Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians.
The standard history of Carolingian liturgical reform usually begins in 754, when Pope Stephen II traveled to the Frankish kingdom to anoint Pepin king and to confirm their alliance against the Lombards. At this time, the pious King Pepin decided to confirm his alliance with the pope by suppressing the ancient Gallican liturgy in favor of the Roman. Pepin's son Charlemagne continued to mandate liturgical reform according to Roman standards out of a determination to unify his expanding empire with a single rite. In keeping with Charlemagne's policy, scholars connected to his court produced several authoritative liturgical books. By the later ninth century, as a result of royal initiative, the Carolingians imposed a single rite on their empire. While a number of manuscripts from this formative period reveal the development of liturgical texts, no such evidence exists to provide insights into the concomitant development of Gregorian chant. The musical notation that records melodies of Gregorian chant in neumes first appears in manuscripts dating from ca. 900, leading musicologists to assume that plainchant melodies were transmitted orally for about a century.
In Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians, Kenneth Levy presents an alternative theory on the development of musical notation for Gregorian chant. The core of his book consists of several previously published articles, supplemented by a new introduction and new concluding chapters. The entire collection rests upon Levy's argument that the fundamental musical uniformity of the Gregorian melodies recorded in neumes in so many regions of Europe in the tenth and eleventh centuries could not survive a century of oral transmission. Levy believes that the effort to record Gregorian plainchant in musical notation began in King Pepin's reign, with the introduction of Paleofrankish neumes to indicate pitch. In Charlemagne's reign, a second type of neume appeared, indicating the particular "gesture" of a melody. Levy traces the origin of this second type of neume to ca. 800, positing the existence of an authoritative antiphonary, complete with musical notation, which he calls "Charlemagne's archetype." This "archetype" circulated throughout the Carolingian empire, until the increasingly obsolescent Gallican chant was suppressed. The analysis of "close multiples," regional variants of antiphons sung during the offertory of the Mass, supports Levy's argument for the early existence of "Charlemagne's archetype." He considers regional variations in these melodies superficial, the result of the development of musical notation in the ninth century from a relatively general indication of melodic line, supplemented by the singer's memory, to a more sophisticated system that made memorization unnecessary.
Levy's general account of liturgical reform, however, tends to simplify a very complex process and may depend on too early a date for the achievement of liturgical uniformity in the Carolingian empire. Because Pepin and Charlemagne left implementation of liturgical reform to individual bishops and abbots, Mass books produced for a diocese or monastery varied in content, according to the bishop's or abbot's perception of the local needs of his church. In fact, early attempts at reform might have led to more local diversity. Accordingly, liturgical reform continued throughout Charlemagne's reign and into the reign of his son, Louis the Pious. One notable example of this activity is the work of Louis's leading ecclesiastical advisor, Benedict of Aniane, who, in the early years of the reign, compiled the sacramentary that found wide acceptance throughout the Frankish empire.
Levy also provides evidence for the liturgical activity of Louis's court. Levy reprints and translates a letter written by Louis's archchaplain Helisachar to describe his work editing an antiphoner. While attending the palace chapel at Aachen, Helisachar and a friend, Bishop Nebridius of Narbonne, were disturbed by errors they heard in the chanting of the night office. At Nebridius's urging, Helisachar gathered his lectors and cantors, apparently with the intention of correcting both text and music of a corrupted antiphoner. Helisachar and his experts collected and edited antiphons according to the grammarian's principles of auctoritas, ratio, and usus. Apparently, Helisachar discovered that few of the liturgical books available at court agreed with each other, and he deplored the corruption of their texts. In fact, Helisachar's letter seems to undermine Levy's argument for the existence of authoritative liturgical texts and music during Charlemagne's reign. On the other hand, Helisachar's letter tends to support Levy's argument for an early date for the origin of neumes. The rationalism of Helisachar's work as a grammarian might have led him to realize he had to indicate in some form of musical notation the melodies of the chants he included in his antiphoner.
This interesting albeit highly specialized book challenges the standard theory regarding the origins of musical notation for Gregorian chant. Levy is aware of the difficulties in finding proof for his hypotheses, which often have the simplicity of logic on their side. Perhaps his book will stimulate musicologists to clarify the development of musical notation in the Carolingian period.
Mary Alberi Pace University