Trope: Quem quaeritis in praesepe
Gregorian Chant (10th century)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 1 Track 20
In this piece the dialogue it contains is helped by contrasting registers. The piece preceding this one, Hildegard's, used women's voices as well and some light instrumental support. Unlike Hildegard's piece, however, the high voice types generally avoid singing with the low voices. Thus the call and response is dramatic.
Chant is an art of detail. Looking back over the Mass for Christmas Day there is such a small range of contrast the work seems to have no narrative. As I hear it, this Mass is not a musical story. Rather it is a series of incredibly beautiful meditations. In its entirety the Mass is uplifting because the listener moves from one meditation to another prepared for the next event and therefore able to use the chant as a way to reach toward the unseen. First, the text must be well known to the listener. The text provides the form and continuity of the Mass. Second, the art of writing, copying, and reading plainchant notation would be in the listener's blood from the hours spent working on manuscripts. And finally, I think, is Do. All of the notes in each chant depart and return to some Do. In this way, each chant is a highly ornamented continuation of a single pitch. And it is a moveable Do. This pitch may be found in the church or in sounds of life around us. These aspects of plainchant make it easy to internalize. And not only would the known chants become a part of the listener, the listener would be inspired to compose his or her own.
What I like about this trope is that it was clearly inspired by living with chant.