As the Byzantine Church spread to regions inhabited by pagans, new branches of its rite sprang up in the new languages. This process involved not only the texts of the celebrant, but also the chant which began to be sung in the new languages without any speculation about the linguistic character or difficulties caused by different prosodic conditions. As an obvious procedure the same chant was sung, changing only the language. This process is so natural that I myself once met a cantor who sang ex abrupto in Serbian from the Bulgarian ritual or vice versa, as necessity required.

When the Hussites or Luther and his followers decided to change the language of the service, they could have gone down the same path. But rather another path was opened, namely, the replacement of liturgical chants with new examples. At first these were more or less related to the chant, but later they became poems with only a slight reminiscence of liturgical or biblical texts, and finally they evolved into fully independent congregational hymns inspired by subjective religious experiences. The divergence of these two paths took place in connection with changes in the history of literature, liturgy and music. Byzantine chant consists of artistic prose enunciated in an idiomatic musical language, while literature in the age of the early Protestant movements was dominated by strophic verse, the “poem,” and the music by melodious, syllabic, metrical singing.

Strangely, Protestantism while advocating “sola scriptura” proved insensitive to the wording and musical form proper to the Bible taking instead the late medieval trope and cantio as a starting point for its chant. A genuine reform, the longed-for return to “origins” would have meant basing the singing of the congregations on the prose text of the Bible by adapting idiomatic musical material. However, the Reformation simply continued the development of the late Middle Ages in liturgical chant (as in many other matters), instead of returning to the primordial Christian traditions. In this matter, too, it was a child of its time.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

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