Thursday 11 April 2013

More on the Modality of Chant

As I was going back over my notes from the Chant Workshop last weekend, I noticed a few other things that might be of interest.

One was that, in passing, Christopher Hodkinson mentioned some of the peculiarities of particular modes.

For example, Mode 6, which is not very typical of modality (see below) has Fa as a final note, and frequently has Fa as a reciting note (rather than La as the theoretical model would suggest).  The Introit for the 4th Sunday after Easter, Cantate Domino, is an example of this.

In Mode 7, the chant often has Re as the reciting note (as you would expect) early on, but then sometimes moves to reciting on Sol, which is also the Final. (I thought I'd found an example of this, but was mistaken: a quick scan of Mode 7 Introits shows them doing all sorts of things with reciting notes, but not this: so I may have to get onto Chris for examples...)

In Mode 3 there is a big gap between the Final (Mi) and the Tenor (reciting note) the Do above (consider the Pange Lingua, for example).  For that reason, once you have got up to the Tenor, you don't go back down to the Final too often, sometimes not until the last note.

Some of these may arise because the modal theory was worked out by theorists considering chant that already existed: ie the chant wasn't written according to the theory, and therefore doesn't always accord well with it.

I am sure there are other distinctive features of particular modes, and would be delighted if any readers are able to offer additional insights in the Comms Box.

Chris also talked about the importance of identifying cadences in the chant.  Those more familiar with polyphonic music will easily recognise harmonic cadences; but in monophonic chant, they are simpler (but also easier for the uninitiated to overlook).

In chant a cadence has two qualities: on is an arrival on a lower, concluding note (cadentia means falling); the second is a recognisable musical formula that signifies an arrival. Identifying these as points of arrival, points to aim for and to rest at, gives the melodic line meaning and structure as you sing it.

The other thing we discussed was Modality Archaïque, which is a simpler approach to modality, and to which I may return in a later post, if I can find a useful way to describe it.

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