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According to my research conducted in the Netherlands, the authentic rhythm of Gregorian chant in the 10th century includes both proportional elements and elements that are in agreement with semiology (see Van Kampen, 1994, 2005).

Starting with the expectation that the rhythm of Gregorian chant (and thus the duration of the individual notes) anyway adds to the expressivity of the sacred Latin texts, several word-related variables were studied for their relationship with several neume-related variables, exploring these relationships in a sample of introit chants using such statistical methods as correlational analysis and multiple regression analysis.

Besides the length of the syllables (measured in tenths of seconds), each text syllable was evaluated in terms of its position within the word to which it belongs, defining such variables as ‘the syllable has (1) or hasn’t (0) the main accent’, ‘the syllable is (1) or isn’t (0) at the end of a word’, etc., and in terms of the particular sounds produced (for instance, the syllable does (1) or does not (0) contain the vowel ‘i’). The various neume elements were evaluated by attaching different duration values to them, both in terms of semiological propositions (nuanced durations according to the manner of neume writing in Chris Hakkennes’ Graduale Lagal, 1984), and in terms of fixed duration values that were based on mensuralistic notions, however with ratios between short and long notes ranging from 1 : 1, via 1 : 1.2, 1 : 1.4, etc. to 1 : 3. To distinguish short and long notes, tables were consulted that were established by me in an unpublished comparative study regarding the neume notations according to St Gallen and Laon codices. With some exceptions, these tables confirm the short vs. long distinctions in Cardine’s 'Semiologie Gregorienne'.

The lengths of the neumes were given values by adding up the duration values for the separate neume elements, each time following a particular hypothesis concerning the rhythm of Gregoriant chant. Both the syllable lengths and the neume lengths were also expressed in relation to the total duration of the syllables, resp. neumes for a word (contextual variables). Correlating the various word and neume variables, substantial correlations were found for the word variables 'accented syllable' and 'contextual syllable duration'. Moreover, it could be established that the multiple correlation (R) between the two types of variables reaches its maximum (R is about 0.80 !) if the neumatic elements are evaluated according to the following ‘rules of duration’:

(a) neume elements that represent short notes in neumes consisting of at least two notes have duration values of 1 time;

(b) neume elements that represent long notes in neumes consisting of at least two notes have duration values of 2 times;

(c) neumes consisting of only one note are characterized by flexible duration values (with an average value of 2 times), which take over the duration values of the syllables to match.

It is interesting that the distinction between the first two rules and the latter rule can also be found in early treatises on music, introducing the terms metrum and rhythmus (see, e.g., Wagner, 1916; Jeannin, 1930). As it could also be demonstrated by me (in fact confirming data published by Reese, 1940) that melodic peaks often coincide with the word accent, the conclusion seems warranted that the Gregorian melodies enhance the expressiveness of the Latin words by mimicking to some extent both the accentuation of the sacred words (pitch differences between neumes) and the relative duration of the word syllables (by paying attention to well-defined length differences between the individual notes of a neume).

Dr. Dirk van Kampen

- Dirk van Kampen (1994). Het oorspronkelijke ritme van het Gregoriaans: Een ‘semiologisch-mensuralistische’ studie. Landsmeer, the Netherlands.

- Dirk van Kampen (2005). Uitgangspunten voor de ritmiek van Gregoriaans. Tijdschrift voor Gregoriaans, 30, 89-94.



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Dear Oliver,

I can’t answer the question “what was before the notation” on the basis of my statistical analysis, but given the fact that my statistical results agree with the 1 : 2 ratio so often defended in early treatises (Commemoratio Brevis, Scolia Enchriadis, etc.), as well as with the distinction between metrum and rhythm, already made for instance by Remigius of Auxerre (9th century), I suspect that the rhythm of chant in the 8th and 9th century was the same as in later times (10th and 11th century). The Paleo-frankish neumes may not indicate that rhythm, but I think, the monks knew the melodies and the correct rhythm by heart.

Thanks for the reference you cited.


Dear Dirk

You are welcome. Of course, Mary Carruthers' observations need to be filled with concrete cases of chant transmission which help to explain the musical art of memory. So far, her work was a great source of inspiration for Maria Busse Berger. 

