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The Gregorian Chant

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The Gregorian chant is this form of Church chant, adapted to the liturgy and the other uses of the clerics, which took a definitive form about the year 600 and which gradually became the standard in the Western Church from the 8th to the 11th century A.D. The Gregorian is a vocal music only, with no instruments. The terms "Gregorian chant", "plain chant", or "Cantus Romanus", "cantilena romana" or, simply, "chant", may be considered synonymous. The name "Gregorian chant" refers to the Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) who is credited with the final arrangement of the Roman chant. The terms first appeared about 850, then in the writings of William of Hirschau. The polyphony appeared as soon as the 9th century, as the Gregorian chant kept developing however along with the new music until it was supplanted by the latter in the 16th century. Charlemagne, in terms of chant, endeavored that, in all the Frankish dominions, it attained the distinguished level of perfection it had reached in Rome

The Origins of the Plain Chant

Church song appeared as soon as the first groups of Christians, as a private and liturgical practice. Texts were taken from psalms and canticles from the Bible, or were composed -taking the name of "hymns"- in imitation of the Hebrew or of the Greek poetry forms. Two forms of singing appeared very early, if not from the beginning. The responsorial form was a solo singing with the group joining with a kind of refrain (the "responsorium"). The antiphonal form was the alternation of two choirs. This brought quickly to a differentiation in the music style which lasted all along the history of the Gregorian chant, as the solo compositions were more elaborate -with a wider range of melodies and longer group of notes on a single syllabe- than the simpler choral ones. The Gregorian chant, from the beginning, featured absolutely no instruments -likely due to their pagan use, not to take in account that Church Fathers swiftly became hostile to music instruments which they considered instruments of the Devil, a prejudice to last until during the Middle Ages against minstrels. The Gregorian chant was purely a vocal chant. On the other hand, it was not before St. Ambrose in Milan (likely for the same reason) that metrical hymns appeared, as they were not used in the Roman chant until the 12th century A.D.

The plain chant endured a strong development in the 4th century A.D. in the monasteries of Syria and Egypt. It's there that the "antiphon" was introduced, that is a short melody sung in connexion with the antiphonal singing of a psalm, the two choirs singing it united after every verse of the psalm. As far as the Western Church was concerned at that time, it was using the responsorial form only, until that St. Ambrose introduced the antiphonal method about 386 in Milan and that the practice was soon adopted afterwards in all the West. The "Alleluia" chant was also introduced in the 4th century from the East to the West. The Alleluia was a particular, elaborated, long form of the responsorial method in which an Alleluia formed the "responsorium". First confined to the Easter Sunday, it became soon extended to the whole Paschal time, as Pope Gregory the Great eventually extended it to the whole liturgical year, the period of Septuagesima excluded, where the "Tract" -or the "Gradual" -some other forms of antiphony- took its place

Eventually it was during the 5th century A.D. that the antiphonal method was adopted for the Mass, some psalms being sung this way at the beginning of the Mass, during the oblations, and during the Holy Communion. This put an end to the progressive apparition of all the forms of the plain chant. The plain chant was sung now for the Mass, and for the other needs of the clerics. As far as the Mass was concerned, the responsorial song was used alternated with the readings from Scripture as other Mass chants were used to accompany other functions only. From that time onwards, all the techniques of the chant were to develop. Another interesting point is that the chant was not fully latinized before centuries

