Trope of the Week: Kyrie de Angelis

What’s a trope? See the introductory post.

Kyrie, Rex æterno posse superno, cunticreator, eleison.
Kyrie, laudat dignum turba benignum tota polorum, eleison.
Kyrie, nunc præsentes respice gentes dona petentes, eleison.
Lord, eternal King of lofty power, creator of all, have mercy.
Lord, the entire multitude of the globe praises thee, worthy and merciful, have mercy.
Lord, behold now the people here desiring gifts, have mercy.
Christe, prævenias morbis nostris nunc Conditor orbis, eleison.
Christe, peste triumphata sumens hæc nostra peccata, eleison.
Christe, sanguine qui digno præservas hoste maligno, eleison.
Christ, mayest thou now keep us from our ills, founder of the world, have mercy.
Christ, having triumphed over pestilence, taking up these our sins, have mercy.
Christ, who by thy worthy blood savest us from the evil enemy, have mercy.
Kyrie, fac tibi clerum psallere verum pectoris hymnum, flamine fultus lumine vultus vivat in ævum, eleison.
Kyrie, nunc populorum Rex miserorum cerne precatus, flos pie florum fonsque bonorum terge reatus, eleison.
Kyrie, suscipe rursum, dirige cursum, corde rogamus, scandere sursum vivere cursum quo valeamus, eleison.
Lord, make the clergy sing a true hymn of the heart to thee, may they live for aye, borne by the spirit, a brilliant countenance, have mercy.
Lord, now, King of the wretched peoples, behold the prayers, O righteous flower of flowers and fount of good things, cleanse our guilt, have mercy.
Lord, take us up anew, lead the way, we beseech thee from the heart, by which we might have the strength to climb up and live the way, have mercy.
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Click on the image to download this trope with musical notation

The Kyrie de Angelis, Kyrie VIII in the Vatican edition, has proven the most enduringly popular of all the Gregorian settings of this first part of the ordinary. Part of its appeal rests in its agreeableness to the modern ear: unlike the other Kyries in the Vatican edition, whose mediæval tonalities can sound mildly alien to-day, the Kyrie de Angelis is actually a major-scale melody. Renaissance music theorists who first described the major scale, dubbing it the Ionian or eleventh mode, already noted its popularity amongst their contemporaries.

Of this [mode, the eleventh] there are many chants in the ecclesiastical books, such as the Mass called of the Angels, the antiphons Alma redemptoris mater and Regina Cœli lætare Haleluiah. Amongst the moderns this mode is in so much use and is so loved, that, induced by its sweetness and its beauty, they have changed many chants composed in the fifth mode into the eleventh, by inserting the note b-flat instead of b-natural. [1]

The Graduale romanum dates this Kyrie melody to the 15th-16th century, but the musicologist Amédée Gastoué argued it is more ancient, having discovered a version of it in a 14th century gradual from the Cathedral of Rouen, to be sung ad libitum on solemn feasts. It quickly became popular throughout France, and seems to have been often chanted in solemn votive masses; it became particularly associated with the votive mass traditionally celebrated on Monday in honour of the Holy Angels, and thus acquired its present moniker. A 15th century gradual from Rouen labels it de Angelis, and a Celestine gradual from the same century De sanctis Angelis. From France it spread to England and Italy, and acquired the hold on the Catholic musical imagination it retains to this day.

Pope St Pius X helped cement this popularity when, in 1904, he personally chose this Kyrie to be sung during the memorable Mass celebrating the 13th centenary of St Gregory the Great in St Peter’s Basilica. It was the first time in centuries that a Mass was sung entirely in Gregorian chant in St Peter’s.

