The Gregorian Association (London, England)

Founded in 1870 to promote the study and practice of plainsong

President: The Archbishop of Canterbury
Director of Music: Peter Wilton
Charity No. 1003775
Affiliated to The Royal School of Church Music
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Updated 14/2/2008

Chant Publications (Updated 14/2/2008)


The standard text-book on Gregorian Chant is now Western Plainchant , by David Hiley, former Director of Music of the Association.

Books for Performance


Chant Notation for Computers

The Gregorian Association was founded in 1870 (as The London Gregorian Choral Association) to promote the singing of Gregorian Chant to English texts, and to overcome the prejudice which existed against doing so. This purpose is still part of the work of the Association, but more recently its policy has increased in scope, so that the it is now fully oecumenical, and promotes and uses the chant in Latin as well as Modern English and that of the Book of Common Prayer. The Association is now 130 years old; during this time it has sung and taught the chant as a living witness to the enduring value and beauty of the "true music of the church". Directors of Music have included Sir John Stainer, Francis Burgess, Arthur Clarke and Professor David Hiley.

The chant is music of great variety, from simple recitation to complex, melismatic melodies requiring the vocal skills of trained cantors. Much of the chant repertory continues to be sung by monastic communities, who have no special musical training, and is easily within the capabilities of parish choirs today, especially when limited numbers preclude singing in harmony. It is functional music, designed to serve the needs of the Church's liturgy; it is also widely regarded for its 'timeless' character. The Gregorian Association works to educate the public about this vast treasury of song for the enrichment of worship. It is not permanently based anywhere, but rather its members meet in different places throughout the year for a variety of events.

Help with the Notation and Performance of the Chant

The Association provides opportunity for the study of the whole range of the Gregorian repertory, particularly through its evening classes and special study days. Performances are informed by the most recent studies of the earliest music notation, and, to this end, there are opportunities to learn to sing chant from the Graduale Triplex.

If you cannot reach any of our events, try Mary Berry's guides, Cantors: A Collection of Gregorian Chants (Cambridge University Press), and Plainchant for Everyone (Royal School of Church Music Catalogue ref. B520: Order from the RSCM ).

For a basic on-line introduction to Gregorian notation, there is a Gregorian Chant Notation page.

The Chant in Latin

The Gregorian Chant repertory was developed for Latin texts in Charlemagne's (AD 768-814) Frankish kingdom, which encompassed modern France, Switzerland and Germany. We know little of the Church singing used in these areas before this time, because no modern Western system of music writing had yet been invented. Charlemagne wished the music of the Church in his kingdom to be sung as in Rome. In the absence of written music, this may have caused some difficulty, since it would have had to be learned orally, as a folk music tradition. There survives another repertory of chant from Rome for the same liturgical texts, whose melodies are related to, though variants of, the Frankish "Gregorian" chant, rather as two different variants of "the same" folk song. This repertory is known as " Old Roman ", and is thought to be related to the Roman tradition from which cantors in the Frankish kingdom learned the Roman Chant. This "Old Roman" version continued to be used in Rome for some centuries before being replaced by the "Frankish-Roman" or "Gregorian" version. The Frankish chant is thought to have received the name "Gregorian" after one of the Popes of that name, in order to give it greater authority, and to ease its reception in the Frankish Kingdom. Surviving books which contain complete written repertories of the chant with music do not appear before the tenth century, and are well established in the eleventh. Some of the earlier notations give rhythmic details, but most do not give exact pitches, and must be used as an aide-mémoire, in conjunction with a knowledge of the oral tradition. Pitch-defined manuscripts begin to appear in the eleventh century, and are well-established by the twelfth. In these, the pitches can be read without a knowledge of the oral tradition, but the rhythmic details cease to be recorded.