The Development of the Chant

Until about 600 A.D., by the time of Pope Gregory the Great, some important changes took place. The "Gradual", a psalm sung responsorially after the lessons of the Mass, was shortened to a mere unique verse, as its refrain had become more elaborated due to it being taken over by the "schola", a body of trained singers instead of being sung by the people. The antiphonal Mass chants of the Introit and the Communion retained their form until the 8th century when they were shortened too. The psalm verses of the "Offertory" passed from being sung antiphonally by the choir to the soloist and were melodically enhanced as the antiphon itself was. It was Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) who brought the chant to its finality. At that time, the development of new feasts had brought to the composition of new chants. Gregory the Great compiled the Liturgy and the Church music with the Roman use in view only. He had never thought of extending that to the other parts of the West. In such parts, regional variants of the early Church plain chant had developped, namely the Ambrosian, Gallican, and the Mozarabic chant. They were used in Milan, the Frankish and Gallic world, and in Spain respectively. The fame of Gregory, and of the Roman See however, and the intrinsic value of the work as well, made that the Roman liturgy and chant were adopted progressively in all the West. Missionaries first brought them in England. From there they spreaded in Germany. Pepin and Charlemagne helped their diffusion in Gaul as well as in northern Italy and Spain. In those latter regions however, the Ambrosian and the Mozarabic uses resisted during centuries. The "Schola" in Rome, founded by Gregory, kept the tradition pure in Rome, but in other parts of the Western Church too. Singers were sent from time to time to check how the chant was practised, as copies of the choir books kept in Rome were sent to secure the uniformity of the melodies. Some slight changes occurred, like changing the 3rd and 8th modes' reciting note from "b" to "c" which occurred in the 9th century or notions of theorists, beginning then too

The development of the Gregorian chant came to a form of halt after Gregory the Great however. Existing chants were used for the new feasts, or new text fitted with existing melodies only. 24 new melodies were composed in the 7th century A.D. and one may consider that the basic melodies of the plain chant had been composed by that time and were used unaltered during all the Middle Ages. It was a certain class of Mass chants only, the "Ordinarium Missae", which kept to develop after the times of Gregory. Such songs at the difference of the songs used for the Mass celebrated on a particular feast day, are the usual, ordinary songs of the day-to-day masses. They were not sung by the trained singers but by the clerics and the people, hence they were very simple. The Kyrie, the Gloria, and the Sanctus already existed in the liturgy Pope Gregory the Great had defined. The Carolingian times saw the apparition of the "Agnus Dei" (instituted by Pope Sergius I, 687-701 A.D.) and the temporary existence of the "Credo" (which appeared about the year 800). The St. Gall monastery, as far as it was concerned, added two new forms of Mass music in the 9th century. It was Abott Notker who created the "Sequences". These originated like supplies of words for the very long melodies which was sung on the final syllabe of the Alleluia (they likely had been imported from Greece). The same work was performed for other chants of the Mass and especially for the Kyrie, by Tuotilo. Such songs had got some elaborated melodies. The new texts were called the "Tropes", or "Proses". On the other hand, a whole class of antiphons, taken from the "Gesta Martyrum", appeared during the 7th century but with no melodic invention neither. At last, the responses of the Office received many changes and additions, especially in Gaul in the 9th century A.D., and they eventually made their way into the Roman use (the old Roman style of repeating the whole respons after the verses was replaced by a mere repetition of the second half of the respons). In the most elaborate melodies of that time, a good number of ornaments comprising tone steps smaller than a semi-tone existed

->About Cantores
As they originated from the Hebrew worship (with the''hazzans' of the temple of David), the 'singers,' or 'cantores' in Christianity were those who constituted the chorus. They formed a minor order among the clerics at the imitation of the readers, subdeacons or deacons, by the beginning of the 4th century A.D. -- the 'cantores canonici' -- to restore order in Church singing as a tendency then was that anyone from the faithfuls could get up to the chorus and sing. Cantores little by little gained the monopoly of the liturgical chant and Pope Gregory the Great established, in Rome, a school for cantors, the 'schola cantorum.' St. Augustine wrote that 'singing well, is to pray twice' ('Qui bene cantat, bis orat')! The leader of the schola, also called 'precentor,' was directing the song with a staff, which was also the mark of his dignity. In Rome the precentor of the Schola was the 'Prior scholae' or 'Primicerius'. In the churches, the schola cantorum formed the liturgical choir as the schola was led by a 'master of music.' The Cantor was also one of the first dignitaries in abbeys. In Cluny, for example, he was also responsible for the armarium, there where liturgical books were gathered. Children choirs or 'pueri cantores,' sang also with the adult choristers. Western music, beginning in the Renaissance, was born from the Chant and the polyphonic music

