The Council of Trent and the Reform of Gregorian Chant

By Prowse, Ronald | Sacred Music, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

The Council of Trent and the Reform of Gregorian Chant


Prowse, Ronald, Sacred Music


By the sixteenth century the church had developed almost all of our present chant repertoire, from the simplest forms--litanies, sequences, and hymns--to the most ornate forms--graduals and alleluias of the Mass and the great responsories of the Divine Office. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, as polyphonic music developed, the rhythm of the chant was almost certainly affected; many of the subtleties of the original neumatic notation by this time had been forgotten. But following the Council of Trent and as a result of certain directives of the council's final sessions concerning liturgical music, a much more dramatic reform of Gregorian chant would soon commence. Indeed, this beautiful edifice of chant repertoire, which had been evolved and developed, was about to be tarnished over the next few centuries by well-meaning and otherwise well-respected and talented musicians. What was lacking? Why was the chant repertoire perceived to be deficient and even decadent by the church fathers of the sixteenth century?

THE COUNCIL OF TRENT

During the twenty-five sessions of the Council of Trent, which took place over a span of eighteen years (1545-1563), sacred music did not receive precedence; the mind of the church, in reaction to the spread of Protestantism, was preoccupied with points of theology and morality more than on matters pertaining to sacred music. As a result, issues pertaining to music were not discussed until sessions XXII, XXIII, and XXIV, which encompassed the last one and one-half years of the council. In these sessions on music, several "abuses" in the church were discussed: the infiltration of popular songs and dances; unnecessary verbose elaborations in the profusion of tropes, prosae, and sequences; poor declamation of the words in Gregorian chant; confusion of the text in polyphony due to complex counterpoint; disturbing differences between liturgical books found in various nations, provinces, and cathedrals.

The concern for proper declamation of Gregorian chant, as perceived by the council fathers, resulted in a reform so as to bring the church's chant in line with contemporary aesthetic values. Methods recommended to reform the chant include: cutting the melismas on unaccented syllables, "correcting" the rhythmic declamation of the text according to classical principles, applying major-minor tonality in the chant melodies, and other alterations according to contemporary standards. The texts were also challenged, and partially rewritten, to follow the classical rules of Latin prosody and versification.

THE AESTHETIC OF SECULAR HUMANISM

Secular humanism was a consequence of scholarly interest in Greek and Roman antiquity during the Renaissance period. Theoreticians, like Gioseffo Zarlino and Nicola Vicentino, and humanist prelates, like Cardinal Sileto and Bishop Cirillo Franco, questioned the aesthetic value of Gregorian chant because it ignored the rules of prosody, meter, and Latin versification. (1) Even before the Council of Trent, Zarlino, in his Le istitutioni harmoniche, insisted on proper declamation in Gregorian chant. He stated, "the chants are generally heard with greatest pleasure when the words are properly declaimed." (2)

Giulio Caccini in his Le nuove musiche also discusses the importance of expressing the text in a musical setting:

   the intelligence of the idea of the words, and the taste and
   imitation of this idea, by the use of expressive notes, and a plain
   interpretation of sentiment are more useful than counterpoint. (3)

This further dimension of expressivity and emotion, along with the best comprehension of the text, amplifies the secular attitudes that most influenced the reform of Gregorian chant.

The emphasis on verbal declamation and subjective expressiveness encouraged a more rhythmic and accentual declamation of Gregorian chant; in fact, efforts would soon be made to rewrite the chant with measured rhythm.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Council of Trent and the Reform of Gregorian Chant
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.