From the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century until the nineteenth century, there was much re-editing of the chant .  Notation began to record a new kind of measured rhythm, akin to modern crotchets, quavers and dotted crotchets.  Both rhythm and a revised text-underlay were co-opted into ensuring that accented syllables received greater musical weight, and unaccented less.  This applied also to chant adapted into vernacular languages in churches of the Reformation (see also below, under "The Chant in English"). France went further, so that "Gregorian" chants were often replaced by modern imitations, known as "Neo-Gallican" chants. During this period both Gregorian and Neo-Gallican chants were frequently accompanied by musical instruments, especially by the serpent. In the nineteenth century, there was a return to the Gregorian melodies, at first by reissuing the seventeenth century approach, in the form of the “Mechlin” (Malines) and “Ratisbon” (Regensburg) editions. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Solesmes monks began to study the early sources again, and restored the melodies to their pre-seventeenth century form. In the early twentieth century, the "restored" Editions of Solesmes became the official versions of the chant used by the modern catholic church. At first, Dom Joseph Pothier (1835-1923) advocated an "equalist" system, in which all notes were sung at more-or-less the same speed. Soon after, Dom André Mocquereau (1849-1930) worked out a rhythmic system which was added to the official Roman chant books, which understood the melodies in terms of rhythmic groups of two or three notes, and in which some notes were doubled in length. This system has been criticised for ignoring some of the early manuscripts' rhythmic indications, and inserting others not present in the manuscripts. Many of the most popular chant records, including the earlier recordings of Solesmes under Dom. Gajard , and those of the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos , were recorded using this system. Some have suggested that the earliest chant notation (of the post-Carolingian period) implies a "measured" system of Gregorian rhythm (rather like modern crotchets and quavers). The most detailed of these theories (based much more closely upon the written notation than Mocquereau's theory) was that of J. W. A. Vollaerts (1901-56, published posthumously 1958-60). R. John Blackley in America has recorded chant in accordance with this system, and in the past The Deller Consort recorded chant in this style. In the 1960s, another monk of Solesmes, Dom Eugène Cardine, studied the earliest notation, but disagreed with Vollaerts, preferring to conceive of the longer and shorter notes as rhythmic "nuances". Nonetheless, Cardine's theories have served as the starting point for many different sorts of performance, including some of great rhythmic complexity (for example those of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois , in which the contrast between longer and shorter sounds is so great that the word "nuance" hardly seems to provide an apt description).

Since the Second Vatican Council, the liturgical use of Gregorian Chant has been challenged. The "received view" of liturgical history held by liturgists and clergy assumes that liturgical singing was originally simple, and that "art music" later took over. This "received view" is largely derived from the writings of Père Joseph Gélineau. The degree to which his views represent objective history, or are mere polemic, is a matter of dispute, affecting views of the history of Gregorian Chant. Thus the late chant scholar Helmut Hucke, supporting Gélineau's ideas, regarded the florid graduals sung between the readings at Mass as a "new" song form which "replaced" the ancient, simple responsorial psalm. On the other hand, Peter Jeffery would maintain that we know little about what early liturgical singing was like, so that it is equally possible that there is at least a continuity of development between early psalm-singing and the Gregorian graduals. There are many "folk" and "popular" musical cultures which involve solo performance to an audience, and whose melodic styles might be described as ornate. Moreover, Eastern European scholars of both chant and folk music (for example László Dobszay) have claimed to find links between the chant and the older forms of folksong which survive in Eastern Europe. It is therefore possible that ornate and soloistic, as well as simple singing styles were used in early times, and it would seem unlikely that the presence of what we may perceive as ornate melodic lines would have made liturgical music seem remote from the people - indeed, such an argument probably reflects entirely modern concerns, about the distinction between "popular" and "art" music, a modern idea of the difference between "singing" and "saying", an assumption that liturgical "dialogue" is necessarily only between clergy and people, and that everything sung must be sung by all.  The last is of doubtful modern relevance, since the modern musical scene is perhaps to a greater extent than ever before about listening to pre-packaged musical products, as opposed to practical music-making.