The Kyrie de Angelis is one of the few Kyries in the modern Vatican edition that is not identified by the incipit of a trope. Indeed, given its late origin it was not often farced, but Dom Joseph Pothier did discover one troped version thereof in a manuscript gradual from the diocese of Toul from 1622, with the heading Super Kyrie de Angelis. Interestingly, as Dom Pothier explains, this gradual was prepared for the use of a simple country parish: a valuable indication not only that into the 17th century sung Masses were celebrated even in small churches, with full Gregorian chant, but that tropes survived the liturgical reforms spurred by the Council of Trent. In fact, the diocese of Toul kept its own liturgical use after the promulgation of Quo primum thanks to the intransigence of the cathedral chapter, which stood athwart their bishop, Cardinal de Vaudémont, who, pressured by the Jesuits, sought to impose the Roman use.

The composer of the Kyrie Rex æterno trope has taken the liberty of modifying the original melody, which is relatively unusual. That this was done deliberately, and is not a case of regional melodic variation, is shown by the fact that the manuscript also contains the untroped Kyrie de Angelis in essentially the same form as in the Vatican edition. The exuberant short melismas in the last three Kyrie verses are also noteworthy.

The striking metrical character of this Kyrie trope betrays its late origin. As Dom Pothier notes,

The first three Kyrie have tropes always composed of three verses, the first of four long syllables, i.e. a double spondee, and the two others of five syllables, forming a dactyl and a spondee, otherwise known as an Adonic verse; giving a total of fourteen syllables.

The three Christe also each have a trope of fourteen syllables, but these are contained in only one verse, viz. a hexametrical verse, of the sort that are called Leonine, where the two hemistichs rhyme together.


As for the last three Kyrie, these are also in verse, but now exclusively in Adonic verse. The tropes here, moreover, are doubled, not only at the last Kyrie, which is the usual rule, but for all three. The only difference in the case of the last Kyrie is that the vocalise, which is in any case very short, is repeated as a sort of echo.

Gastoué criticized the Kyrie de Angelis for its jocund melody, which is better suited, he says, to an Alleluia than a “cry of supplication” like the Kyrie. Nevertheless, he admits that

in this chant, we find a melody of ‘joyful’ supplication; the reason for this is, perhaps, if we consider the paintings and the sculptures of the Middle Ages, that the contemporaries of that time conceived the pure heavenly spirits praying God for humanity, with this calm joyfulness.

The text of the trope entirely supports this supposition. Throughout, the tone, despite a frank acceptance of the sinfulness of men, is one of confidence in God’s mercy, for he is the flos pie florum fonsque bonorum: an entirely suitable idea to ponder as the holy sacrifice of the Mass begins. The last verse is, moreover, a felicitous prayer for the start of the Mass: suscipe rursum, dirige cursum, corde rogamus, scandere sursum vivere cursum quo valeamus.

In the recording below, the Kyrie Rex aeterno trope is sung by the Capella Antiqua München.

[1] Di questo si trovano molte cantilene ne i libri Ecclesiastici, si come la Messa, la quale chiamano de gli Angioli, le Antifone Alma redemptoris mater e Regina Cœli lætare Haleluiah. Questo Modo da i Moderni è tanto in uso, e tanto amato; che molte cantilene composte nel Quinto modo, per l’agiuntione della chorda♭ in luogo della♮, hanno mutato nell’Undecimo; indutti dalla sua soavità, e dalla sua bellezza. (Gioseffo Zarlino, Le istitutioni harmoniche, 1558)


Gastoué, Amédée. “The ‘Missa de Angelis'”. The Caecilia, Vol. 60, no. 12, pp. 375-8.

Martin, Eugène. Histoire des diocèses de Toul, de Nancy & de Saint-Dié. A. Crépin-Leblond, 1901. Vol. 2.

Pothier, Dom Joseph. “Kyrie des Anges avec tropes”. Revue du chant grégorien, xiii (1904-05), pp. 81-88.

