Source Readings on the Practice and Spirituality of Chant: New Texts, New Approaches

Source Readings on the Practice and Spirituality of Chant: New Texts, New Approaches

Lochner, Fabian C.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 8 (1991)


Research on performance practice is one of the thriving fields in contemporary musicology. There is indeed a growing demand for information on the performance of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music by the community of performing artists, baffled by the complexity of “early music” scores. Medieval treatises on music theory as well as Baroque and Renaissance instrumental methods are being perused for specific statements regarding different aspects of performance practice. In the field of Gregorian chant-the sacred music of the Western church such investigations have been initiated by the monks of Solesmes and further pursued by scholars such as Franz Muller-Hauser and Stephen Van Dijk.

However, the accumulation of specific technical data (such as tuning practices, number of singers involved in specific circumstances, rhythmical indications etc.) does not yet define a style of performance. Even when abundant documentation is available (as e.g., in the Baroque period), the possession of the letter does not necessarily entail the possession of the spirit! Indeed, the lack of the spirit often leaves the letter obscure and, eventually, may lead to serious misconceptions (and to fanciful performances).

In this paper dealing with medieval chant practice I contend three things: (1) the performance practice of Gregorian chant in the Middle Ages flows from, and is largely defined by a consistent tradition of Christian spirituality; (2) whereas we have no sound documents from the middle ages, the spiritual dimensions of chant are accessible through medieval source texts of both devotional and practical character; (3) a critical yet integral reading of these texts can show the direct link between spiritual attitude and musical performance, and thus help us to relive and reexperience in our times both the practice and the spirituality of chant.

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