The Carolingians and the Gregorian Chant

As far as the Carolingians are concerned, it was Pippin the Short who first showed a great care for Church song, as he abolished the Gallican chant and imposed the Roman one for the sake of uniformity of the Western Church. He named Chrodegang like bishop in Metz. It was Charlemagne which put that to its highest point, taking care about the propagation of the Gregorian chant and adequate performance of it throughout the Empire. He further wanted to forbid any new creation in terms of chant as he attributed to Pope Gregory the Great the origin of that Church music. Charlemagne was aided by a technical knowledge of the subject, as he took in Rome with him members of his chapel so they might learn there and asked Pope Adrian I, in 774, to sent Roman cantors in the Frankish kingdom, on the other hand. Four of them came and settled in Metz, Soissons, at the court -then in Metz, and in St. Gall respectively, the latter because illness kept him there on his route to the court. In Metz, it was Archbishop Chrodegang who developed the chant. A form of emulation might have been at the origin of the coming of the Roman cantors as the cantors of the Gallic and Frank countries had claimed they were singing better than those of Rome. All cantors of the Frankish kingdom had to come and train in the schola of Metz. A imperial decree of 789 enjoined the whole Frankish clergy to learn the Roman chant and to perform the office according to the directions of Pippin the Short. The command was renewed at a synod held in 803 in Aachen and bishops and clerics were further ordered to establish "scholae cantorum", that is song schools as a direct support was provided for those already existing, namely Metz, Paris, Soissons, Orléans, Sens, Tours, Lyons, Cambrai, Dijon, Fulda, Reichenau, and St. Gall. This effort joined the one undertaken about schooling, generally, in the Empire. Children, both nobles and from the people, were learning the chant, with a special emphasis upon Psalms for the latters. Alcuin or Theodulf wrote for the chant. At last, Charlemagne, with not a whole success, tried too to abolish the use of the Ambrosian chant in the region of Milan. This development of the Gregorian chant in the Frankish kingdom had as a consequence that the Gregorian chant slightly took some different aspects from the original Gregorian period. It was under that form altered by Frankish and Gallic influences, that the Gregorian chant reached back Rome. And it was such that chant which dominated the whole following Middle Ages

Despite the will of Charles, the Gregorian chant kept evolving however. A monk of the Jumièges abbey, in current Normandy, as threatened by Northmen, came to took refuge in St Gall when Notker was the abbot there. He had invented a new form of trope with one syllab upon each note. At that time, Byzantines, on the other hand, had found the neumatic notation back, as they only noted whether a note was ascending or descending without any interval. Although monks could memorize hours and hours of chants, they did come up with a system of notation to preserve the songs for the future. They deviced a system based on 'neumes,' a kind of predecessor for modern musical notes as each neume might represent a single note or four notes differing in pitches in recognizable patterns. Generally, it would have taken, for example, 85 hours to sing the entire prayer cycle of St. Gall. Neumes also allowed monks to use new texts on older music, such techniques allowing to bypass the interdiction of novelties in terms of chant. Tropes then were adding new melodies self as eventually tropes were heard which were comprising new melodies with new texts. It is not until 1050 A.D., in the Benevent invested by Normands that Guido of Arezzo eventually deviced the current musical notation technique. A main contribution of the Carolingian era, by the end of the 9th century AD, was added by Otger with his "Musica Enchiriadis". That work, with a parallel organon was just inventing polyphony within the Gregorian chant. One voice is parallel to a other at a fifth or heigth tone, with even a possible divergence at the fourth. Otger too is showing a first new, two-line notation technique. That polyphonic technique will reach new forms by 1050, with a voice ascending and one descending. Polyphony has given the Middle Ages his most typical tones! The chant, by the Middle Ages too had become more rythmic as the Latin prosody had changed and linked texts and music. The evolution since the 11th century A.D. too impacted lay music and fine arts. That had began as soon as by the end of the 10th century when monks of Fleury had dramatized the Gregorian melodies of the Easter festival, given birth to theater. Matins lessons which were a tale of the deeds of a saint eventually gave birth to the "chansons de geste" too. By the early 12th century A.D., that trend opened upon the 'troubadours' -'those making tropes'- of Aquitaine with maybe some Arabic influence from Spain as the abbey of St Martial, in Limoges was instrumental too

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