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Aspects of Orality and Formularity in Gegorian Chant. (Historical Topics).

Aspects of Orality and Formularity in Gegorian Chant. By Theodore Karp. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998. [xvii, 489 p. ISBN 0-8101-1238-8. $99.95.]

Gregorian chant has long been a focus of musicological research, and recent decades have seen new research paradigms, reinterpretations of established data, and the development of new views concerning the origins, transmission, and notation of this vast repertoire. Representative works include Leo Treitler, "Homer and Gregory: The Transmission of Epic Poetry and Plainsong" (Musical Quarterly 60 [1974]: 333-72); Kenneth Levy, "On Gregorian Orality" (Journal of the American musciological Society 43 [1990]: 185-227); and PeterJeifries, Reenvisioning Past Musical Cultures: Ethnomusicology in the Study of Gregorian Chant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). The present offering is thus of exquisite timeliness.

The book "revolves about three themes: (1) the role of orality in the transmission of chant ca. 700-1400, (2) the role of the formula in the construction of chant, and (3) the varying degrees of stability or instability in the transmission of chant" (p. ix). Karp explores these themes individually and in various combinations over the course of the book. The methodologies employed range from traditional source studies (especially collations of multiple sources), to psychological theories of memory (both constructive and abstractive processes are considered), to "folkioristic" studies of the transmission of various oral literatures (Homeric, the Hindu Veda, and synagogue practices, inter alia). The transmission of Gregorian chant, initially oral and later via notation, is thus placed in context with other literatures that have to varying degrees undergone similar processes and transformations.

The book comprises an introduction followed by nine essays. Each essay is relatively self-contained, with its own brief introduction. Several have concluding summaries. Nevertheless, the interrelatedness of the essays is apparent from their titles; connections among the essays are, of course, far richer than that, and the text is extensively cross-referenced.

As their titles suggest, the first and last essays ("Aspects of Early Gregorian Orality" "Formulas and Orality in Roman and Gregorian Chant: A Further Look at the Interrelationships between Roman and Gregorian Chant") frame the set. The first sets out "to investigate the imprints that [Gregorian orality] has left on our early notational records" (p. 1). Beginning with a consideration of the nature of learning and memory, and a survey of other oral literatures, the discussion moves on to examine the degree to which early sources reflect the oral tradition, and the extent to which either the oral or written traditions were fixed. Close analysis of the variants found among early sources for Locus iste, as well as formulaic phrases from a host of other melodies, together with the testimony of the theorist John (pseudo-Cotton), support Karp's points concerning "the changeable nature of the oral traditions," and that divergent readings result neither from processes of human memory" nor from processes of oral-formul aic composition" (p. 58). Whereas the first essay considered the relationship between Roman and Frankish chant as a secondary issue, the final essay puts the matter front and center.

The second, third, and seventh essays ("Formulas that Interrelate Chants of Different Genres and Modes"; "Formulaic Usage in Melismatic Chants: A Chronological Approach to Second-Mode Tracts"; and "Formulaic Usage among Neumatic Chants: The Construction of Gregorian Introits") concern relatively circumscribed segments of the Gregorian repertory and consider the role of formulas in them. The second essay, however, deals with the phenomenon of "crossing," specifically as it occurs among chants belonging to different modes and/or genres. Karp relates this to similar phenomena in other oral literatures. Numerous examples are explored in detail, including the Alleluja Dies sanctificavit that is the focus of the fourth essay. Certain aspects of second-mode Tracts are also considered here, with some observations concerning the use of formulas in chant genres that are largely melismatic. The third essay, a detailed study of second-mode Tracts, focuses further on melismatic chants, dealing partly with developing a chr onology for the genre, but much more devoted to such questions as what constitutes a formula, how formulas are used in this genre, the problem of "centonization," and matters of phrase quotation. Parallels with the processes of Yugoslavian verse epic are noted. The seventh essay treats a neumatic genre, Introits, similarly. The examples illustrate formulaic construction in varying degrees and at multiple levels in numerous chants.

The fourth and sixth studies ("The Alleluja Dies sanctificavit and Its Melody and Family: Stability in Melodic Transmission" and "Orality in the Transmission of chants of Unstable Modality: The Cantus nothi Introits of Regino of Prum") treat similarly narrow segments of the Gregorian repertory, but the segments are quite different from each other and raise different questions concerning their transmission. The fourth essay returns to the Alleluia Dies sanctificavit, approaching first the early, adiastematic sources (thirteen are collated), and then the diastematic sources (twelve collated, with variants for many others listed). The variants are carefully sifted, yielding evidence pertaining to the relative degree of fixity in the transmission of the chant, both before and after the advent of notation. The last part of this essay concerns the expansion of this melody into a family through its adaptation to other texts. The sixth study concerns certain chants that do not conform to the accepted modal classifica tion scheme of the period and the various adjustments consequently made to these chants. It concerns primarily the twenty-six Antiphons and Introits "described by Regino of Prum as cantus nothi, 'illegitimate and degenerate Antiphons that begin in one mode, are in another in the middle, and are ended in a third'" (p. 228). Not all of the twenty-six are considered in detail, of course, and numerous other chants are adduced for comparison; the views of theorists other than Regino are also consulted. Opening gestures are particularly considered, as is the problem of conflicting assignments within a given maneria. The essay concludes with a discussion of mode. Taken together, the fourth and sixth essays demonstrate that "the importance of oral and aural elements in the transmission of chant did not cease with the advent of musical notation" (p. 225).

The fifth and central essay, appropriately, "explores another aspect of chant orality ... the ability to keep alive for centuries performance traditions that could not be discussed or notated by means of the standard gamut" (p. 181). Here the friction between oral and written modes of transmission takes center stage. Chants that violated the "normal" pitch gamut of the Middle Ages (by requiring chromatic alterations other than B-flat) resisted notation by normal means, and the extraordinary steps taken by scribes to solve the resulting dilemmas have left a rich testament to the complexity of chant transmission. Following a survey of the background, Karp discusses the various coniunctae (chromatic degrees), illustrating them with examples from the chant repertory in conjunction with testimony from theorists of the period. While the Berkeley Anonymous is central to the discussion, Karp cites many other theorists, ranging from Theinred of Dover (twelfth century) to the treatise in the Szalkai MS (1490).

Among many noteworthy features of the book, the wealth of detail stands out; whether this is boon or bane will be in the reader's eyes. Karp acknowledges his decision "to concentrate on documentation," saying that "a more streamlined presentation ... will have to be achieved at a later date, when a sufficient documentary basis is in existence" (p. xvii). More vexing is the use of endnotes rather than footnotes, especially if one wishes to read the original languages along with the translations in the main text. Karp is a careful, thorough, and deliberate scholar, explaining his decisions and judgments lucidly, and considering alternatives appropriately. His book significantly advances chant scholarship.
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Author:Snyder, John
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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