Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

Much to learn!

Antiphons are wonderful “miniatures” that we can study to glean knowledge about Gregorian Chant.  Below you’ll see a short antiphon, Vos reliquistis, which translated means: You who have left all things and followed me, shall receive a hundredfold, and life everlasting you will possess. (Matthew 19:28-29) This is Jesus’ word to his disciples in regards to them answering the call to follow him.  The Latin word, reliquistis, immediately brings to mind the English cognate “relinquish” – to hand over to another person.

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This antiphon is used at Lauds, setting the right “tone or mode” for the chanting of the Benedictus for that particular day.  You’ll see that it’s in Mode 1.  At first glance, the antiphon looks low, and indeed it is.  One listen to the audio file will confirm that!

Mode 1 has a reciting note of LA and a home tone of RE.  We call this a RE Mode. ( Mode 2 is also a RE Mode, and we’ll be looking at that next week.) RE is located on the bottom line of the staff, and the antiphon begins and ends on this principal pitch.  With this particular antiphon, it barely makes it up to the reciting note LA.  We can hear the rise of the phrase to the words estis me, and the climactic point on the first two notes of centuplum (a hundredfold!).  Then the melody gradually subsides to its final resting place on possidebitis (will possess).  A simple sentence, a simple range of 5 or 6 notes; yet it conveys the conversation of this text!   Other Mode 1 antiphons have a broader range, and often ascend past the reciting note of LA.  But this particular one resides in the lower part of the modal range.

One more thing to note and that is the ending within the double bars.  This is the ending for the recitation of the psalmody that would normally accompany this antiphon.

The vowels E u o u a e, are a shorthand for the last verse chanted at the end of the psalm, the Gloria Patri.  These vowels are the last 6 in the Latin words, saeculorum, Amen.

Notice that this ending “hovers” around the Reciting tone LA!

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