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Plainsong Main Page Books Plainsong on the Web Newbie Corner

About Plainsong and Gregorian Chant

Plainsong is a term that describes a style of singing of the church liturgy on the European continent that was developed early in the first millennium. Plainsong is monophonic, meaning that it has a melody only, and no accompanying chords or instruments. The principal types of plainsong in the western part of the European continent consist of the Gallican, Gregorian, Ambrosian, Old Roman, and Mozarabic styles. In the eastern part they are the Syrian, Armenian, and Byzantine.

Our introduction to plainsong will be confined to the Gregorian style, also known as Gregorian Chant; however, we encourage exploration into the other styles because there is a great wealth of beauty to be discovered in the other styles of music.

Gregorian chant is the liturgical music that was sung in the Roman Catholic Church from the fifth or sixth centuries until the Second Vatican Council of 1962 - 1965 when it was removed from the church! Gregorian chant was named for St. Gregory the Great who was pope from 690 to 604. Beginning late in the 11th Century, Gregorian chant began to be joined in church services by a newer style of music called polyphony. Polyphony used more that a single melody simultaneously (mono = one, poly = many). During the renaissance period, polyphony developed into a great body of music. Polyphonic music was largely based on the melodies of Gregorian chant and compositions in the polyphonic style often replaced the original Gregorian compositions in services, while retaining the same words (as these were a part of the liturgy). After the 15th Century, church services often consisted of a mixture of polyphonic and monophonic music. Psalms, hymns, and magnificats were set in such a way that verses alternated between plainsong and polyphony.

The importance, spiritual power and beauty of the great body of Gregorian chant cannot be over emphasized.


     "By superceding the Latin language of the Mass and substituting 19th Century hymns of questionable aesthetic value for Gregorian and polyphonic music, the [Catholic] Church itself forces us to turn to the museum of recordings if we want to hear this priceless, peerless, and beautiful branch of musical art."

Egon F. Kenton
From the liner notes of Turnabout Recording TV 34309

A visitor to the website informs us concerning the above quote: "You indicate that chant was removed from Catholic liturgy after Vatican II. This is not correct. Vatican II instructed that certain parts of the liturgy may be changed, e.g., certain prayers may be said in the vernacular and music other than chant may be used. All designed to increase the understanding of the laity's role in liturgy. Any changes on a local level could only be done with permission of the bishop. As with anything, once an exception is made, the exception becomes the rule. Now very few Catholic churches use chant or latin; and most people believe that chant and latin are no longer part of Catholic liturgy. But again, this is not accurate and will probably take 100 years to correct itself."


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