Malvern Chant Day

A good opportunity to discover the character of each of the eight modes and their relationship to one another.

This fascinating talk was first presented by Schola Gregoriana Director, Iain Simcock, to a capacity audience at Highgate Institute in

October. Iain’s report of that event included the following:

After an initial historical lecture on the origins of the chant and development of Christianity (up to and including the wonderful providential revival undertaken by the monks of Solesmes), we started by singing the Gloria Patri… in all the modes, pointing out the feel of different reciting notes, in relation to the intervals of surrounding notes in each mode. Looking at tones for intoning a short Vespers reading also showed the power of music to communicate text: show commas, full-stops, question-marks and endings. We then did sing a Psalm, in mode 3, as done in the 1980s with the ‘c’ reciting-note. Having mastered this, I then got them to try a bit again with the corrected ‘b’ reciting-note. This was startling to them, illustrating the beautiful mystery of mode 3 “Tertius mysticus” (DOM Gajard).

We then turned to the vast repertoire of Mass, singing the Kyrie ‘rex genitor’, with its inspirational rising ornamentation for the final Kyries. As well as being very satisfying to sing, it is visually useful for becoming accustomed to identifying musical motifs and recurring patterns in chant. The next step was perceiving these in all the modes, each with different cadential and final characteristics.

So, progressively we made the fabulous journey through all the modes, with the help of some of the greatest chants that ‘Incertus’ has left us. Alleluia, Ave Maria (GR 412) was particularly moving for all (like being under a spell in a tunnel), the Ecce Deus (GR 307) was felt as a strong declamation – the power of mode 5 and the Tract Absolve (GR 672) was structurally seen to be ornamented from more archaic origins. The presence of a specialist in singing the Psalms to ancient Jewish music in the synagogue was very exciting to me.

As we got to the end of our journey with mode 7 “angelicus” and mode 8 “perfectus”, the sense of accomplishment for us all was palpable and the astonishing enthusiasm, concentration and demands for more of this were most gratifying.

Anyone within reach of Malvern should not miss this. It will start at 10am and costs £10 per person. It will finish at around 4.30pm. All are welcome and it will also be an opportunity to visit the grave of Edward Elgar, who is buried behind the church. Malvern is 1 hour maximum from Birmingham, 1h30 from Oxford and trains are frequent.