The End of Europe's Middle Ages

Early Medieval Music - The Gregorian Chant

The Gregorian chant is a musical style named for Saint Gregory I the Great (540-604), who was pope from 590 to 604. Incorrectly identified as the originator of Gregorian chant, Saint Gregory was nonetheless responsible for initiating the reforms that included the revision of sacred music that led to the success and popularity of the Gregorian chant. Complaints regarding the disparity of local liturgical practice, excessive complexity and even the seductiveness of certain voices were long-standing issues and, in the seventh century, the repertory was purified and standardised in the Antiphony of the Roman Church. The Schola Cantorum, the Roman school of singing, was completely reorganised. Since the Schola Cantorum trained the missionaries of the Roman Church, the Gregorian chant became the standard of sacred music that was carried across Europe.

Gregorian chant preserved the Greek melodic scale called diatonic, which was characterised by admitting only two sorts of intervals, roughly corresponding to the modern tone and semi-tone. The purest Gregorian chant was monodic, taking the following tripartite form.

  1. Syllabic recitative - this part provided the basis for composition of the melody, occasionally with groups of several notes on a single syllable.
  2. Variations on the recitative - more or less ornamented by augmentation, that is, by the addition of melodic fragments.
  3. Ornamental vocalises which become the forerunner of the sequence.

While the Golden Age of the true Gregorian chant was from the fifth to the eighth centuries, the monophonic style provided the foundations for future musical developments in Europe.

  The Fifth Responsory of Matins on Good Friday - "Tenebrae factae sunt"
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The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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