Criticism of Solesmes
Silt, Dom Gregory Murray will, I am sure, agree with me that a weekly newspaper is not the place for technical discussion, and I can, therefore, only answer one of the three questions in his last letter without becoming involved in that. With regard, then, to text-books ancient and modern. I refer Dom Gregory to the chapter on Gregorian Chant, by Mgr. Higini Angles, Director of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. Rome, in The New Oxford History of Music (1954), in which the author says "Medieval theorists were found lacking in clarity, consistency, and esthetic principles, so that it was necessary to go back to the notation of the earliest manuscripts and to study the types of every school and country." How many musicologists who criticise Solesmes have done this, or anything like it? Mgr. Angles adds, later on in this chapter, "When we remember that musicologists are not yet unanimous about the rhythmic interpretation of troubadour songs and ancient instrumental music we must not wonder at a diversity of opinion among Gregorianists who adhere to the theory of free rhythm in Roman chant, the only theory really suited to an artistic execution of the greater part of liturgical music."
Mgr. Angle's sympathies, I suspect, lie with Solesmes, but he expresses himself in the above temperate fashion. I, myself, am not 100 per cent. in favour of Solesmes, or of Dom Mocquereau's merciless French logic; and it has always seemed to me that the singing of the Solesmes monks contradicts. to a limited extent, some of their principles; but that singing, by and large, is the result of the application of a theory Dom Gregory finds "ridiculous" and "freakish." How then is the admiration musicians, in general, have expressed for that singing to be explained? R. A.
SIR,-Tt would be most regrettable if, as an unintentional result of the present controversy over the Solesmes chant, an impression were created that this form of chant is discredited or in any way outmoded. Of course, that is far from being the case.
We of our generation owe an incalculable debt to the monks of Solesmes for the highly competent and untiring task they carried out of discovering a n d establishing a n authentic text of the Gregorian chant.
A visit to Quarr Abbey in the days when the large French community were still there and when Dom Mocquereau was still alive left no room for doubt as to the immense labour and the almost Germanic akribie which marked the Solesmcs method of collecting original or photographic records of all passages of the chant over which there could be the slightest dispute or hesitation. Often as many as 20 or 30 photographic records of a single phrase, obtained as a result of long journeys round Europe, were aligned and studied in order to reach a reasoned conclusion as to the soundest reading.
A number of the MSS. had markings which, after long research, Dom Mocquereau and the other members of the team charged with the work were able to interpret as indications of the manner of execution-rallentando, diminuendo and so on. It needed a man endowed with the exquisite musical sense of a Dom Mocquereau to divine the true inwardness of these signs. If Dom Pothier did not see his way to include them in the Vatican edition, that does not invalidate them. One had only to listen to Dom Mocquereau and some of his colleagues on the subject to realise that Dom Pothier's decision was deplored at Solesines, if only because the rhythmic signs were among the valuable results of their investigations.
Even without the signs. it remains true that the Vatican edition as it stands is the text established by Solesmes-even though it might now seem to resemble an edition of a great composer robbed of the musical signs and annotations.
Nothing, in any•case, can alter the fact, which used to be insisted on with intimate Conviction by Dom Mocquereau. that the Gregorian chant is a highly subtle form of art, demanding in consequence a subtle musical interpretation and never meant to be dehydrated by being treated as an exercise in sol-fa.
Cyprian Rice, 0.P. Holy Cross Priory, Leicester.
'Much Ado _ • • •,
SIR,-May one who was all through the battle over the ictus more than 20 years ago deprecate a renewal of hostilities in that quarter of the liturgical front. Acrimonious debate about Solesmes. NeoSolesmes and Non-Solesmes method of treating Plain Chant will do no good. It will disedify the ordinary hard-working choirmaster, distract the pastor. and divert liturgists from the real and urgent problem that faces them. That problem is how to secure the active participation of the faithful as a body in the Sacred Mysteries. Academic discussion about rhythmical niceties will not help pastors to mobilise inert and silent congregations especially at the Low Mass on Sunday.
Let us leave the monks free to make a closer study of old manuscripts for evidence of the authenticity of Solcsmes rhythmical signs. Let pastors keep clear of monastic, academic and esoteric matters connected with the Liturgy, and get on with the work of training and shaping the raw material in the pews of the parish church, Let them strive to have Plain Chant sung by the people accurately in a tolerably flowing style and with zest for participation in the Sacred Liturgy. Where the people are unable or unwilling to sing at the High Mass let them be trained to speak together at the Low Mass.
Pope Pius XII devotes a considerable portion of his Encyclical Mediator Del to the practical and pastoral aspects of liturgical reform. He makes very specific recommendations for bringing the liturgy to the people and bringing the congregation into the liturgy. Let these be studied carefully and there will he less inclination to renew void and futile discussion about ictus and episima. It is to be feared that there are followers of Pope Pius X who are lacking in his common sense, pastoral experience and broad religious outlook. They are far too much occupied with the esthetic side of his liturgical reform movement and too little interested in its practical and pastoral aspects.
"Lapides Canr Ireland.