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Maiani, Brad

The Responsory-Communions: Toward a Chronology of Selected Proper Chants

Ph.D. University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, 1996
(bradm@email.unc.edu)

This study explores those chants that serve as both communions for Mass and as Matins responsories. The frequency with which these two genres are exchanged is unique--over one quarter of the communion cycle, in fact, has some history in the responsory repertory. An examination of their texts, melodies and liturgical assignments shows the responsory-communions to be frequent and distinct anomalies in both the genres in which they appear, and finds that most are assigned to dates known to be the subject of eighth-century liturgical revisions. It is argued here that these observations are both related and chronologically significant, and that the responsory-communions are a comparatively late layer of the Roman repertory.

As liturgical texts, responsory-communions are notable for their length, scriptural derivation, and literary style. Only nine of the total forty-one are psalmic--most are gospel texts of a dialogue type drawn from particularly dramatic or poignant points of scripture. In addition to their dual liturgical role, and the biblical translation they most often employ, this could suggest that some originated as a discrete set relatively late in liturgical history.

The responsory-communion melodies support this hypothesis. As a comparative base, a representative sample of psalmic communions and responsories are examined in detail, and with surprising frequency responsory-communions prove to conflict with the stylistic, modal and formal norms of these presumably older psalmic chants. Responsory-communions are also distinguished by a highly unstable theoretical and written tradition, further recommending them as latecomers to the Roman repertory.

Liturgical information also supports a late date for the responsory-communions. Most are assigned to Paschaltide, recently described as the last season to be revised in the late-seventh or early-eighth-century formation of the Franco-Roman communion cycle. The ordines romani show a concurrent restructuring of the Matins Lectionary that appears to have had equally significant consequences for the responsory repertory. It is within the context of these liturgical adjustments that responsory-communions were most likely created, as products of a concerted musico-liturgical project to fill a shortage of repertory in both of the genres to which they are assigned, shortly before the reception of the cantus romanus by the Franks.