Supporters of the chant have generally defended it by appealing to "musica sacra", a concept which suggests that the chant is artistically superior to simple, "pastoral" music. Opponents of the chant, wishing to replace it with more popular styles of music, have based their opposition upon the same grounds. Commentaries on the “meaning” of chant, which accompany the earlier commercial recordings of the chant made by the monks of Solesmes, suggest that it is perceived through the prism of the nineteenth century Romantic movement, as a kind of “programme music”; it is seen as a “Great Work of Art” alongside the high tradition of 19th century art music. Another (perhaps more appropriate) way of seeing the chant, however, is to suggest that the chant was intended to be neither art nor popular, but simply a "cultic" music suited to a particular purpose. Because the sound of the chant had always been associated exclusively with its liturgical purpose, the music semiotically suggested that purpose.  That much of the repertory cannot be sung by everyone is not necessarily an argument against its use, since it may well be the case that the musical elements developed during the formative years of the Christian liturgy were not all congregational; if this is so, active participation is not always required by the whole assembly, and so the important question concerns whether people in the present day are capable of responding to it in such a way that they may use it devotionally.

In recent times, "exotic" musics from all over the world have become freely available on commercial recordings in the Western world; the dramatic increase of interest in non-Western musics has even led to the invention of a new category of popular music, known as "World Music". The interest in traditions of ritual music, disseminated through mechanical recording, has made them familiar to people who have little knowledge of their original context. That Gregorian Chant could have found a place within this musical melting-pot would have been unimaginable at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Many are now responding to the chant through very different routes, such as the classical music broadcasting and record market, and the "ambient" music associated with modern youth dance-club culture. Whether one approves of such developments or not, it does suggest that a wider cross-section of people might be receptive to musical traditions like the chant. This “mix and match” approach to cultural traditions is typical of what is called “postmodern”. The assumption of the liturgical modernisers of the 1960s and 1970s, that the chant is necessarily irrelevant, may be already dated. It might therefore be suggested that the (largely clerical) rejection of the chant in recent years was premature, stemming from a reductionist analysis of the possible range of meanings in the liturgy and its traditional music.

Exposure outside the liturgy has not necessarily been beneficial to the position of the chant within the liturgy. Those who wish to preserve the liturgical use of the chant, as well as many of those hostile to its liturgical use, are not necessarily impressed by its having recently gained a positive reception outside the church; in essence, such reception of the chant is seen as either sacrilegious or trivial. Sometimes, those in the Roman church hostile to the new liturgy see the chant almost as if it contained a semantic, dogmatic content; the chant forms part of a rigorist theological mentality, which is unsympathetic both to the reception of the chant out of its proper context, and also hostile to styles of chant performance other than that introduced by the monks of Solesmes at the beginning of the 20th century (whether styles older than that of Solesmes, or subsequent developments), or to any modification of its use, such as adaptation to vernacular languages. Modernisers may see the chant as too closely associated with traditional theology. Modern church politics, then, can conspire against the chant. However, the chant has not always and everywhere occupied this particular political position. The hierarchy of the church did not interfere with chant traditions or chant books until the second half of the nineteenth century.  The chant has also had some presence in the churches of the Reformation. The year 2006 saw the centenary of the Church of England’s English Hymnal, a book which contained much chant. It was part of a movement which wished to reintroduce Catholic liturgical practice into the Church of England. This movement was a reaction against the previously dominant evangelical ethos of the church; in place of plainness and drabness, it wished to reintroduce ritual and beauty; in place of a rather ferocious Puritan judgementalism, it wished to be more inclusive.

