'Gregorian Chant'

Gregory the Great has been credited with many things, including the writing, collecting and organising of the body of plainchant.

Even further, Gregory has been credited with founding the first singing school in Rome that enabled singers to be trained for the church, organising the church's annual cycle of liturgical readings and being the first to establish the church's authority over the secular rulers of Rome.

Whether Gregory did all, or any, of these things is, however, questionable.

In point of fact, the chant that was used in Gregory's time is known as the Old Roman, which itself barely survived into the era of musical notation, only being passed from one generation to the next by ear.

Two centuries after Gregory's time, the Emperor Charlemange sent to Rome in search of authentic liturgical books and chants, but in return received back only singing teachers, who would teach the Franks by ear, as was their own accustomed way.

But the tutors and the Franks did not get on very well together, and, as a result, major changes were made by the Franks to adapt the chant to their own taste and their own way of singing. This adapted chant became the style that eventually propagated. As a result, what we call Gregorian chant should probably be called Carolingian chant, but the easy way out is to use the term p/lainchant, and leave it at that.

Nevertheless, Gregory's role in the development of Roman Liturgy was considerable. It is probable that he took a prominent part in the codification and adaptation of at least four pre-existing forms of plainsong and composed a number of prayers which subsequently formed the kernel of the Gregorian Sacramentary.


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Text by Bill Smith. Page provided by Ryedale Christian Council Updated 8th May 2004