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Gregorian Church Music

It was natural, therefore, that from this period onwards, as the hierarchical element in the Church gained strength, this system should have rapidly supplanted its rival; nor would it be fair to say that this was altogether without its advantage, for in those distracted times the impulse towards unity in the Church was in many ways a true instinct towards self-preservation, and a common liturgy is one of the strongest bonds of a common 9 religious life. There is, too, undoubtedly much grandeur and beauty in this style, which adapt it for certain forms and occasions of worship; but its stiffness and monotony, and its aptness to degenerate into a nasal unmusical chant in the hands of untrained singers, unfit it for truly popular and common use. It has maintained its place in the Roman Church to the present day, and has exerted a strong influence on the music of the reformed Churches. During the eighteenth century this influence showed itself markedly in Germany in the adoption of a certain slow and uniform style of singing the old chorales, admitting only notes of equal length, and in "common" time. Recently there has again been a reaction towards the freer and more varied rhythm of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the laity delighted to assert their right to a share in the Christian priesthood, by bearing a part in the public service of God.

One thing that helped to make the Gregorian chanting an affair of the learned, was the very complicated method of notation then employed, and it was soon found necessary to establish schools, in which singers went through a training that lasted often for years. Gregory founded a famous school in Rome, with a prior and four masters, and for many generations afterwards the sofa was shown on which he used to recline while himself examining the scholars. They were mostly orphan boys who were entirely maintained here, and afterwards received appointments from the Pope. In the days of King Ethelbert, forty of them came to England, and introduced the Gregorian music into this country.


Charlemagne, like our own Alfred, was an enthusiastic lover of Church music, and especially of this style which he had learnt to know in Rome. In his own chapel he carefully noted the powers of all the priests and singers, and sometimes acted as choir-master himself, in which capacity he proved a very strict, often severe master, He extinguished the last remnants of the Ambrosian style at Milan, and it was with his approval that Pope Leo III. (795-810) imposed a penalty of exile or imprisonment on any singer who might deviate from the orthodox Cantus firmus et choralis. He not only founded schools of music in France, but throughout Germany, at Fulda, Mayence, Treves, Reichenau, and other places. Trained singers from the famous choirs in Rome were sent for to take charge of these institutions, and seem to have been not a little shocked at first by the barbarism of their pupils. One says that their notion of singing in Church was to howl like wild beasts; while another, Johannes Didimus, in his Life of Gregory, affirms that--"These gigantic bodies, whose voices roar like thunder, cannot imitate our sweet tones, for their barbarous and ever-thirsty throats can only produce sounds as harsh as those of a loaded waggon passing over a rough road."

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