There is every sign that Pope Benedict will be sympathetic to the chant. It may be that this will result in a greater use of chant in the Roman Catholic church, at least in the more important ecclesiastical foundations. Whether support from this quarter will impress those who do not wish to be seen as “traditionalist” remains to be seen. Now that permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass is easier to obtain, the church may become more polarised: on the one hand, the new rite and its theology, in vernacular languages, performed perhaps with little ceremonial, and accompanied by musical styles far removed from the chant; on the other, the old rite and its theology, in Latin, accompanied by its traditional music and ceremonial.

An alternative vision for the chant, perfectly consistent with the intentions of the Second Vatican Council (as opposed to what actually happened in its wake), would be that it might develop, as it often had in the past, and adapt. This is perfectly consistent with the history of the Gregorian Association, which was founded to sing the chant in the context of a vernacular liturgy. The policy of the Vatican appears to be in the contrary direction: on the one hand, the Latin chant must be preserved in stone; no new chants may be added to the Carolingian repertory (despite the fact that new composition has always been a not inconsiderable part of the history of the chant); on the other, there seems little appetite for ensuring the preservation of the chant tradition in the vernacular liturgy which most people attend.

There are two different kinds of service for which chant has traditionally been provided: The Mass and The Divine Office:

The Mass

The music of the Mass consists of two main groups of pieces; the Ordinary (the texts sung at each service), and the Proper (those which change according to the season or saint being celebrated). The repeated use of the texts of the Ordinary chants at every Mass suggests that they may have been the original people's part. Of the melodies for these texts that have come down to us, some are simple enough to serve this purpose, and others are more ornate. The pieces which constitute the Ordinary are:

The Chants of the Proper are:

These chants suggest performance by different groups of people. The Introits and Communions may have been sung by a choir, whereas the Graduals, Alleluias and Tracts (sung between the Readings), together with the Offertories, are melodically the most ornate part of the repertory for the Mass, and were perhaps intended to be sung by soloists or by a small group. Apart from these two main groups of sung pieces, other parts of the service are also chanted to simple inflexions (also known as cantillation): the prayers, the readings and the Eucharistic Prayer. The Lord's Prayer is always sung to a simple melody (formerly by the priest alone) which is suitable for congregational use.

Click here to read about Chant Books in Latin for the Mass

The Divine Office

The Divine Office consists of the following services:

Mattins were traditionally sung in the early morning before daybreak (hence their other name of "Vigils"). In their new form, the Office of Readings, they can be performed at any time of day. (Their "Great Responsories" are melodically the most ornate part of the repertory of chants for the Office, and often resemble the style of the Graduals of the Mass.) Prime is no longer used outside monasteries, where it is sometimes retained. Terce, Sext and None can now be amalgamated into one "Middle Hour", or Prayer during the Day. The chant repertory for the Divine Office consists of the following musical forms:

Click here to read about Chant Books in Latin for the Divine Office

Other Chants

Finally, there are various "unofficial" additions to be mentioned. Gregorian Chant was essentially a variant of the Roman chant, a foreign import subjected to local variation. However, there were more explicit attempts to preserve pre-Gregorian local chant styles in the Frankish kingdom. Longer texts were added to ornate, melismatic Gregorian melodies, resulting in pieces of simpler, syllabic style - known as "Prosulæ". New texts commenting rhetorically on the official chant texts, set to their own music, were interpolated between the phrases of the official chant - called "Tropes". Long melismatic replacement-melodies were sometimes added to the end of alleluias - known as "Sequences". These could sometimes be texted - the results were known variously as "Sequences" or (more helpfully) "Proses". The Prose/Sequence came to be independent of the alleluia and its replacement-melody.  (Many of the well-known songs by abbess Hildegard of Bingen are a highly individual variety of this genre.)  None of these additions remains in use, with the exception of a few of the later Proses.

