What is Gregorian Chant?

A brief academic definition states as follows: Gregorian chant is monophonic congregational singing of the Latin Church the basic core of which settled roughly at the end of the 8th century in the area of the Frankish Empire, i.e. on the territory of present France. We may add that Gregorian Chant has really been the keystone of whole European music and represents an immensely verified repertoire with richness of forms – from quite plain types of singing touching along a boundary of merely text recitation to broad-spanned melody of masterly character. I think that richness of chant is embodied not only in its musical qualities but also in its spiritual dimension. Gregorian chant is like a laser ray endowed with a special ability to aim its healing power exactly at the wounded place in human soul.

Where do you search for your new materials?

There have already been some editions for the circle of the so-called old corpus, which represents the basic core of Gregorian chant. Those editions were published tanks to monks from the monastery in Solesmes, France. That was also the place where the Gregorian chant reform appeared in the 19th century. The repertoire is issued in quadratic notation in which the individual interval distances can be read. Occasionally, records of two neumatic handwritings appear concurrently. These are important for rhythmical dimension of the interpretation, for a diagnosis of the importance of lightness, or ornamental character, of the note. Concerning Bohemian chant tradition, the editions are mainly missing and thus it is up to us to produce a transcription right from the manuscript. There are some conveniences about this drawback, anyhow, as one can witness the whole process of “resurrection” of a particular piece of music from the transcription, then through its rehearsal with the ensemble and finally up to the genesis of an audiorecording.

What are the neumes?

The most pregnant description I like using is that they are like “sprinkled tips of loose tea”. In the same breath I have to highlight, that those sundry wedges and accents above texts represent rather elaborate system surpassing contemporary notation in many ways. Though, the record is based upon another principle. It is taken for granted that the monk knows the melody by heart and thus the notation illustrates only relative movement of the melody, i.e. whether it increases or decreases; these medieval notation marks are simultaneously able to express with a considerable exactness many expressional nuances, which are not describable with our present notation.

How do you put up with the pronunciation troubles?

The problem is now and then dramatised more than is good. We use the pronunciation of Latin according to resources. Soft Italian (e.g: excelsis, agnus as “ekshelsis”, …..) for the old resources, which is based on the Western tradition, and hard middle-European (ekscelsis, agnus) if we sing from Bohemian and other related sources. Quite an easy recipe!

What gowns do you wear when singing?

It is the alb, i.e. a gown which can be nowadays worn by altar boys or singers if they approach the altar. So, it is not any actor´s shape or its stylisation.

Can we speak of meditative music in the case of Gregorian chant?

Yes, we can. Chant monotonicity elicits meditation, many see in it also musical minimalization and a bond to East-Asian music cultures which are thought to be of soothing, even curative effect. Anyway, we shall bear in mind that chant is first and foremost a prayer. Psalm singing is said to have some self-cleaning ability, and I am positive that this simply must be somewhat reflected in the bosom of a sensitive being.