If it is just the proportion 1:2 which you like to prove, you may succeed in the rhythmic systems of other traditions as well. There I have no objections.

But I am sure that the oral practice of troping (concerning the melodic memory, not concerning the text of their poetry) generated its own rhythm which was not necessarily identical with the still orally based tradition of Roman cantors. But differences were already remarked during the 9th century which can be easily proved for the melodic memory. If the melody was not the same, how can you be so sure that the rhythm was "correct", although the tropes were obviously directly involved in the "corruption" of the melodies. I personally don't subscribe these judgements, because I adore deeply Notker's school. But if it was correct concerning Notker's standards, it was not necessarily correct concerning Roman standards.

So the invention of a new notation system which integrated rhythm as a musical parameter, could already have been a  reaction to these differences, whether they were differences concerning the practice of Notker (or another local school) or concerning Roman cantors. On the other hand, the regional differences between the notation of rhythm in certain local schools could be also well explained by the local variety in trope poetry. Certainly this was an invention which must had changed the transmission of chant entirely.

Do you agree so far?


I think you speak about prosulae and not tropi ? Prosulae translate already existing neumae, tropi are complete creations of music and text together.
Yes, Notker sequences can easily be sung with a mensuralistic interpretation of the corresponding neumes, like most prosulae. The text is created to fit the already existing rhythm.
And I desagree : prosulae (and sequences) have nothing to do with memory. Notker says that they helped HIM remember the longissimae melodiae, but the genre existed before him. Prosulae have a more symbolic theologic meaning. Normally, like in epic chant, the music helps to remember texts and not the contrary

Dear Oliver,

In my opinion, your latest reply (whether related to prosulae or tropi; see M. Ricossa's remarks to your message) demonstrates a lot of speculation. So, concerning your question "Do you agree so far?", I can only answer: I simply do not know.


Dear Members,

My original message (May, 27, 2012) about my research concerning the authentic rhythm of Gregorian chant evoked a lot of discussion so far. I want to thank you for all these replies.

However, I’m still curious about your feelings concerning the 3 rules that follow from my research which in my opinion provide an adequate description of the chant rhythm about the year 1000. As said before, these rules are:

(a) neum elements that represent short notes in neumes consisting of at least two notes have duration values of 1 time;

(b) neum elements that represent long notes in neumes consisting of at least two notes have duration values of 2 times;

(c) neums consisting of only one note are characterized by flexible duration values (with an average value of 2 times), which take over the duration values of the corresponding word syllables.

It is therefore that I consider the rhythm as lying between mensuralism (the first two rules, which refer to metrum) and semiology (the third rule, which refers to rhythmus).

Of course, the first two rules (which, like the third rule, obviously agree with so many remarks in 9th, 10th, and 11th century treatises) presuppose knowledge about which neum elements must be considered ‘short’ and which ‘long’. I’m able to present that knowledge, based on unpublished research in which I compared the St. Gall (E-121 and C) and Metz (L-239) notations, using each time 300 cases of a particular neumatic element (for instance, the second note of a pes rotundus). I’m happy to say that my scheme agrees very much with the distinction between (relatively) short and (relatively) long neums presented by Dom Cardine in his book ‘Gregorian Semiology’.

I would be very pleased to hear about your feelings regarding the three rules.

Thanks in advance,

Dr. Dirk van Kampen

In the repertory of simple office antiphons :

The roundes pes = one syllable value
The square pes = two syllable values

The clinis with episema = two syllable values
The clinis with celeriter = one syllable value
The clinis alone = undefined (mostly one value).

The isolated syllables are treated as short (=1) or long (=2) according to purely musical-poetic criteria

Those principles are always valid.

Just to be clear, I meant with "troping" rather a general description of the phenomenon, not the name of a certain poetic chant genre like prosula, sequence, or tropus. Michel Huglo for example was talking about meloform tropes which corresponds to Luca's understanding thanks to his specification, but he was not reducing the genre tropus to it.