Other uses for Gregorian Chant are in Liturgical Processions and Drama. An important part of mediæval liturgical life, processions have recently fallen into desuetude, apart from the Palm Sunday procession, which is retained as part of the re-enactment of Christ's Passion during Holy Week. Liturgical processions are usually enacted in association with another liturgical event, e.g. after a celebration of Divine Office, or before a Mass. Similar genres of chant are used as for other liturgical celebrations: Antiphons, Great Responsories, Hymns, Proses. Processional antiphons are often more ornate than those sung in conjunction with psalms and canticles at the Divine Office. Processions have not altogether disappeared. The Solesmes monks found it worthwhile as recently as 1983 to reissue the Processionale Monasticum of 1893.

The term "liturgical drama" encompasses several different strands. The simplest dramata are simply short ceremonies performed in choir by clergy as an elaboration of, or insertion into, the Mass or Divine Office e.g. the Visitatio Sepulcri, which is a re-enactment of the visit to the tomb of the Marys, and of their dialogue with an angel. Others seem to be an elaboration of a liturgical procession, e.g. the Epiphany play of The Three Kings. Finally, there are other plays which bear less relation to the chant and to the liturgy e.g. The Play of Daniel, which may have arisen as an attempt by reformers to curb the horseplay which had become customary during the Christmas liturgy in Cathedral cities in the later Middle Ages.

The Chant in English

The chant had been in existence for many centuries before the first vernacular liturgies. At the English Reformation, there is evidence that at first people made their own adaptations of the pre-Reformation Salisbury chant to the new English text of the Booke of Common Praier (1549), although only one attempt was ever published: Merbecke's Booke of Common Praier Noted (1550). Merbecke's work departs from the chant to a greater extent than the other extant adaptations, and may be a more radical attempt to provide the kind of specifically English chant called for by the more extreme reformers. Nonetheless, although some of Merbecke's work was newly composed, some was direct adaptation of Gregorian Chant. Shortly after its appearance, however, The Booke of Common Praier was revised (in 1552), and Merbecke’s work remained unused until the Catholic revival of the Oxford Movement.

For the most part, the only adaptations of Gregorian chants which continued to be used were for the preces, responses and psalmody of the Divine Office.  It soon became the normal practice that they should be harmonised.  Nearly all psalm-settings used in collegiate churches and cathedrals, from the time of the First English Prayer Book until the civil war and the temporary suppression of Anglican liturgy, were harmonised plainchant.  (In Parish churches the liturgy was usually spoken, the only singing being metrical psalmody employing Geneva-style tunes, though this singing was most probably extra-liturgical; follow this link to the West Gallery Music Association, which promotes the music used for metrical psalm singing in the 18th and 19th centuries. )  All adapted plainchant melodies reflect the fact that during the period when they were made (from the Reformation and Counter Reformation to the nineteenth century) simple, syllabic chants in Latin had began to be notated rhythmically, with longer notes on accented syllables than unaccented ones; the notation recorded a binary rhythmic relation between long and short notes, producing rhythmic configurations similar to modern crotchets, quavers, and dotted crotchets followed by quavers.  At the restoration after the civil war, the tradition had been interrupted, and there was a need for instruction books in liturgical music.  Even at this late date, most psalm chants found in such books were plainchant derived.  It is only after this time that composers began to write new "Anglican" chants.  However, the performance of Anglican Chant continued to be influenced by the same rhythmic performance style until the twentieth century, when equalist rhythm was adopted in the wake of the influence of the monks of Solesmes.

