History of Gregorian Chant

History of Gregorian Chant

The Gregorian Chants is a collection of chants of the Catholic Church. A significant number of the Georgian Chants belong to two liturgical rites, the Offices and the Mass. The origins of the chants are traditionally associated to the period of Pope St. Gregory I 590-604. The sacred chants were also known as plainsong, or plainchant, and consist of a monophony (one course of melody) and a flexible rhythm that is sung to Latin words and unaccompanied singing. Although some traditions proclaim Pope Gregory as the songsmith, historical scholarship informs rather that he acted as an influential linkage between the Middle Ages and the Early Church. As such, Pope Gregory represents the chants of the Roman churches which spread to Western Europe in the seventh and eight centuries.

The Early Development of the Gregorian Chant

Unaccompanied singing or chanting has always been a part of Christian rituals since the early Church. After Christianity was legalized in 313, various forms of chant began to develop by region. For instance, Roman Spain came up with Mozarabic chant, a title referring to the Moorish rule on Spain after the 711 invasion. In fact the composition of the Gregorian chant was completed by the seventh century. It was altered little afterwards. Milan produced the Ambrosian chant, which is named in recognition of St. Ambrose. From Gaul (present day France) came the Gallican chant, and from Rome the Old Roman and the Gregorian. England produced the Sarum chant, from the church in the East, Byzantine, Syrian, Armenian, Ethiopian and Coptic. Other forms of the chant were later deserted when the region decided to adopt what is regarded a superior liturgy or chant. Through these paths, the Gregorian chant grew to dominate Christian liturgical song in the West by the eighth century.

Controversies on the Origins of the Gregorian Chant

The Gregorian collection was standardized to be used in the Roman Rite. According to some Christian theology scholars, the central liturgy of Roman Mass was assembled over a short period during the late seventh century. On the other hand, other scholars argue that there is an earlier origin for some of the oldest layers of the collection.

The debate between scholars on whether the fundamentals of the melodies emanated from Francia in the eighth and ninth centuries or in Rome before the seventh century. Traditionalists have pointed to evidence suggesting a significant role for Pope Gregory from 590 to 604. However, there is general agreement among scholars which asserts that the Gregorian chant developed during the 750s from a blend of Gallican and Roman chant under the authority of Carolingian rulers in France.

Consensus on the Development of the Chant

When Pope Stephen II visited Gaul in 752-753 and celebrated Mass using the Roman chant, Charlemagne’s father, Pepin, revoked the local Gallican liturgies in favor of the Roman ones in order to strengthen the territory’s ties with Rome. At the request of Charlemagne in 785-786, Pope Hadrian I shipped a papal sacramentary containing Roman chants to the Carolingian court. These chants were later modified as a result of the influence of the Gallican chant and the local styles, and thereafter adapted into the system of the eight modes. Consequently, the Frankish-Roman Carolingian chant, combined with the new chants to form the complete liturgical year and became known as the Gregorian chant.

Gregorian Chant has a rich history and plays a significant part in Christian culture and among music scholars around the world. Listening to Gregorian chant can bring peace and calm to troubled souls and praise to God.