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About IHSPIJSP Credits

Gregorian Chant and Medieval Music in

New York City

by

Laura Aquaviva
[acquaviva@murray.fordham.edu]
Sofia Diana
[diana@murray.fordham.edu]

There were many types of music in the Middle Ages:

  • Songs representing knights riding into battle
  • Songs and dances for the nobles celebrating in their castles
  • Chants for priests, monks and nuns, as they rejoiced in the Christian service in the cathedrals and monasteries.

Much of the music from this era, except for modern re-creations, is now lost. A good deal of church music is preserved, however, because priests and nuns (to a lesser extent) were among the best-educated people, and their institutions and libraries lasted longer. Monks were encouraged to read and write in order to learn about the scriptures, and it was they who devised a system to copy music. Nevertheless, much of what passes for "Medieval" music today actually represents a reconstruction of the old manuscripts done, especially, by the Monks of Solesmes Abbey in France in the nineteenth century.

This page presents some indications of where Gregorian Chant can be heard in New York City.


A. Gregorian Chant

What we today call Gregorian Chant was sung daily at the monastic hours of prayer and at mass. Chant was named in honor of Pope Gregory the Great who had insisted that certain chants be sung on certain days of the liturgical year. Another for this music is "plainsong".

The images here are from an actual Gregorian Chant manuscript taken from a book by Louis Lambillotte, of a chant that was composed during the course of fifteen centuries.

Each mark above the words represents a stroke, which denotes an elevation of voice. Depending upon what shape the accent is determines the degree of elevation. Gregorian chant has neither meter nor regular rhythm. There are no obvious patterns and the music is intended to encourage pious reflection.

The authorship of much plainsong is anonymous. But some composers are known. With some composers of Gregorian Chant, it seems that they believed themselves to be expressing the voice of God, actual vessels in which the message of divine authority might be channeled to those on earth.

One of the most extraordinary contributors to the collection of Gregorian Chant was Abbess Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1171). She contributed over seventy-seven chants to the collection of Gregorian chant. During powerful religious experiences, she saw images such as "the breath of Satan in guise of a serpent, the fiery descent of the Holy Spirit, and the blood of Christ steaming in the heavens." The images she saw were communicated through her poetry, which was set to music as liturgical chant- Gregorian Chant. [A very popular modern recording, somewhat jazzed up with New Age instrumentation is called Vision, a recording of seventeen of her compositions. More authentic recordings also exist.]


B. Musical Portions of the Mass

This is where a distinction made as to when certain chants are sung. The greatest part of monastic prayer consisted o the "Office of Hours", which was largely composed of settings of Psalms and canticles [texts taken from the Old or New Testaments.] Much of the most impressive Chant is connected with Musical Portions of the Mass. Music for mass falls into two main categories:

  • Music for the Ordinary of the Mass: - chants with unvarying content that were sung practically every day.
  • Music for the Proper of the Mass, chants whose content changed to represent the day - weekday, Sunday, or feast day - being celebrated

Musical Parts of the Ordinary of the Mass

  1. Kyrie- a petition of Mercy.
  2. Gloria- a hymn of praise to the Lord.
  3. Credo- a profession of faith.
  4. Sanctus- an acclimation to the Lord.
  5. Agnus Dei- a petition for mercy and eternal peace.

Musical Parts of the Proper of the Mass

  1. Introit- an introductory chant for the entry of the celebrating clergy.
  2. Gradual- a reflective chant.
  3. Alleluia or Tract- a chant off thanksgiving or penance.
  4. Sequentia- a chant commenting on the text of the Alleluia.
  5. Offertory- a chant or the offering.
  6. Communion- a chant for communion.

There is a full text and translation of Ordinary of the Latin Mass available.


C. Medieval Music in New York City

In our search for medieval music in New York City, we were able to find three main Roman Catholic churches often use Gregorian chant and medieval music. There is also an exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum on early medieval music and concerts can be heard throughout the year at the Cloisters, a section of the Met. The following is a list of places with locations and phone numbers in New York City that medieval music can be heard:

  • Corpus Christi Church, West 121st between Amsterdam and Broadway (212) 666-9350
  • St. Agnes Church, East 44th between Lexington and 3rd Ave (212) 682-5722
  • St. Ann's Church, East 12th street, near 3rd Ave
  • Metropolitan Museum, 82nd and 5th Ave.(212) 535-7710
  • The Cloisters (a branch of the Met for medieval art and music), Fort Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan Island

D. Sample Modern Recordings of Medieval Music

In recent years, modern recording have been produced, sweeping the nation with a new found popularity.

  • The Benedictine Monks of the Santo Domingo De Silos
    • Chant I, II, and II- (Angel Records, 1994-1996). [The first CD sold a million copies in the US within the first 2 months of its release.]
    • Easter Chants
    • Gregorian Chant from Spain
    • Chant Noel- chant for the Holiday season.
  • Gregorian Chant- Schola Hungarica
    • Magyan Gregorianum 3:
    • Gregorian Chants from Medieval Hungary
    • Holy Week
  • Gregorian Chant
    • Choir of the Monks from the Abbey of St. Peter, Solesmes
    • The Selected 1930 French HMV Recordings of the Monastic Choir
  • Missa de Angelis (The Mass of the Angels) Gregorian Chant from the Abbey of St. Michael's.
  • Russian Liturgical Chants
    A combination of many Russian artists including: Dmitri Bortnyanshy, Fyodor Lvovsky Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Alexander Gretchninov
  • Byzantine Music of the Greek Orthodox Church
    • Volume 2- The Divine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
    • Volume 4- Hymns of the Holy Week (a cappella)
    • Volume 9- David's Psalms

Gregorian Chant Links


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This Page is part of the Medieval New York Web Project, a project of students in the Introduction to Medieval History courses taught by Paul Halsall in the History Department of Fordham University in 1996-1997.

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