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Gregorian Chant

Last night, we had some tough choices to make. We fancied some music and had to choose between going to Palma to hear Miguel Poveda perform some Flamenco at the Trui Teatre, or to Binissalem to appreciate the Orquestrina d’Algaïda at the Festes de Vermar, or to Llucmajor to enjoy some Gregorian chant at the Claustre de Sant Bonaventura, performed by the Schola Gregoriana de Mallorca. We were tempted by the passion of Flamenco but, instead, opted for the Gregorian music for three reasons: the Claustre is a very beautiful venue, in Mallorca one very rarely has a chance to listen to good Gregorian music, and Miguel Poveda was ours for 40 € per person whereas the Gregorian chant came for free with a voluntary donation thrown in. Llucmajor it was.

According to Wikipedia,

Gregorian chant is a form of monophonic liturgical music in the Christian Church to accompany the celebration of Mass and other ritual services. The Mediaeval chant used to be notated in a system ancestral to modern musical notation. In general, the chants were learned by the viva voce method, i. e. by following the given example orally, which took many years of experience in the Schola Cantorum. Gregorian chant originated in monastic life, where singing psalms made up a large part of the life, while a smaller group and soloists sang the chants.

The earliest notated sources of Gregorian chant (ca. 950) used symbols called neumes to indicate tone-movements and relative duration within each syllable. The chant was learned in an oral tradition in which the texts and melodies were sung from memory. The neumatic manuscripts (see below) display great sophistication and precision in notation and a wealth of graphic signs to indicate the musical gesture and proper pronunciation of the text. Scholars postulate that this practice may have been derived from cheironomic hand-gestures, the ekphonetic notation of Byzantine chant, punctuation marks, or diacritical accents. Later adaptations and innovations included the use of a dry-scratched line or an inked line or two lines, marked C or F showing the relative pitches between neumes. Consistent relative heightening first developed in the Aquitaine region, in France, in the first half of the eleventh century, from where it made its way into Spain and, much later, to Mallorca.

We enjoyed our Gregorian evening even though the lengthy explanations in Mallorquín by the Schola director, Sebastià Melià, were protracted and somewhat repetitive. Sadly, the acoustics were below an acceptable standard. The sound system at the Claustre’s auditorium was very badly adjusted. The concert would have been much better held in the adjoining cloister, sadly not an option on a rainy day such as yesterday, or in the splendid church of Sant Bonaventura. Some of the audience went out halfway through the concert. We sat through the entire rendition and I, for one, have no regrets for having missed the possible alternatives. It may not have been a perfect Gregorian performance such as one might have heard under the Bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory I. But, when it matters, I can be in a forgiving mood. Sometimes anyway.

The photo (top) was taken in Llucmajor, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: September 24th, 2011. The time was 21:48:13. The illustration (bottom) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of wikimedia.org.

Thank you.

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