I would like to suggest that a database with ALL transcribed melodies of Old Roman chant should be put up in the WWW - with links to the scanned sources and comments (for instance about related melodies in other chant repertories etc.). Old Roman chant should be performed on a REGULAR basis by a specialized group of at least 7 singers on the PROPER feast days in Rome - especially in the following churches: S. Clemente, S. Maria in Cosmedin, S. Saba, S. Maria in Trastevere, S. Prassede, S. Costanza, S. Sabina, S. Stefano Rotondo, S. Pietro in Vincoli, S. Lorenzo fuori le mura, Santi Quattro Coronati. There should also be regular "chant festivals" around this repertory in Rome: It's TOO important and TOO beautiful to be so neglected, as it largely really is!

All informations about performance practice details which could be valuable for this repertory (also taking into account sources for other chant repertories) should be collected and be tried out in performance by the specialized ensemble - and eventually this ensemble should make a series of recordings with ALL Old Roman chants. Recordings could then also be linked with the database of melodies so that one can read and hear the melodies at the same time.

I would consider a very supple, smooth way of singing melismas, singing high notes with somewhat reduced volume as an absolute prerequisite for such a specialized ensemble for Old Roman chant.

The "orientalizing" way of singing this repertory with extremely low pitches and strange ornaments, as was done by the Ensemble Organum, is in my view extremely unlikely - and it simply sounds "wrong" to me. So

such "fancies" should not be found on a  new series of recordings of this repertory: the ensemble should stick to what is in keeping with WESTERN sources, what sounds beautiful, clear, supple.

I hope all of this can - at last! - be realized and be integrated into my CD collection!

Christoph Dohrmann

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  • Constantin Floros concludes his article on “The Influence of Byzantine Music on the West” in: Crossroads | Greece as an intercultural pole of musical thought and creativity. International Musicological Conference, June 6-10 2011, Thessaloniki, Greece. Proceedings of the International Musicological Conference. KEYNOTE LECTURE. pp. 1-12 with the comment: "A fundamental difference between the Gregorian Chant and the Byzantine Music consists in the so-called Ison-technique. It is unknown in the practise of Gregorian Repertoire. There are however many indications that it was known in the early period of the old Roman Chant. In this connexion is remarkable that the Papal Chapel, the Schola cantorum, consisted of seven singers with the names Prius Scholae, Secundus Scholae, Tertius Scholae, Archiparaphonista und three further paraphonistae. What means the term paraphonista? It means one singer who sings beside the melody. This is perhaps an indication for the performance of the Ison-technique."

    The Influence of Byzantine Music on the West.pdf

  • You are suggesting that Greek singers/cantors had influence or were even part of the Roman Schola Cantorum?

    Please give me some sources and secondary literature titles about this! That there really were some orthodox influences on Old Roman, Gregorian and Beneventan chant is well known, but the question is really how far did this go over the centuries - did it really go so far that performance practice(s) were influenced strongly? I doubt that that should have been the case. Taking some melodic inspirations and possibly some similar (not necessarily IDENTICAL) ornaments from other chant traditions does not mean that they sounded "oriental" in the Roman Schola. Let's stick to what is LIKELY - each chant tradition very probably had its OWN performance practice features and tradition. And at the time when Old Roman chants were written down, these traditions were already centuries old. Is it really likely that Roman singers should have integrated something into their singing style which sounds rather "foreign", "extravagant", "strange" and even manneristic and kept it over centuries? - Isn't it MUCH likelier that they had their very OWN style of singing chant? Until there's any real evidence how Old Roman chant was (probably) sung, I would really suggest to sing it in a rather "pure" and "plain" style - without any "extravagancies" or extremes (such as too low or too high pitches), with very beautiful and clear voices, relishing in the long melismas, "additions" (polyphony, ornaments ...) only in places and in a style were these really seem APPROPRIATE from the point of view of sources of the Old Roman or Gregorian tradition: the Gregorian repertory and the pertinent theoretical sources are really linked to the Old Roman by history - orthodox or oral traditions from North Africa etc. are too far removed from it, too far fetched.

    Let's really THINK about how we can ESTABLISH such a chant database, regular chant performances in Rome and above all stylish, "classy" chant recordings of Old Roman - that seems to me a very fruitful project, which may even have some bearing for chant research.

    The recordings by Ensemble Organum and others are from yesterday - let's think about something new for tomorrow.



  • Dear Christoph

    I read your text with great pleasure. I just wonder, how much impact sound colour has on the acoustic perception (aisthesis). Among Orthodox singers, Lykourgos had a very high voice. I can hardly believe that he would choose such a low register as you describe. It is rather the impression, because the general aesthetic of traditional male as well as female voices in the Mediterranean prefer a vocal technique which use even the chest voice in the highest register. The result is a spectogramme, where the lower overtones have the strongest volume.

