LETTERS: Chant is a continuing tradition

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The Independent Online
From Dom Andrew Moore Sir: Tony Scotland makes several assertions in his article about chant that should not go unchallenged.

Plainchant is not the special preserve of the Tridentine Rite; on the contrary, it was in consequence of the Council of Trent that the polyphony associated with Palestrina and others was established almost as normative, effectively seeing off plainchant for several centuries. It survived only in bowdlerized or corrupt form until being resuscitated by the monks of the Solesmes in the 19th century.

The plainchant that is sung by the monks of Silos, or by ourselves here in Downside Abbey every day (and in many other monastic houses), is entirely the consequence of the Solesmes revival - the "tradition" had effectively been lost. It was by a painstaking comparison of the line-notated manuscripts of the 12th-14th centuries with the neumatic manuscripts of the 9th-11th centuries that we have, only within the last 100 years, a practical and satisfying performance version, albeit one open to intense scholarly controversy, especially in regard to rhythmic structure. The dual manuscript tradition, following on a period of oral tradition in the 7th-9th centuries, when it is thought much of the plainsong repertoire was composed, is i ndicative of a fluid and changing style of church chant over many centuries.

That buying records will "restore an obsolete art form to the living liturgy of the Church" is not only fanciful but unnecessary: a visit to Downside Abbey will find this art form prayerfully alive as part of our living, and post-Conciliar liturgy.

Yours sincerely ANDREW MOORE Downside Abbey Stratton on the Fosse Somerset 30 December

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