History and Literature of Music I
The chant of the Roman Catholic church can be divided into two
types of services, the Mass and the Office services.
This table shows the basic layout of a typical Mass. For M401 we are
most concerned with those parts of the Mass which are set to individual
melodies, shown in the first two columns on the left. There are many
other components that are intoned on reciting formulas or are simply
spoken, and the most important of them are included below to give you a
sense of the shape of the overall Mass.
The texts and music of the items in the columns labeled "Proper" change
from service to service. These are called "Proper" because they are
proper to a particular day of the church year.
The texts of the items in the columns labeled "Ordinary" are the same at
every Mass (with some adjustments for certain special occasions or
seasons of the year). However, there are many musical settings of each
Click on an underlined chant type for more information about
it, including its text setting, its form, and its
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There are eight different office services:
- Matins - Before dawn
- Lauds - At sunrise
- Prime - 6 A.M.
- Terce - 9 A.M.
- Sext - 12 noon
- None - 3 P.M.
- Vespers - At sunset
- Compline - Immediately following Vespers
NAWM 4 contains chants from Vespers for Christmas day in the
evening, the second of two Vespers services associated with Christmas.
(The first is celebrated the previous evening, on Christmas Eve.)
The most important type of chant in the Office is the singing of
psalms. NAWM 4a (on pp. 26-27) is Psalm 109, Dixit
the first psalm in Vespers on Christmas Day, together with
the antiphon that precedes and follows it, Tecum principium
Points to remember about singing psalms in the Office:
- Each verse is sung to the same music, a melodic formula
called a psalm tone.
- There is one psalm tone for each
of the eight modes. The singers use the psalm tone that is in the
same mode as the accompanying antiphon. Here, the antiphon is in
mode 1, so the psalm tone for mode 1 is used. Its melody appears at
the bottom of p. 26.
- Each psalm verse is divided into two halves, usually marked off by a
colon, and the second half ends with a period.
Each psalm tone therefore also has two halves, each consisting of
recitation on a reciting tone followed by an ending
formula. The first half of the psalm tone begins with an introductory
formula called an intonation, which is sung only for
the first verse of the psalm; all other verses begin with recitation on
the reciting tone.
- The formula ending the first half of the psalm tone is called the
mediant, and the formula at the end of each verse is called the
termination. The termination sounds more final than the mediant,
the end of a sentence. In the psalm tone in NAWM 4a, the mediant begins
on the next-to-last accented syllable of the first half of the psalm verse
(the last two accents are marked with boldface), and the
termination begins two syllables before the last accented syllable (shown
with two syllables in italics before the last accented syllable in
- Since each of the verses of the psalm itself has a different number
of syllables, the performers simply add repetitions of the reciting tone
(A in mode 1) as needed to fit the text.
- Note that the Lesser Doxology appears as verses 9 and 10 of the
psalm. A Doxology is a formula praising God and affirming faith in the
Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lesser Doxology,
which begins "Gloria Patri, et Filio," is
always added to the end of psalms and is sung to the same melodic formula
as the psalm verses. (The Greater Doxology is the Gloria in the Mass,
which begins "Gloria in excelsis Deo.")
Most psalms are accompanied by antiphons. An antiphon
has an independent melody; that is, it is not a simple reciting formula
like a psalm tone. The antiphon is sung both before and after the psalm.
The antiphon used with Psalm 109 on this occasion is Tecum
principium (shown on p. 26), whose text is taken from the same psalm
(the fourth verse).
So, the overall form of psalm singing in an office service is this (click on
each to hear the recording):
Vespers also include short responsories. The fourth
edition of NAWM included an
example, Verbum caro factum est.
Here is the overall form:
- First a Respond in two parts is sung, begun by one or two soloists
and continued by the choir. (Part A = Verbum caro factum est; Part B =
- This is repeated.
- Next a Verse is sung by the soloist(s) (Et habitavit in nobis).
- Next, the second section of the Respond is repeated by the choir.
(Part B = Alleliua, alleluia.)
- This is followed by the lesser Doxology, again sung by the soloist(s)
- The chant concludes with the entire Respond.
Respond AB - Respond AB - Verse - Respond B - Doxology -
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Several of the Office services include a hymn. A hymn is a
simple strophic song of praise, not drawn from the Bible. Each verse has
the same number of lines and syllables, and each verse is sung to
the same music--just like hymns today.
The hymn sung at Vespers on Christmas Day is Christe Redemptor omnium,
NAWM 4b (pp. 27-28).
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Finally, several of the Office services include canticles.
The canticles are song texts from the Bible that are not from the Book of
Psalms. The music for the canticles looks very much like the music used
to sing psalms, although it is slightly more elaborate. Each canticle is
linked with an antiphon, which is somewhat more elaborate than an antiphon
for an Office Psalm. The fourth edition of NAWM had an example of one
of the most famous
canticles, the Canticle of Mary, known by its first Latin word,
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Last updated: 29 August 2017
This page was created by Patrick Warfield and is maintained by
J. Peter Burkholder
Copyright © 1997-2017
by J. Peter Burkholder and Patrick Warfield