Trope of the Week: Clemens Rector

Clemens Rector, aeterne Pater, immense, eleison.
Nostras necne voces exaudi, benedicte Domine.
Aether stellifer noster, nostri benigne eleison.
Merciful ruler, eternal Father, immense one, have mercy.
And hearken to our voices, blessed Lord.
Our star-bearing heaven, in Thy compassion have mercy on us.
Plebem tuam, Sabaoth Hagie, semper rege, eleison.
Trine et une, sedulas nostras preces, Rex, suscipe.
Fidem auge his, qui credunt in te, tu succurre, eleison.
Rule Thy people alway, holy Lord of hosts, have mercy.
Treble and one, heed our diligent prayers, O King.
Increase the faith of those who believe in Thee, succour them, have mercy.
Respice nobis, o Inclyte, fer opem de excelsis et nostras, Redemptor orbis terrae, voces iugi Angelorum carmini adiunge, eleison.
Cunctipotens, sophiae tuae lumen nobis infunde.
Tripertite et une Kyrie, qui manes in aeternum cum Patre, te ore, te corde atque mente, psallimus nunc tibi, o beate Iesu bone, te precamur omnes assidue, eleison.
Behold us, O Glorious one, bring aid from on high and join our voices, O Redeemer of the world, with the ceaseless song of the angels, have mercy.
All-powerful one, pour into us the light of thy wisdom.
Tripartite and one, O Lord, who remaineth with the Father for aye, we now sing to Thee with our lips, heart, and mind, O blessed good Jesus, we all continually beseech Thee, have mercy.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 17.48.43Clemens rector, listed as Kyrie ad lib. 1 in the Vatican Edition, was one of the oldest and most popular Kyrie melodies in the Middle Ages. It first appears in West Frankish manuscripts from the 10th century, and by the 13th century it had spread throughout Europe. Although there are sundry farced versions of most Kyrie melodies, Clemens rector is remarkable in being the only trope that was ever attached to this one, and indeed, it proved as enduringly popular as the melody. The oldest manuscripts prescribe that the Clemens rector trope be sung on the feast of St Stephen, but it soon began to be reserved for the greatest feasts of the liturgical year, being sung variously on Christmas, Childermas, Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, All Saints, St Peter, St Benedict, and feasts of Our Lady. In the mid-12th century, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, ordained that the Clemens rector trope was to be sung on the five principal feasts in his monastery, adding that this was already an established tradition in other monasteries of the Cluniac congregation, such as Moissac:

Statutum est, ut illud Kyrie eleyson, cuius cantus habet prosaicos versus, quorum principium est Clemens rector aeterne, pater immense eleyson, qui in multis monasteriis ad Cluniacum pertinentibus usu antiquo cantabatur, etiam Cluniaci in quinque praecipuis festis cantetur.

Even after tropes fell into disfavour in the aftermath of the Tridentine reforms, the Clemens rector continued to be chaunted in certain places, and is found in liturgical books published as late as the 18th century.

The popularity of this trope owes much to fact that its textual shape is singularly well adapted to the Kyrie’s musical shape, as David Bjork demonstrates in The Aquitanian Kyrie Repertory of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. He additionally draws attention to the text’s use of polyptoton—repeating words with the same root—, matching the melody’s use of recurrent motifs:

Melodic phrases correspond most consistently at their ends, and so, too, do the petitions: all but three petitions (2, 5, and 8) close with eleison. Other words appear twice in the text: Nostras…voces (petition 2) recurs exactly (petition 7), and both times it occurs in a construction that separates these two words by placing others between them. Several word stems recur in different forms, thus establishing a kind of resonance without the bald effect of exact repetition: rector (petition 1) returns both as rege (petition 4) and as rex (petition 5); nostris (petition 2) returns as noster and nostri (petition 3), and nostras (petitions 5 and 7); trine et une (petition 5) returns as tripertite et une (petition 9); preces (petition 5) returns as precamur (petition 9); and aeterne (petition 1) returns as aeternum (petition 9).

Clemens rector also gives good expression to the exegesis of the Kyrie performed by Amalarius of Metz, one of the foremost liturgists of the Carolingian era. In his Eclogae de officio missae, Amalarius rather laconically puts forth the idea that the Kyrie represents the voices of those prophets who lived near the time of the incarnation, such as Zacharias and John the Baptist, and in the Liber officialis he explains in greater detail that mercy is the main theme of the Kyrie, urging cantors singing the Kyrie to keep in mind the words of St Matthew, Qui coronat te in miseratione et misericordia. He also indicates—and later writers made this point more explicitly—that the tripartite nature of the Kyrie alludes to the Trinity.

