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Gregorian Chants

Hello class. For my last blog post, I will be introducing a form of music of the Roman Catholic Church: the Gregorian chant!

Origins of the gregorian chant

The Gregorian chant was mainly used during sacred liturgies (public worship) for the Roman Catholic Church and was usually sung in praise of a religious figure. Along with many other Western chants such as the Roman-Spain Mozarabic chant, the Italian Ambrosian chant, and the French Gallican Chant, the Gregorian Chant is a form of plainsong (unaccompanied chant) that was developed in Europe during the 7th to 10th century. Some of these chants were discontinued when Roman pontiffs sought to standardize a common music for the church; with many adopting the more popular Gregorian chant. In addition, Gregorian chants were largely proliferated due to political influence such as Charlemagne's attempt to secure religious power and expand his kingdom after he became the Holy Roman Emperor (c.800-814).

There are many debates and uncertainties regarding the origins of the Gregorian Chant. Some sources point the origins to Gregory I (also known as Saint Gregory the Great, but I shall adopt a neutral position based on what we have learned in class about Alexander of Macedon, and refer to him as Gregory I) during his time as Pope (590-604 CE); hence the name Gregorian Chant. This was supported by the evidence of the testimony of John the Deacon, the biographer of Gregory I. Other sources insist that the Gregorian chants are a collective amalgam of Roman and Gallican chants that was developed when Roman chants were introduced to the Carolingian (Frankish dynasty) court during Charlemagne's rule.

Salve Regina (Simple Tone)

As I had once mentioned (in my first blog post), how could a topic introducing music come without any audio references? With that in mind, I gathered some of my friends and got them to sing and record a Gregorian Chant with me. I present to you Salve Regina in simple tone:


Salve Regina, which means Hail Holy Queen, is one of the four Marian Antiphons of the Gregorian chant. The Marian Antiphons are hymns that are devoted to the Virgin Mary. The origins of this hymn are as uncertain as most Gregorian chants are; but more evidence support that the most probable author would be Hermann of Reichenau. There were also evidence of the chant's liturgical uses found on the statues of Peter the Venerable, the abbot of Cluny Abbey (a Benedictine monastery in Cluny, France) in c.1135.

Here are the original Latin text and English translation of Salve Regina with credits to pages 3-6 of John Desmond Miller's article:

Original text (in Latin):
Salve, Regina mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte.
Et Jesum benedictum fructum ventris tui
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.


English Translation:

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

It should be noted that my rendition of the Salve Regina comes with harmonies at certain areas of the music; This means that there are more than two lines of music sung together. However, one of the characteristics of the traditional form of the Gregorian chant is that it is sung in the style called Monody; this means that it is sung in "unison —only one note simultaneously— which means that all the singers enliven the same melody". The reason I made this distinction is so that the music would be more palatable to people of the modern times (you!). It also sort of bring in the idea of how new age (20th century) Gregorian chants can bring about the resurgence of a form of music from the past by adding in some modern flavors.

Thank you for reading (and listening)!

I hope you have enjoyed my post about Gregorian chants and also found my audio file interesting (and hopefully pleasing). Apart from fulfilling the creative aspect of this post, I thought that it would be a fun idea to present an audio perspective of what I am introducing. It turned out to be quite a daunting task to sing and record the Gregorian chant because it was in Latin and primarily because it was an unfamiliar task (I didn't grow up listening to Gregorian chants!). Not to mention, it was really hard to get a bunch of friends who would willingly join me in singing a Gregorian chant. Therefore, I would like to acknowledge their efforts:


I hereby thank Vignesh Mohandasan, Farhan Jamaludin, and Stanley Koh for learning and singing the chant Salve Regina with me, and Justin Chew for helping me with the recording and production of the audio file. We are not professional singers (which explains the pitchy and inconsistent tonality) so please go easy on us! Nevertheless, I really appreciate their efforts and I had so much fun doing this together with them. I hope you would enjoy it too!