13 JUNE 1931, Page 12

Gramophone Notes


IF a Martian were to inquire where on the face of this distraught globe he could find human activities bringing, any form of

happiness to the many without bringing also any unhappiness to the few, we might be a little ashamed, as human beings, at the scarcity of information which we could give him. But among the few undoubted examples of such things one would be found at the little French village of Solesmes, near Sable. Here he would find a school of monks who spend their lives preserving, studying and interpreting a form of artistic beauty so valuable to the human spirit that it has persisted

for at least fifteen hundred years. The Monks' Choir of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes is the recognized authority for the

proper singing of Gregorian chant in the Catholic Church. A succession of scholars, of whom Dom Mocquereau is perhaps the most prominent, have fixed the tradition for all time on

the basis of what seems to have been the original practice of

the Church. To listen to this music is like entering the early Middle Ages and there could be no better way of reproducing the whole emotional reality of the age of faith than this. The publication by the Gramophone Company of an album of twelve records of this choir is an event which must enrich

the human imagination appreciably, for the high standard of singing is rarely to be found in the average cathedral or church ; indeed, much Gregorian singing is deplorable ; but now, through modern science, the monks of Solesmes can sing their prayers to the whole world.

Gregorian chant is remarkable for two qualities, emotional restraint and rhythmic freedom. It is interesting to contrast its restraint with the emotionalism of the Hebrew cantor.

Here is no exquisite wailing at the Temple ; no musical tearing of hair and beating of breast, but, wither, a force from beyond the more human feelings of hope and despair. " Anything capable of exciting or weakening man," writes Dom Gajard, " anything of a nature to rouse his passions or

shatter his nerves, the puny, the sentimental or the romantic in our modern music both secular and religious, all are carefully banished from Gregorian chant." Gounod and Mendelssohn, for example, aim at raking up religious feeling by way of sensuous musical stimuli ; Gregorian chant is the expression of an emotion, and more still of a sense of certainty, which already exists. The listener will only get out of it what he brings with him to put into it. Whereas much of modern religious music is only religious by analogy and might with different words become a love song or a battle song, the sung prayer of the Church leans on no other emotion for crutch ; it exhales the sense of unity with God, of the immanence of the spiritual in the natural world. of the Aristotelian idea of perfection within the seen and unseen universe, which the Middle Ages had and we have not. " Its nobility," says Dom Mocquereau, " comes from the fact that it borrows nothing, or as little as possible, from the world of the senses ; it makes use of them but does not address itself directly to them."

It has been said of.Gregorian chants that all that is of man in them has perished ; what survives is of God. Which, being interpreted, may be understood to mean that they are so authentic an expression of the human imagination that they belong and appeal not merely to the Church, but to humanity. I do not believe that any insensitive person could withstand the beauty, the dignity, the restraint of the " Alleluia, Justus Germinabit," from the Mass for Doctors (record D1974). It stands on a level with a Greek chorus, a sonnet of Shakespeare, a Tanagra figure. We are permanently enriched by, its possession. Or who can hear the Respond : Media Vita," written by Notker, who died in A.D. 912 (record D1981), without understanding why people in the fourteenth century regarded it as a magical work, so that a Church Council had to limit its use ? Or listen to the " Antiphon : Montes Gelboe " {D1975) and consider how David's lament over Saul and Jonathan gains from the very restraint of the Gregorian form. Such things as these store up within their little room so much of human imaginative• adventure that one wonders what effect will come of their being broadcast to the world like this.

It is of interest to note that a formal decree of the Catholic Church forbids the use of such gramophone records as these as a substitute for the singing of the congregation or of the choir. This seems proper, since there is too much resemblance between a gramophone record .of a prayer and a Thibetan praying-wheel.. But possessors of this album will be able to turn their, study at will into a Chapel of Prayer. Once more the world of applied science has signally enriched the world,