Saturday, July 30, 2005

Ambrosian Chant

From The Catholic Encyclopedia:
The question as to what constitutes Ambrosian chant in the sense of chant composed by St. Ambrose has been for a long time, and still is, a subject for research and discussion among historians and archæologists. When the saint became Bishop of Milan, in 374, he found a liturgy in use which tradition associates with St. Barnabas. It is presumed that this liturgy, which was brought from Greece and Syria, included singing by the celebrant as well as the spoken word and liturgical action. On the other hand, it is certain that the greater part of the chants now used in connection with the Ambrosian, or Milanese, rite, which are frequently designated in the wider sense as Ambrosian chant, originated in subsequent centuries as the liturgy was developed and completed. So far no documents have been brought to light which would prove that the saint composed anything except the melodies to most of his hymns. Of a large number of hymns attributed to him, only fourteen are pronounced with certainty to be his, while four more may be assigned to him with more or less probability. Like any other great man who dominates his time, St. Ambrose had many imitators, and it so happened that hymns written by his contemporaries or those who came after him, in the form which he used, that is, the Iambic dimeter, were called "Hymni Ambrosiani". The confusion brought about in the course of time by the indiscriminate use of this designation has necessitated endless study and research before it was decided with any degree of certainty which hymns were by St. Ambrose and which by his imitators. As regards the melodies, it has been equally difficult for archæologists to distinguish them and restore them to what was probably their original form.


Ambrose is traditionally regarded as the "father of Christian hymnody." A musical analysis from the same source:
The literature at the time of St. Ambrose shows that the Greek music was the only kind known to the saint and his contemporaries. St. Augustine, who wrote his unfinished work "De Musicâ" at about the time that St. Ambrose wrote his hymns, gives us an idea as to the form which the melodies must have had originally. He defines music as "the science of moving well" (scientia bene movendi) and the Iambic foot as consisting "of a short and a long, of three beats". As in the case of St. Ambrose we have poet and composer in one person, it is but natural to suppose that his melodies took the form and rhythm of his verses. The fact that these hymns were intended to be sung by the whole congregation, over which, according to the Arians, the saint cast a magic spell by means of his music, also speaks in favour of their having been syllabic in character and simple in rhythm. For several centuries it has been held that St. Ambrose composed what are now termed antiphons and responsories. There is no satisfactory proof that such is the case. The fact that he introduced the antiphonal (alternate) mode of singing the psalms and his own hymns (each of the latter had eight stanzas), by dividing the congregation into two choirs, probably gave rise to this opinion. The responsory as practised by direction of St. Ambrose consisted in intoning the verse of a psalm by one or more chanters and the repetition of the same by the congregation.


Ambrosian chant is also known as Milanese Chant:
Milanese chant is commonly known as Ambrosian chant, since it is attributed to St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, a time when the Western Roman emperor made it his capital. Hence it is sometimes called the oldest Western chant. This is ingenuous, for this makes a comparison of Ambrosian history with the oldest surviving manuscripts of other types of chant. Comprehensive Milanese chant manuscripts are no older than the twelfth century (some partial sources date from the preceding century). Mass and office chants occur continuously in the manuscripts, with separate books for winter and summer.

Yet St. Ambrose is credited with composing hymns, presumably texts and chants, for his people to sing while Arians were besieging them in their cathedral in 386. St. Augustine names four of these hymns that are still extant: Aeterne rerum conditor, Deus creator omnium, Jam surgit hora tertia, and Veni redemptor gentium. These all use the same meter, and later hymns of the same meter are called Ambrosian, and are sometimes attributed to St. Ambrose. Many of these have long been used in Gregorian as well as Milanese liturgical books.

Despite these early origins, Milanese chant is generally identified with the Lombard kingdom, founded in 569. Charlemagne became king of Lombardy by conquest in 774, and Carolingian kings of Italy ruled until 962. But the Carolingian insistence on Roman (that is, Gregorian) chant was ineffective in Lombardy. At the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, the many local variants of the Roman rite were standardized, but Milan (and the part of northern Italy that formed its archdiocese) was allowed to retain its rite because of its antiquity. Modern editions of Mass chants in 1935 and Vespers in 1939 (no morning office was published) vary from the medieval sources.

The sung proper parts of the mass (with corresponding Gregorian terms noted) are ingressa (introit), psalmellus (gradual), alleluia, a chant after the gospel, offertorium (offertory), confractorium (in place of the ordinary Agnus Dei) and transitorium (communion).


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An illustration of a hymn attributed to Ambrose, Grates tibi, Iesu, novas:

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