even left traces in the monastic centers of the Carolingian Empire (Stäblein has shown that it was in use as far away as St. Gall in present-day Switzerland in the 9th century) before Gregorian chant had gained the upper hand. Although he came to no conclusion regarding the origins of Gregorian chant, Huglo was prepared to state that Old Roman was the only form of chant familiar to the entire Roman clergy of the period; and this was a clear enough indication that the origins of Gregorian should be looked for outside Rome.

Musicologist Helmut Hucke took up the challenge, when developing an alternative line of argument to that of Stäblein. In Hucke’s view, the point of departure of Gregorian is Old Roman, which underwent a transformation in Frankish territory during the Carolingian era.

As everyone who has studied the history of the Roman Rite pretty much knows, the Roman liturgy starting from the Middle Ages is actually a hybrid between the Gallican family of rites and the original liturgy in use at Rome. It all started in 754, when the first King of the Franks, Pepin the Short decreed the adoption of the Papal liturgy in his kingdom. It was the time when the Roman liturgy, which until then, apart from the Anglo-Saxon mission Church, had possessed and laid claim to recognition only for Rome and its environs, advanced in a short time to becoming the liturgy of a great empire.

Of course, as soon as the Roman way of worship was introduced in Frankish territory, its started to absorb local elements. It is often related that Charlemagne, Pepin’s son, once asked Pope Hadrian I to provide an authentic Roman sacramentary for use throughout the empire, which the latter sent to the court at Aachen around in the year 785-786. The intention was to preserve it as the authentic “standard” of the text attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great and to disseminate it throughout all of Charlemagne’s domain through copies, thereby unifying the whole empire under one liturgy - that of Rome. However, the sacramentary the Pope sent soon proved to be ill-suited to the Emperor’s plan: it only contained the liturgy for certain feasts, which would make it ill-adapted to the daily liturgical needs of a parish! When complaints reached the ear of the Pope, his excuse was saying that he merely picked from the Lateran library what seemed to him to be the best sacramentary he had! Recognizing the obvious unsuitability of the book, the court liturgists decided to correct the text (especially its rather mediocre Latin) and then to augment it with a supplement - derived from the local traditions - so that it could serve for the daily liturgy. The result of this work is the Hadrianum, aka the Hadrian Sacramentary.

Eventually, this hybrid Roman-Frankish liturgy started creeping its way into the Eternal City itself, eventually supplanting its own parent altogether. Church life in Rome was stagnent during the saeculum obscurum of the first half of the 10th century; there was a liturgical vacuum, which the Gallo-Roman liturgy refilled. This took place both through the direct intervention of the Holy Roman Empire and by the settlement of the Cluniacs in monasteries of Rome or its neighborhood.

Hucke’s idea was that Old Roman chant would have shared the same fate as that of the Roman liturgy, to which it is tagged: it would have encountered the Gallic repertories and would have been transformed into what would be known into later ages as ‘Gregorian’ not only by an inevitable process of ‘contamination’ but above all by being deliberately adapted for aesthetic reasons. Whatever the value of the latter motive, it should not be forgotten that musical notation did not exist yet, and the repertory would have been handed on by memory.

Thanks. Very interesting.


Hucke’s idea received support from writers such as Willi Apel and Robert J. Snow, while Walther Lipphardt, although claiming that Gregorian chant was the Frankish version of a Roman original, maintained that the melodic material exported from Rome was accepted in Frankish domains without any modification; thus Gregorian would be nothing more than the Roman chant of the 9th century. Apart from this detail, these are the broad lines of the second hypothesis: the birth of Gregorian in what is now France as a result of the impact of Roman chant on the local Gallican traditions.

Part of the reason why Gregorian chant succeeded in gaining the upper hand, it seems, was facilitated by two factors: the invention of a process of writing the melody, which represents a turn in musical history, and its being attributed to one of the most famous characters in Christendom - Pope Gregory the Great.

There are now various alternative theories as to why Gregorian chant got its name, aside from the standard interpretation that it was named after Gregory the Great, and not without their own critics. One proposes that the name actually refers to a different Gregory (one popular candidate here is the 8th-century pope Gregory II) - a theory that already existed even before Old Roman chant was actually discovered - while another says that the name was actually the result of (Carolingian?) propaganda by appealing to higher authority to give vindication for the abandonment of local chant traditions in favor of the (Frankish-) Roman style of chanting. After all, who could go wrong with Gregory’s music?

After all, who could go wrong with Gregory’s music?

Actually the older the Gregorian Music the better. Love It!

Thanks for the interesting transcripts. Some of the best Gregorian I’ve heard is done by the Solemes.


You’re welcome!

Here are some interpretations of Old Roman chant by the Ensemble Organum:

1.) Dominus dixit ad me (Introit for Christmas Eve, from Chants De L’Eglise De Rome: Incarnatio Verbi) - Compare with the Gregorian version.

2.) Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum (Introit for Easter, from Chants De L’Eglise De Rome: Période Byzantine). Again cf. Gregorian.

3.) Pascha nostrum (Alleluia for Easter). Again cf. Gregorian.

4.) Hec dies (Gradual for Easter). Yet again, cf. the Gregorian version.

5.) O pimenon ton Israhil (Alleluia). In Greek!

6.) Epi si Kyrie (Alleluia). Yet another Greek chant.

7.) Lux fulgebit (Introit for Christmas Mass at dawn). Again, cf. Gregorian.

8.) Kyrie Eleison. Yep, a troped Kyrie.

9.) St. John’s Prologue

10.) Domine audivi auditum tuum (Tract for Good Friday, from Messe de Saint Marcel: Chants de l’Eglise de Rome)

11.) Qui habitat in adiutorio Altissimi (Tract for Good Friday). Part 1 and Part 2.