Indeed the petitionary nature of Clemens rector makes it sound like the voice of a prophet begging Christ to begin his work of redemption: nostras … voces exaudi (petition 2), sedulas nostras preces suscipe (petition 5), tu succurre (petition 6), sophiae tuae lumen infunde (petition 8), te precamur omnes assidue (petition 9), together with the recurrent use of eleison. Like a prophet forsaking earthly cares, the trope marks an opposition between sublunar and heavenly things in petition 7: et nostras, redemptor orbis terrae, voces iugi angelorum carmini adiunge. Although this trope does not explicitly address each member of the Trinity in its three respective parts like some other tropes do, it does insist on the trinitarian nature of God in petitions 5 and 9.

Clemens rector is therefore itself a commentary on the mystical significance of the Kyrie eleison. This exegetical nature is ultimately shared by all tropes, which merely transfer the Western genius for exegesis from written commentaries to song. The Clemens rector gloss on the Kyrie, however, is a particularly felicitous one, and this also helps to account for widespread popularity.

(If you missed the inaugural post on tropes, give it a look!)


*Marginalia Aelredi*

(scribbled hastily in the vulgar tongue, in the top right corner)
Les tropes? Encore une fois? Mais on y a trop des tropes déjà!!


drollery 2.jpg
Notkerus Balbulus

On Tropes

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A troped Kyrie

One of the most fascinating fruits of the mediaeval love for the liturgy is the vast corpus of tropes that age has bequeathed to us. Tropes is the collective term applied to-day to musical additions to the preëxisting liturgical chants; the mediaevals themselves variously referred to them as tropi, versus, laudes, prosae, prosulae, or verba. Tropes came in three general types (as classified by the editors of the Corpus Troporum):

1. the addition of a musical phrase, a melisma, without additional text (meloform trope);

2. the addition of a text, a prosula, without additional music (a melogene trope); and

3. the addition of a new verse of chant, comprising both text and music (a logogene trope).

Melogene and logogene tropes, at least, grew out of the same exegetical impulse that led so many mediaeval authors to pen commentaries providing moral, allegorical, and analogical interpretations not only of Holy Scripture, but of any of the books they had received from Antiquity, and still more, of even non-textual things, such as the ritual of the Mass (cf. our series on the Gemma Animae). Exegesis was the principal object of intellectual activity in the Late Antique and early mediaeval world, inasmuch as only through exegesis could one hope to obtain understanding. In De divinis officiis, for instance, Rupert of Deutz argues for the necessity of exegesis in order to understand the Mass:

The rites that through the yearly cycle in constituted order are performed at the divine office […] are symbols of the highest realities; they contain the greatest sacraments of the heavenly mysteries. […] They were instituted for the glory of the head of the Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ, by men who sublimely understood the mysteries of His Incarnation, His Nativity, His Passion, His Resurrection, and His Ascension, and who strove to proclaim them faithfully and wisely in the spoken word, the written word, and in the rites […] But celebrating the rites [sacramenta] and not understanding their causes is like speaking with the tongue and not knowing the interpretation [of what is being said]. The Apostle says, “And he that speaketh by tongue, let him pray that he may interpret”. Among the spiritual gifts with which the Holy Ghost adorns His Church, we are more exhorted to desire this one: to prophecy, that is, to seize with the understanding of the mind those things which we pray or sing through the spirit. [1]

Tropes, then, are simply the musical expression of this impulse for interpretation. As Dom Jean Leclercq explains in L’amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu, “All the liturgical literature of the monks consisted in similarly commenting, ‘with the voice and the written word’, the content of the rites. Rather than treatises on the rites, their commentary took the form of texts for use in conjunction with the celebration and which displayed its riches.”

