Every so often there is a new wave of intense interest in Gregorian chant, or plainsong. This chant is unharmonized and unaccompanied singing of Latin liturgical texts in free rhythms that resemble speech.
First sung in early Christian times, it was later named for Pope Gregory I, during whose papacy (590-604) there was a great codification of the church’s music.
A current example of the sporadic chant phenomenon is the CD Chant: Music for the Soul by the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz (Abbey of the Holy Cross) near Vienna, Austria.
First popular in Europe with the title Music for Paradise, the CD was released this year in the U.S. (Decca; available from Amazon) to rave reviews and immediately became No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s classical chart.
It initially attracted attention because the monks had prepared a short video that ended up on YouTube and subsequently won them a recording contract.
Cistercians live contemplative lives in seclusion. The Abbey of the Holy Cross was established in 1133 and has always had a strong tradition of chant singing.
The CD is an excellent instance of its genre (though there are many other impressive examples available).
It has three main sections: In Paradisum, Requiem and Compline. Each of these includes various movements and forms. In between, there are two ethereal selections of the abbey’s bells.
It’s always good when a larger public takes notice of sacred music. The appeal of chant is no doubt based on the contrast between its austere serenity and the rush, stress and disorder of contemporary society.
But it’s important to realize that this is sung prayer, not just music to relax by. These simple yet profound melodies are meditative conversations with God.
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