Holy Week Recitation Tones from Monte Cassino

The art of cantillation—the chanting of liturgical texts—, which is the root of all liturgical chant, has been largely lost in the West. Even a cursory comparison of modern Latin practice with the chanting traditions still cultivated by Eastern Christians, Jews, and Muslims would suffice to make manifest how impoverished the Latin Church is in this respect.

But this contrast is a recent phenomenon, and a closer study of the Western musical heritage reveals that cantillation was once cultivated among Latin Christians with great devotion and skill. Unfortunately, the compilers of the Solesmes books chose to preserve only a modicum of the ancient recitation melodies once heard in our churches, a fact that continues to obscure the riches of the Western musical tradition.

Here we would like to present some of the recitation tones once sung during the Holy Triduum in the monasteries of the Cassinese Congregation, as collected in a booklet entitled Cantus monastici formula, published in 1889.

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The Lamentations of Jeremiah, which form the readings of the first nocturn of Matins during the Triduum, have always been sung to a special tone of lamentation distinct from the usual prophecy tone. The Cassinese version is similar to the tune provided by the Solesmes edition:

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The Solesmes book assign the usual prophecy tone for the lesson from St Augustine read in the second nocturn, but the Cassinese tradition has preserved a proper melody:

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The Passion tones provided in the Cantus monastici formula are generally simpler than those in Vatican Edition, but the most poignant passages are graced with special melismatic melodies:

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2 thoughts on “Holy Week Recitation Tones from Monte Cassino

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this!
    A bit tangential, but do you know of any recordings of what Gregorian chant sounded like before the Solesmes reforms?

    Like

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