in uninterrupted use in the Church, to the present day.
This fact admitted, the question arises, whence did the primitive Christians obtain the venerable Melodies they have handed down to us?
The objections to the suggestion that they invented them are very strong indeed. The Church was too much shaken by persecution, during the first three centuries of its existence, to afford its members an opportunity for the introduction of new Art-forms into Services which were of necessity conducted with the utmost possible secrecy and caution. There is abundant evidence to prove that the Psalms were sung in the Catacombs; but, none whatever to show that those who sang them composed the Music to which they were adapted.
Still more extravagantly improbable is the popular and widely-spread theory that the early Christians derived their Music from the Greeks. If the Psalm-Tones really came from Greece, they must have been used in the worship of Dionysos, or some other deity equally obnoxious both to the Christians and the Jews. Is it possible to believe that men who were content to suffer Martyrdom, rather than utter a single word which could be construed into toleration for heathen superstitions, would have consented to sing the Psalms to heathen Melodies? Moreover, though the Ecclesiastical Modes have been universally named, since the time of Boëthius, after those of the Greek system, they are so far from corresponding with them, that it would be impossible to accommodate them to the tonality demanded by the Pythagorean Section of the Canon. If, therefore, they are really of Greek origin, their constitution must have been changed beyond all possibility of recognition—a supposition quite untenable.
There remains the theory, that the Psalm-Tones were brought to Rome by the primitive Christian converts, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. And here, it must be confessed, the probabilities lie entirely on the side of the theorists. What more natural than that the persecuted refugees should have sung the Psalms, in the Catacombs, to the Melodies to which they had sung them in the Temple—the Melodies to which, beyond all doubt, the inspired words had originally been set? The theory is so enticing, that hard-headed critics have been tempted to condemn it as empty sentimentality; yet, it cannot be denied that it rests upon a foundation of plain common-sense.
The structure of the Psalm-Tones strongly favours this theory. They represent the only known form of simple Melody to which it is possible to sing the words of the Psalms, without obscuring their sense; adapting themselves so closely to the parallelism of Semitic Poetry, that, whether the Psalms be sung in the original Hebrew, or in the form of Latin, English, or any other translations, the song and the sense never fail to go together—a fact which was so strongly felt, when the Choral Service was restored, in our English Cathedrals, during the reign of King Charles II., that the Composers of the School of the Restoration could find no other model than this to serve as the basis of their Anglican Single and Double Chants, though the whole range of musical form was at their command.
In considering the construction of the Gregorian Tones, we must bear in mind, that, in the Roman Office-Books, the Psalm is both preceded, and followed, by a special Antiphon. It is indispensable that this Antiphon should terminate upon the Final of the Mode; but it is not at all necessary that the Psalm-Tone should do so, since its true termination is supplied by the Antiphon, without which it would be incomplete: and, in point of fact, very few of the Psalm-Tones actually do terminate upon the Final.
The Psalm-Tones, as bequeathed to us from the times of S. Ambrose, and S. Gregory, are eight in number—one in each of the first eight Modes, with the numerical order of which they correspond. In addition to these, two irregular forms are in use: one, in Mode IX., called the Tonus Peregrinus, used only for the Psalm, 'In exitu Israel'; and one, in 'Mode VI. irregular,' called the Tonus regius, and sung to the 'Domine salvum fac,' in connection with the Prayer for the reigning Sovereign, at the end of High Mass. Each of these Tones consists of five distinct members:—
(1) The Intonation, consisting of two or three notes, so disposed as to form a connecting link between the Psalm-Tone proper, and the Antiphon, or portion of the Antiphon, which precedes it. The Intonation is only sung in connection with the first verse of the Psalm.
(2) The Reciting-Note, coincident with the Dominant of the Mode, on which the first part of the first half of the verse is monotoned, with more or less rapidity, according to the sense of the words.
(3) The Mediation; a short melodic phrase, adapted to the concluding syllables of the first half of the verse.
(4) The Second Reciting-Note, coincident, like the first, with the Dominant of the Mode, and used, in like manner, for the recitation of the first part of the second half of the verse.
(5) The Ending, or Close, a short melodic phrase, like the Mediation, and in like manner adapted to the concluding syllables of the second half of the verse.
On Ferial Days, the Intonation is usually omitted, and the Mediation is sung in a less elaborate form than that used for high Festivals. Some of the tones have as many as three or four different Endings, which are common both to Festal and Ferial Services. For the Introit, at High Mass, a special form is used, in which both the Mediation and the Ending are still farther elaborated. The following example shows the
- On Ferial Days only the first clause of the Antiphon is sung before the Psalm, though, after it, the Antiphon is always sung in its complete form.