Lessons for Rufus: Liber Usualis

May 5, 2006

This is the first in a long series of lessons in composition. My ideal student is Rufus Wainwright however it could be anyone with musical talent in composition who wishes to virtually study at the college level.

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First lesson: check out of the libary or purchase the Liber Usualis. In it you will find a gold mine of chant. No, it is not necessary that you convert to Catholicism to appreciate the music.

Pay attention to the complete absence of meter.
Note how the shapes of the melodies rise and fall.
Observe when music is repeated and when it is not.
Notice the absence of any motivic elements.
How would you describe the “mode” of the chant you are singing?
Could you describe the phrase structure?

Buy a CD of Gregorian Chant. Listen to it many times. Follow along with some of the chants with the score in the Liber.

Assignment: compose three chants using a text you found in the Liber. Use the treble clef for the first, the alto clef for the second, and the bass clef for the third. Sing them for your friends. Sing them for a devout Catholic and listen to their comments carefully.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dysonation May 5, 2006 at 7:24 am

This I will do. I already listen to a lot of chant, but I think studying it must be fascinating!

Rosa May 7, 2006 at 9:23 am

Once you get past plainchant, I would suggest Gioseffo Zarlino’s treatise “Le Institutione Harmoniche” – for those students who are not fluent in Italian, the third part of this comprehensive and essential four part writing on Renaissance counterpoint (species counterpoint) is translated into English.

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