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Frankish psalmody : the evidence of the commemoratio brevis Kitson, John Richard

Abstract

This thesis is a study of the Frankish psalmody of the early medieval period. The most important source of this practice in existence today is the tenth-century treatise, the Commemoratio Brevis de Tonis et Psalmis Modulandis. During the last fifty years there have been several attempts by musicologists to come to terms with the evidence of this source but these, unfortunately, were based on a faulty eighteenth-century edition of an incomplete manuscript. The present study, however, is based on a new edition of the only complete source: the Wolfenbuttel Ms.Gud. lat. 2° 72 (4376). The method has been to reconstruct the evidence of this treatise—the musical examples of psalm tones and the commentary of the text—and to compare it to the standard practice of the late Middle Ages. Errors perpetuated unwittingly by the eighteenth-century edition have been corrected. The introduction summarizes the methods and origins of psalmody; the role of the Franks in the formation of the Gregorian repertoire; the subsequent decay and reform of the chant; and the role of the psalms in the liturgy. The first four chapters consider the many inflections of the psalm tone individually: the first intonation, the termination, the tenor and the mediant melody. The final chapter is devoted to a study of the special tones which were probably the remains of a practice even earlier than that of the tenth century. The Gregorian psalm tones appear at first sight to be sterile ground for historical investigation—almost featureless in their simplicity. Closer inspection reveals, however, a number of discernable strata belonging to quite different epochs. The earliest portion of the psalm tone is the tenor. There can be little argument that the most primitive usage involved the recitation of liturgical texts on a single pitch (hardly a musical phenomenon, more properly described as a method of public address). The next stage involved—for the purpose of articulating the verses of psalms—the affixing of intonations and terminations. In the earliest epoch, before the Carolingian reforms, it would seem that a psalmody of intonations, tenors and terminations was not yet formed into a coherent system. It is generally believed that the system of the eight modes was itself only introduced into the West at the time of the great Emperor. It would be difficult therefore to argue that the practice prior to this introduction had any connection with the eight-mode system. It would seem, rather, that local usages involving many patterns, some of them made venerable by great antiquity, were in force. The next stage in the evolution was to provide a correlation between the new system of the octoëchos and the psalmody. At this point most of the older free practice was abandoned. Some remnants, however, have remained—we have suggested that this is an explanation for the special tones in the Commemoratio Brevis--either owing to the force of tradition or the difficulty of making indisputable modal assignments. The attitude to the text of the psalm did not remain unchanged throughout this long period of evolution. In the earliest period the text accent was treated quite casually, as an examination of the intonations and the terminations shows clearly. At a later stage, however,--and here the mediant portions of the psalms with their quite different attitude toward text accent are instructive—the musicians approached the problem quite differently, taking extraordinary care that the correct inflections of the words were projected. It is tempting to associate this new approach, which reminds one so much of the Renaissance, with the well known Carolingian rebirth of knowledge. The history of the psalm tones subsequent to the Commemoratio Brevis is one of progressive refinement: a reduction to a practice both supple and logical, the last stage of which is represented by the Vatican Edition of 1908.

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