During the mid-19th century in continental Europe, "Cecilian" organisations were promoting the abandonment of new chants of the "baroque" period, in favour of a return to the use of "Gregorian" melodies.  In 1870, the Vatican gave its official blessing to the revival of the "Medicean" Gradual of the early 17th century, which contained only "Gregorian" melodies, but in the reworked and "measured" style referred to above.  At the same, the Gregorian Association was founded in England, which promoted the use in the Church of England of chant books in English with a similar musical style, especially Thomas Helmore's The Psalter Noted and The Hymnal Noted, by the same author with translations by J. M. Neale (of "Good King Wenceslas" fame).  These were used for early performances by the London Gregorian Choral Association in S. Paul's Cathedral (1877) where the chant was accompanied, in the pre-Solesmes manner, by a variety of instruments. In a similar style were arrangements of chant and of Merbecke's music for the Eucharist made in the 1880s by Sir John Stainer, one-time Director of Music of the Association. By the turn of the century, however, English adaptations began to be informed by the chant scholarship of the Solesmes monks in France, and, as a consequence, measured values were abandoned in favour of equal rhythm, which eventually also changed the performance style of Anglican Chant. At this time, the Oxford Movement brought about the revival of the belief that the Eucharist (or Mass, or Holy Communion) should be the main focus of Christian worship. This led to the revival of singing at the Eucharist in the Anglican Church for the first time since the Reformation, which paved the way for the revival of Gregorian Chants for the Mass as well as for the Divine Office. In some parts of the Anglican Church, it became customary to use an English translation of the Roman Missal in preference to the rite of the Book of Common Prayer. In the twentieth century, three bodies in particular have been responsible for the production of English adaptations of the chant: The Plainchant Publications Committee, The Plainsong and Mediæval Music Society, and S. Mary's Press, Wantage. The Gregorian Association was at the forefront in encouraging the use of Gregorian melodies to English texts, both for the Mass and also for Anglican versions of the Divine Office.

The use of chant has been controversial in the Catholic Church only since the Second Vatican Council. The nineteenth to twentieth century chant revival has been controversial in the Church of England, partly because of its association in the minds of protestants with "popery". It is perhaps ironic that the group of Christians who have traditionally held scripture in the highest regard should not wish to use the chant for worship (although most of the chant is simply a musical setting of unaltered Biblical texts), but instead prefer to sing metrical hymns of recent composition. It was to overcome prejudice against the chant that the Association was founded. The history of the Association has reflected Anglican controversies. There have been numerous disputes within and without the Association in the course of its history, concerning the use of interpolated "Roman" chant forms within Anglican rites (for example, the use of antiphons was disputed in the 1870s), the use of different rites, the use of Latin and various English translations, and different ways of adapting the chant into English.

In more recent times a new flexibility has emerged: An oecumenical membership has been encouraged; the Association has been promoting the use of Latin and of ICET modern English texts as well as services from the Book of Common Prayer, the aim being to demonstrate the use of chant melodies to whatever versions of the liturgical texts are normally used in any church to which its services are offered; recent collaboration with The Royal School of Church Music has brought the work of the Association to a wider cross-section of people, including upon occasion choirs from the Free Churches.

Click here to read about Chant Books in English

Membership Information

Email me for membership information:

Peter Wilton

If you wish simply to be on a mailing list for information about events, please write, enclosing £1 (a little more for overseas, please) to: Mr. G. Macartney, 26 The Grove, Ealing, London, W5 5LH, UK. Tel: 0181-840 5832

Chant Resources on the Web

A useful introduction to the chant can be found on Richard Lee's Chant Links Page , which will direct you to recordings and images of chant notation on the Web, amongst much other useful information.

Gregorian Chant Home Page , a resource run by Peter Jeffery at Princeton University, USA.

Cantus , an on-line database developed at the Catholic University of America in Washington, under the auspices of Ruth Steiner, now housed at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.

Professor David Hiley, a former Director of Music of the Gregorian Association, hosts the Cantus Planus Archive at the University of Regensburg in Germany, which contains a variety of resources, amongst which is a downloadable catalogue of antiphons and invitatories, with complete texts of the items, which I created in order to research the chant for Vespers at Westminster Cathedral.

View some of the earliest manuscripts rich in rhythmic signs: the “St Gall” manuscripts, available to view in their entirety online, free of charge:

The Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena has chant information in German , and is the home of the the Liturgischer Singkreis Jena .

The German speaking section of the AISCGre ( Associazione Internazionale Studi di Canto Gregoriano ) has prepared a homepage in German language.