I did not (and will not) discuss here a certain genre, its own value as poetry etc., but just nothing else than the aspect of memorizing Roman-Frankish chant. But the melodiae longissimae as sequences might serve here as a useful example, because they did not exclude meloforme structures. In case of Milanese chant, it was Terence Bailey's hypothesis that some Ambrosian antiphonaries did reduce the Roman-Frankish collection to the own local tradition and they deliver the melodiae longissimae without the text of the sequences, but with the melodic repetitions of the Roman-Frankish redaction which are obviously motivated by the poetry of the genre. A general introduction can be found in his encyclopedic articles about Ambrosian Chant and a summary of the differences with respect to the Carolingian redaction can be read in his current article (see especially pp. 9-12):

Bailey, Terence. 2012. „Ambrosian Mass Chants Before the Carolingian Intervention“. Plainsong and Medieval Music 21 (01): 1–21. doi:10.1017/S0961137111000180.

As far as the earliest neumes have been our main concern, they left the memorization of the melodies to the oral transmission. But in comparison with Paleofrankish neumes, the neumes to which Dirk van Kampen likes to refer here, have a lot of agogic details, including certain details concerning rhythm.

Luca's opinion that certain genres had nothing to do with memory, is a one-sided view which he already contradicted with his own words. But the discussion about Spanke's ideas was rather about a reciprocal influence between the prosody of language and the practice of poet-musicians related with "troping" in different genres (not only liturgical and certainly not only "Gregorian") before and after an interaction with notation. Maybe here lies the reason, that Luca's arguments based entirely on notation did not always satisfy.

The fact that Notker had to justify against a difference in Roman and Gregorian transmission, and that the later use of notation has entirely changed the former oral transmission of chant among Frankish cantors (while Roman cantors still did not use notation at all) is definitely not speculation, but a discussion which lies beyond the focus of Dirk van Kampen's discussion of rhythm in 10th century notation system(s).

I didn't contradict anything. The fact that Notker found prosulae (versus ad sequentias) useful for his memorization doesn't mean that they were invented in the first place for this purpose. Prosulae and such are NOT mnemotechnical devices.

On the other hand, discussions about chant transmission in pre-notational times can only be hypothetical. All we know about rythm stems from LATER treatises (=post-carolingian or at best carolingian) and still LATER notations. My arguments however are based on the only evedence we possess. If it is not always satisfying, try to do better, you are welcome!

But you can't dismiss them on the basis of... of what?

You repeated the same contradiction again, because epic recitation is not regarded in such a one-sided way among ethnologists.

According to my experience in performance practice (which is our main concern here), I can tell you that singers of my ensemble practiced troping as well, in order to memorize chant melodies correctly in detail. It was by chance, I did not ask them to do so. Of course, these tropes were rather silly than such an appreciated poetry that you like refer to as an evidence, that it was not used to serve as a melodic memory. But it was you who spoke about prosulae, not me. Terence Bailey's Ambrosian example might prove, how the melodic memory for Ambrosian melodiae longissimae was changed by the artificial genre sequence, and he was even pointing to Notker's creations.

Since speculations about the oral transmission since Carolingian times are allowed for now concerning the question how the melodic memory once had worked, be it within or without certain poetic genres related to troping, my question was simply, how the rhythm was changed by this practice—for the simple reason, that a new text creates a new rhythm within the melodic memory.

Concerning a later development of new notation systems with rhythmic implications, the questions which you dismissed so far, were:

  1. whether the Carolingian oral transmission had changed the rhythm of Roman chant by the practice of troping their melodies during Carolingan times (here the transformation theory by Spanke is quiet relevant), when regional repertories of tropi, sequences, and prosulae if you like, were already created by the poet-musicians who were in the monastic charge of a cantor? Beyond any speculation we know, that Carolingian cantors already changed the melodic memory of Roman chant entirely. So what about rhythm?
  2. what had changed again the rhythm of Roman-Frankish chant during the 10th century, when the Paleofrankish notation which had no indications concerning rhythm was replaced by new notation systems which were especially designed for the earliest fully notated chant manuscripts?