    While the voices of your preference sound rather clearer and more brilliant, because they use another voice which strengthen much higher overtones (like the fifth 12 times the basis frequence). They are simply perceived as much higher, even if they intone on a lower frequence than the dark voice.

    But if you compare the ornaments and subtleties of intonation of Lykourgos' voice with the majority of those classical voices, you could do a very similar comparison as John once did. Everybody who visited those courses by Marcel or Lykourgos in Jarosław, know, how it sounds, when somebody who is not familiar with certain less common sound proportions, tries the first time to sing an ornament which uses a microtonal tremolo. It is in fact about a third, when you try to imitate it the first time. But Lykourgos felt very small in comparison with many other protopsaltes of different local schools. There were many masters whom he adored and he was very happy, whenever he could learn from them.

    Symeon, the primicerius of the Schola cantorum in the time of Peppin, had not a particular Roman name, and Gerda Wolfram once found out, that the titles of singers in the Constantinopolitan cathedral rite were identical with those of the Schola cantorum. It was probably, because Latin was still the language of law in medieval Byzantium. Concerning the contemporary crisis of iconoclasm, Rome became very attractive, after the Pope had excommunicated the Byzantine Emperor, especially for well skilled Greek cantors.

  • Dear Piotr,

    I do not at all underestimate M. Pérès and Ensemble Organum, but I think that he came to solutions which are VERY doubtful in terms of aesthetics, style and performance practice: If we would have an unequivocal medieval source that says that Old Roman chant was sung with rather low pitches (as a rule), with ornaments and polyphonic practices which are rather reminiscent of oriental practices, I will be surprised, but accept it: From a purely aesthetical standpoint, I do not find these recordings convincing - I think it VERY likely that Old Roman chant was probably and has to be sung mostly with a "normal", "middle" pitch level not with an extraordinarily low one; with great suppleness, "lightness", fluidity, not with any sense of "darkness" or roughness; with a very pure and rather bright kind of sound. And as to ornaments and polyphonic stretches, singers should rather follow Western sources and not adopt doubtful oriental practices.

    I remember reading these medieval complaints that Frankish singers could first not sing the Roman melodies with that deal of "sweetness", suppleness as their Roman counterparts, that their voices were too "rough" etc. (it may have been one reason why those Roman singers who were sent into the Frankish empire to teach their chants became reluctant to do so, because it was simply too difficult to teach that deal of suppleness which makes melodies of Old Roman chant really flow and "swing" to Frankish singers) - so that would imply an aesthetic ideal of purity and "sweetness" - something very "liquid" in delivering these long melismas: Very Italian.

    How beautiful it would be to be able to hear these chants reguarly in Rome with a truly specialised ensemble of at least 7 singers who sing with very clear voices, a sort of brightness in sound, trying to develop an idiomatic, very fluent approach to this repertory. Sources for performance practice of Old Roman chant are so sparse (perhaps a few more will be found) that we have to rely on Gregorian sources of the 10th-13th centuries which could shed some light on how chant might have been sung in Rome.

    From performance practice sources for Gregorian chant we know that pitches (as well as tempi) could vary according to liturgical occasion/text - so to take such dark timbres and such an "oriental" sound as the Ensemble Organum et aliae AS A RULE for performing chant (as well as later polyphony!) certainly seems wrong to me in the light of such (and other) sources - it also seems very wrong to my EARS! It's like putting an oriental cloak over these beautiful chant melodies.





  • Christoph: don't underestimate a thirty-year work of Marcel Peres in the subject of this repertoireI was in the audience of Ensemble Organum "concert" (a cycle of masses) when Old Roman Chant was performed and that was a really remarkable moment in my (musical) life. You could hear a pin drop between individual parts. That concert was broadcasted on polish radio, I've got it recorded if anyone's interested.

  • Il est important de comprendre que les notations italiennes (ROM-MIL en tout cas) écrivent les ornements de manière analytique, alors que les neumes GRE les écrivent de manière sténographique.

    Avant d'affronter le répertoire ROM il est important de bien comprendre les correspondances entre neumes GRE et notations italiennes. Cela vaut d'ailleurs dans les deux sens, car l'interprétation des ornements grégoriens passe par la compréhension de ce qu'ils cachent

  • Dear frind,

    I proposed what you have just written some years ago to the Roman Municipality; I'm still waiting for an answer...

    Better not to think what could be the reaction of the Church: I don't know if there's a second chrrch -. other than SS.ma Trinità dei Pellegrini - Cappella Personale di S. Santità - where is regularly held a Missa in Rito Antiquo, with Gregorian chant for Polyphony...

    I think it shoud be done in all the churches you wrote (not in S. Maria in Cosmedin where is used a Melchita Liturgy); and a lot more... I hope in the future !


                                                     Fabrizio Mastroianni

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