The Kyrie eleison was certainly the most frequently farced part of the Mass, and might have been the oldest to be troped. The earliest musical manuscripts of Kyries already feature the troped text, and thus there is no reason to believe that the untroped melodies had existed earlier. Even to-day the Vatican edition of the Gradual identifies most Kyries through the title of its trope, or one of its tropes, for there were sometimes more than one.

But tropes existed for all the parts of the Ordinary, such as the Ave verum corpus, which was first sung as a trope on the Sanctus, and for many Proper chants as well. A somewhat rarer practice was to trope the readings of the Mass, particularly the epistle, but in some places this custom proved to be surprisingly long-lived. Parts of the Office were also susceptible of troping, such as Matins responsories on great feasts, and sometimes certain versicles, especially the concluding Benedicamus Domino, were protracted with tropes that were veritable hymns. The popular Easter hymn O filii et filiae, for instance, was originally a trope on the Benedicamus Domino.

The popularity of tropes waned with the centralization of the liturgy wrought to a degree by the introduction of the Tridentine books and the establishment of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, but probably still more by the invention of the printing press. The Missal of the Roman Curia, which essentially became the Tridentine Missal of 1570, had no tropes, which is hardly surprising: Roman curial officials must not have been particularly interested in additions to the liturgy that might prolong the Mass, and indeed their missal was designed for the celebration of low Masses, hardly an environment favourable for troping. As a result, books published to provide the music for liturgical celebrations according to or based on the Tridentine model contained few if any tropes. At no point does it seem that tropes were expressly prohibited, except for one rubric contained in the 1570 Roman Missal (and not in the 1464 Missal) stating Sic dicitur Gloria in excelsis etiam in missis beatę Marię, which might indicate an effort to forbid the popular Marian tropes on the Gloria.

Sequences, of course, suffered a similar fate. They are similar to tropes insofar as they are a mediaeval amplification of the liturgy, but do not quite qualify as musical commentary on the Mass in the way tropes do. The famous account of the origin of sequences told by Bl. Notker the Stammerer suggests that sequences were originally tropes on the Alleluia, but they very quickly acquired a life of their own. The four sequences preserved in the Tridentine books (a fifth, the Stabat mater, was added in 1727) were not chosen because they were necessarily the most excellent instances of sequences in the entire corpus, but simply because these were the only four the Roman curia had deigned to include in their books.

Yet the total purge of tropes, and partial purge of sequences from the Roman liturgy impoverished it, and formed an unhappy barrier for our understanding of the minds of our ancestors in the Age of Faith. Most tropes might strike modern man as tiresome and unnecessary lengthening of the Mass and Office, which only betrays how different the mediaeval approach to the liturgy was from that of the modern. Leclercq reminds us that in the Age of Faith “these texts were loved. Those who had a reason and the talent for doing so, loved to compose them”.

Canticum Salomonis will therefore try to encourage a greater appreciation for tropes by periodically publishing some of the best exemplars thereof. Perhaps in this way we might yet sense “the verve of the primitive, original, and youthfully exuberant spirits” who composed and sang them.

[1] Ea quae per anni circulum ordine constituto in divinis aguntur officiis […] altissimarum signa sunt rerum, et maxima quaeque continent coelestium sacramenta secretorum. […] Siquidem ab his viris ordinata haec, atque in obsequium Domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui est caput Ecclesiae, instituta sunt; qui sacramenta incarnationis, nativitatis, passionis, resurrectionis et ascensionis eius, et sublimiter intellexerunt, et praedicare voce, litteris atque huiusmodi signis fideliter et sapienter curaverunt. […] Haec vero sacramenta celebrare, et causas eorum non intelligere, quasi lingua loqui est, et interpretationem nescire. Qui autem lingua loquitur, inquit Apostolus, oret ut interpretetur. Hoc inter spiritualia charismatum dona, quibus Ecclesiam suam Spiritus sanctus exornat, magis aemulari nos hortatur, ut prophetemus, id est, ut ea quae spiritu oramus aut psallimus, mentis quoque intelligentia capiamus.

**NB: Any comments on this essay should be in the form of melogenic tropes.