Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ways of Singing the Salve Regina

A recent comment in the section of this blog that concerns how to sing Dominican Chant raised a good point that is worth commenting on in the public venue. The author is obviously a friar or was once in formation in a Dominican commuity. Here is the coment:

Re. the Salve Regina not being sung by alternate choirs, I was once told that there was a time when this was done, and one of the brothers I knew (now dead) used to sing it that way while everyone else used to sing it all together. I don't recall who told me about the old way.

In fact, that is how it is usually sung at the Angelicum in Rome. There seem to have been diverse traditions on how to sing this antiphon. For example, the 1933 Gillet Antiphonal, p. 133 (reproduced in the original posting), indicates that the Antiphon is to be sung straight through, because there are only single bars. But the 1949 Suarez Processional, p. 90, shows the double bars indicating the alternation between the semi-choirs. The same use of double bars is found in the 1863 Jandel Antiphonal, vol. 1, p. 138, as in the earlier 1909 Cormier Processional, p. 89. But the edition of our music found in the Jandel Antiphonal is very untrustworthy and seems to have been heavily influcenced by Roman practice and represents what was going on in the early modern period in our chant.

Perhaps the best place text to consult on this (which is easily available) is the electronic text of the 14th-century Dominican Poissy Antiphonal at LaTrobe Univ. in Australia. It shows medieval practice and is a "certified" MS--that means that was approved as matching the Humbert exemplar. It has no double bars in the text and, in fact, uses quarter and half bars where the modern books have the double or single bars. So it supports the 1933 Antiphonal, something that does not surprise me as that book was carefully corrected against the medieval music.

I might also add that the version of the O Lumen in the Antiphonal and the Processionals does not match that in that in the Compline books! The Compline books do not have a quater bar after the "men" of Lumen--so there should be no holding of that clivis. And, in fact, the tune found in the Compline books seems to be the more common one in current Dominican use. Probably because most friars learned to sing the O Lumen using the Completorium. This is not a trivial matter: at the Angelicum there is a perpetual war over whether hold that clivis: about half the community does and half does not. This clash used to drive me nuts.

Is there a "correct way" to sing the Salve? Probably not. As in so many matters there seem to be local traditions. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the Gillet Antiphonal is to be preferred because it matches the medieval text. The alternating between choirs for this Antiphon (and for the O Lumen) probably reflects a Romanization of the way of executing the chant introduced in the early modern period, something that the Gillet Antiphonal was removing. For me, it also makes more sense to sing straight though: these texts are antiphons, not hymns or responsories. But then I am probably influenced by the practice of was formed in. The same is the case for the hold on the clivis in the O Lumen. I dislike it, not so much because I don't find it in Poissy, but because that is how I learned to sing it. I might add that the Mass ordinary is sometimes sung with alternations in ways that don't match the 1950 Gradual either. Sigh.

I can sympathize with those older friars who didn't like the change. This things seem so minor -- unless you are singing the pieces very day and suddenly find yourself in a house that does it differently. Then you understand why Humbert was commissioned to standardize the Office.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At St Dominic's Camberwell, Melbourne, Australia, we sing the Salve chorus contra chorum as described above at the Angelicum. We also sing the O Lumen chorus contra chorum as well.

Br.Mannes Tellis, OP. (St Dominic's Priory, Melbourne)