12.) Inveni David servum meum (Gradual for the Mass of St. Marcellus)

Solesmes, and Santo Domingo de Silos. The two monasteries’ rendition of ‘Gregorian’ chant are quite well-known and are really ‘up there’.

What are the characteristics of Old Roman chant? (From wikipedia)

Old Roman chant is largely defined by its role in the liturgy of the Roman rite, as distinguished from the northern “Gallic” liturgies such as the Gallican rite and the Ambrosian rite. Gregorian and Old Roman chant largely share the same liturgy, but Old Roman chant does not reflect some of the Carolingian changes made to the Roman liturgy. Both an Old Roman and a Gregorian version exist for most chants of the liturgy, using the same text in all but forty chants, with corresponding chants often using related melodies. The split between Gregorian and Old Roman appears to have taken place after 800, since the feast of All Saints, a relatively late addition to the liturgical calendar, has markedly different chants in the two traditions. The Old Roman tradition appears to have preserved the texts more faithfully; the Old Roman texts often resemble the earliest Carolingian sources more closely than the later Gregorian sources do.

Musically, there are a number of similarities between the Gregorian chants and their Old Roman counterparts. In addition to the similarities in texts noted above, corresponding Old Roman and Gregorian melodies often begin and end musical phrases at the same points. They use similar intonations for incipits, reciting tones, and cadences. Unlike most other chant traditions, they occasionally repeat words within a text, and the two traditions repeat such words in the same places. Corresponding chants in the two traditions are usually assigned to the same mode, although that appears to be the result of later Gregorian influence on the Old Roman repertory, as these analogous chants often have very distinct tonalities.

Related chants in the Gregorian and Old Roman repertories differ mostly in ornamentation and surface detail. Old Roman chants are much more stepwise and gently undulating than Gregorian chants. Skips, even of thirds, are much less common in Old Roman chants than Gregorian. Gregorian chants often have a pentatonic structure, reinforced by their skips, while Old Roman chants are simpler in structure but more ornate, with more individual notes. Old Roman chants have intricate melodic motion within a narrow ambitus, with small repeating melodic motifs, which are common in the Italian chant traditions such as the Ambrosian and Beneventan. Old Roman chants are often highly melismatic, with melismas blending into one another and obscuring the underlying melodic structure.

What relationship does the Roman chant have with Byzantine? These are so reminiscent of those I hear sung in the Divine Liturgy.

Truly beautiful and timeless.

You mean the Ensemble Organum pieces?

Yes, one of the reactions I often see people have when hearing Ensemble Organum is that, they sound like they’re singing Byzantine Chant in Latin! And indeed, EO is quite well-known for peppering some of their interpretations of plainchant with elements that are commonly found in Byzantine Chant (say, the drone or ison). In fact, they have even collaborated with Lykourgos Angelopoulos (of Greek Byzantine Choir fame) a number of times.

As for Old Roman chant, there are two principal positions regarding it, which result from the fact that there are no manuscripts from before the 13th century that accurately and indisputeably represent the form, and thus (at best) accurately documenting the chant form would be a function of oral tradition. Hence, what comprised Old Roman Chant tends to be seen two ways:

[LIST]*]The “academic liturgical” view, which holds that the chant of Rome that was completed by about 750 is inaccessible to us in its original form (we could never really know how it sounded like): both Old Roman chant and Gregorian chant are developments or modifications of the same original. Little, if anything, however, is said by proponents of this view about the nature of the liturgical chant sung in the Church of Rome up to that time and it is no surprise that their interpretation of Old Roman chant sounds like a rather more simplified form of Gregorian chant.
*]The “historical reconstructionist” view, which assumes that since the early Church exemplified a high degree of homogeneity, and therefore since early Christian music forms were based on older Greek forms of music, it can be safely assumed that Old Roman chant had its roots in, and probably sounded very similar to pre-Byzantine chant. Most of the proponents of this understanding of Old Roman chant have begun with the oldest manuscripts they have available, and informed by a variety of ‘extra-musical’ datum, set out to try and recreate how Old Roman chant would have sounded like - akin to playing classical compositions on original instruments with the goal or recreating the original sound intended by the composer. Since the earliest have notation akin to Byzantine notation, its proponents are not afraid to involve Byzantine musicologists and elements to try to understand and recreate the sound, hence their interpretation of Old Roman chant sounds somewhat like Byzantine chant. EO falls into this camp.[/LIST]
EO points to the fact that the period from around 537 to 752 was a time when the Byzantine Empire had a great influence over the Church of Rome (the ‘Byzantine Papacy’). It was a time when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for consecration, and many candidates were chosen from the apocrisiarii (liaisons from the pope to the emperor) or the inhabitants of areas such as Greece, Syria, or Sicily - all under Byzantine rule. In fact, by the end of the 7th century, Greek-speakers dominated the clerical culture of Rome, providing its theological brains, its administrative talent, and much of its visual, musical, and liturgical culture. Because of the influence the East had over Rome in many aspects both religious and secular during this period - so sayeth EO - it was thus logical to turn to Byzantine chants for guidance and performance hints.

:eek: I LOVE old Roman chant! I think it’s stunningly beautiful…very reverant…almost even more so than Gregorian chant. There’s something timeless about it; it has a sound of permanence, you could say.
youtube.com/watch?v=vsqWSv5nJoI “Popule Meus”

Thanks for linking to that video (actually by yours truly :o). Though I’m sorry to say that that is actually a sample of Gregorian chant. In fact, this chant (or rather, series of chants), the Improperia, is actually believed to be one of the Gallican imports to the Roman liturgy during the medieval period!

Bump before this thread drops into oblivion!

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