Chant and time

We 21st century people often value time through its units of measure: minute, hour, day… Is it a good thing? We understand the value of nature, the sea, mountains or other creations as “objective”, without a need to measure them. So why are we so keen on counting and measuring time to give it value? Chant restores movement, time, and the measure of time in their proper order.

Dom Mocquereau’s book “Le nombre Gregorien” start by introducing the “origin of rhythm” (You can download the first three pages of the book here).

He explains that the Greeks divided arts between “arts of repose” (Architecture, Sculpture, painting) and “arts of movement” (Music, poetry, dance).  Both triads were aiming for the “beautiful”.

In the “arts of movement”, “Rhythm” gives form to musical sounds, words and orchestration.

Per Mocquereau, “the fundamental laws [of Rhythmics] are based on human nature itself and are necessarily found in all the artistic creations, musical and literary, of all people and in all times”.

“Time is the measurement of movement and of quiescence”

“Movement is the condition which, by dividing time, renders appreciable to our senses its invisible and silent flow.”

Now, how do we divide time in the 21st century? Since the 13th century we have mechanical clocks. Time has been organized, divided (“corrupted”) in equal parts that can be easily counted. The fundamental laws of Rhythmics are still there, but we have “metered” them through our accounting system. Societies following “God’s time” have thus converted their organization to the “Time of Merchants”. (For more on the subject, Read Le Goff’s Essay: Merchant’s Time and Church Time in the middle ages.

Mocquereau’s book continue in re-explaining how the Rhythm of Gregorian Chant must escape this “metered” box, yet still submit to fundamental rules.

Download the full book here: Mocquereau “nombre musical” in English

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