restricted access 7. Vernacular Chant: Models, Modes and Motifs
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7 Vernacular Chant: Models, Modes and Motifs 232 Introduction T he essential definition of Christian liturgical music as a combination of music and words has underpinned this study from the outset.1 The words underpinning the compositions of the combined Ó Riada corpus under investigation may be categorised under the following broad headings: scriptural, liturgical and devotional. Apart from a relatively small number of metrically crafted texts associated with the last category (though by no means comprising the whole category), the overriding textual reality has been that of prose. In this first and crucial respect, then, may the subject material of the study be proposed as a genuine continuation of the traditions of Roman rite liturgical music. In chapter two, attention was focused on the aesthetic similarities of the relationship between music and words within the monophonic traditions of plainchant, medieval song and traditional Irish song. The nature of the relationship revealed placed music at the service of textual structure and, to an even greater extent, number, while at the same time remaining free of any overtly emotional or referential obligations to textual content. This general aesthetic backdrop formed a useful lens which, when later applied to the altogether new musico-textual reality underlying the Ó Riada corpus, revealed a similar set of relationships at work.2 At the heart of the enterprise lay the inescapable reality of number, as expressed in the random patterns of scriptural, liturgical and native prose, which provided the textual given for the composers. Fidelity to the physical form of the traditional text is a noteworthy feature of the Ó Riada collection, thus providing another foundational link with Roman liturgical practice: that of through-composition. The traditional musical language employed by both men in accommodating the constantly changing structural and numerical realities was shown to be extremely flexible, subtle and responsive to the patterns of word-boundary. More than that, however, as the language of a living tradition it may be said to uphold the words in a positive and, above all, musically convincing way. Nothing less would, in fact, be tolerated by the native singers charged with delivering this music on an ongoing liturgical basis. As John Stevens suggests in relation to the melodic architecture supporting the large-scale and textually irregular courtly chansons of the Middle Ages: ‘In the last resort, we have to feel it as music …’.3 The duality of purpose inherent in liturgical music which requires it 233 to be true to the nature and demands of the text on the one hand, and true to itself as music on the other, puts into context the challenge facing those who would compose for the liturgy. This duality is echoed in the Guidonian concept of ‘double-melody’, a concept which has received multiple applications during the course of this thesis, because of its enduring usefulness as a metaphor for monophonic music text relationships. The concept, arising out of a flourishing medieval context of liturgical chant, attests to the close structural connection which must exist between music and text, but also to the demands of artistic unity, balance and wholeness which apply to the musical composition itself.4 Models I n the mass ordinary of Seán Ó Riada’s Ceol an aifrinn, which as we have seen, corresponded closely in compositional intention with the throughcomposed models of Gregorian chant, musical unity was achieved across a broad range of asymmetrical forms, largely by the effective use of the elemental chant-related device of recitative. Employed almost exclusively to carry litanic sections (including, as we saw, those found in the native Iontróid text), recitative was shown to function in a tonally dynamic way, interspersed with more purely melodic elements and integrated into the broad melodic frame, typical of Munster traditional song, selected from the outset by the composer. Overthepastfiftyyearsliturgicalrecitativehasbeenmostcharacteristically employed as a means of carrying the rich and compositionally challenging multiplicity of psalmodic texts which now form part of the Roman Lectionary. An early post-Vatican II publication, The Simple Gradual for Sundays and Holy Days,5 reveals a link with the past in its inclusion of two-line chant-style recitation formulae by Dom Gregory Murray, and signals a new way forward in the four-line recitative-based tones of Joseph Gelineau, which, to this day, remains the pre-eminent model for vernacular chanted psalmody.6 Such melodic formulae, while offering a practical and liturgically viable solution, remain at the level of pre-cast musical moulds into which words are poured, and their use of...


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