I agree with you that the theoretical sources quoted so far are based on the innovations of 10th century notation, although they were sometimes erroneously dated to an earlier time (usually with the ascription to a certain famous author).

Dear Mr. Gerlach,

First of all all, I am not an expert. But since I sing Chant everyday (I am a Traditional Catholic priest), I am quite concerned with the relatively authentic interpretation of Chant. I am sure you know the book "The Advent Project". Its author makes many good points that lead to the conclusion that the present day repertory of Mass Propers is essentially the original repertory created by Roman cantors at the end of the 7th century, and that the "Old Roman Chant", was actually the music used in Roman parish Churches contemporary to the creation of the so called Gregorian repertory. So, your first point: "Beyond any speculation we know that Carolingian cantors already changed the melodic memory of Roman chant entirely", needs to be proven, or at least you need to refute all the arguments made by McKinnon. And your second point depends on the veracity of your first point, so...

Hillaire Belloc (not a Musician but a very good Historian) has good insights concerning historical evidence. He essentially says that the data found in a manuscript of, say, the 4th century, is able to provide certain historical evidence of what happened in the 2nd or even in the 1st century, in the same way we have today accurate accounts of what happened in the 18th century! So I don't see why a manuscript of the 9th or of 10th century cannot give a right account of 7th century Chant's melodic/rhythmic properties... The Frankish Cantors adapted the Chant to their needs...but did they change the Chant "essentially"? If the answer is yes, all discussion about pre-Carolingian Chant is absolutely useless... unless you come up with new historical evidence, not just speculation.

" ll discussion about pre-Carolingian Chant is absolutely useless... unless you come up with new historical evidence, not just speculation "

You couldn't put it better... About the rhythm of the Old-Roman chant we have only the evidence of unrhythmed manuscripts from the late XIth up to the mid XIIIth Century. We can argue something studying the antiphons that share the same music for different texts (same method as for the gregorian antiphons) and we come to the same conclusion of a mostly binary rhythm for the simple antiphons repertoire.

OTOH, a comparative study of the more ornate chants shows that the Roman mss write the gregorian stenographic ornaments in an analytical way (the same is true for the Mil. chant), but the Rom (and Mil) prosody is different from the Gre one (sometimes the Rom chant uses the same prosodic rules that were applyed in the late XVIth Century for the reform of Gre !).

About the so-called paleo-frank notation, the idea that it is elder than the others stems from its wery simplicity, but there are no sources more ancient than for the other notations. It is true, Aurelian describes the melodies using a terminology that could very well be applyed to the paleo-frank notation, but that's all we know about its pre-history.

Dear Padre Despósito

I am very happy that you as a "non-expert" are finally the one who talks about this point so frankly, while others always tried to avoid it, and thank you especially for your reference to a controversial and interesting historian like Hillaire Belloc.

I agree with Luca Ricossa, when he wrote that speculations are an important part of a historian's work, especially when this history is about the 9th and the 10th century, and not the 18th, so 800 years more time to get lost of important sources. So the chance that we got it all wrong is considerably higher. Under the condition that you are so free to open your mind for all the beautiful things which can be discovered in the manuscripts and to forget for a certain time about everything which others used to tell and to know about the liturgical tradition of the catholic church, and to study the few sources carefully which have been left, it is even possible to draw conclusions over centuries from certain manuscripts back to the 7th and even to the 4th century.

As this will lead far away from Dirk's discussion of rhythm and as you are not the first one who asked for my opinion concerning the question of McKinnon's book, I opened a discussion about the Old-Roman tradition of Alleluia-singing in the group dedicated to Old-Roman chant. If you like to join the group, we can discuss there McKinnon together with more recent publications to the topic, but also the differences between Notker's sequences and the Old-Roman practice.

Here it was not my business to repeat an old discussion, which regards sequences and prosae as a terrain, where local differences are appreciated. My hypothesis is that the practice of "troping" must have changed chant transmission as well as the later use of notation. The 10th century and the creation of rhythmic notation systems is already a very late station in this long process of chant transmission and its various reforms since Carolingian times and it is hardly plausible to believe that these transformations had never changed anything.

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