Singing Mode V

At our Tuesday evening choir practice we have begun to look at the characteristics of the principal eight modes of Gregorian Chant. Last week, we talked about mode VI and it’s ‘piety’ with relation to  ‘Ubi Caritas.’ This week we moved onto everyone’s favourite mode (possibly), the very familiar but you’re not quite sure why, mode V.

Wikipedia tells you mode V is the authentic mode ending on F (fah), sometimes called the Lydian mode. Yawn. Any chant manual will tell you the tonic or the resting note of mode V is ‘Fah’ hence why it can be called the ‘Fah mode.’ Still awake? Now all this pub quiz information might be useful to me when l am  bashing out the notes on the piano practicing for this week’s Introit ‘Domine, in tua misericordia sperávi’ which conveniently happens to be in mode V ( I know it starts on ‘F’ if l choose to play it at that particular pitch.)

Introit for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

To most people, particularly those who can’t read music, this kind of modal rule book stuff is pretty tedious. What we really want to know about the modes is what moods they evoke, what makes each mode individual and most importantly, how this in turn relates back to the text that we are singing.

So mode V. Firstly, why is it so familiar? Probably because we sing it every week. Take Credo III and the Kyrie and Gloria from the Missa de Angelis for starters. From the Marian Antiphons, the Salve Regina and the Alma Redemptoris Mater (simple tones) and even the Adoro Te. They are all mode V.

Secondly, why do congregations generally love singing mode five chant?

Guido D’Arrezzo, the godfather of notation, said mode V is the mode that ‘makes you happy.’ Another terribly important musicologist a few centuries later said,  ‘it’s the mode that can break sadness.’  Actually, l’m paraphrasing as l can’t be bothered to look up exactly what he said but it was something to that effect. Mode V could be described as a ‘major’ mode, as it uses the major 3rd, ‘the happy sounding 3rd,’ if you like. Modes 1 to 4 are sometimes described as the Minor modes because they employ the device of a minor 3rd (boo hoo) 5 to 8 are major (sort of) and therefore happier (yippee.)

Thirdly, how can we recognize mode V? What are it’s unique characteristics? One of my choir described it as the ‘train announcement mode.’ You hear those three triadic notes before the train times are announced, (bing, bing, bing.), and you know it’s mode five.

Look at the first three notes of the Adoro Te, the great hymn of St.Thomas Aquinas we regularly sing at Communion. It’s the announcement ‘bings’ going up.

Look at the first three notes of Credo III, there we have the same arpeggio, this time going back down the scale.

This simple pattern of notes recurs throughout mode five. Recognise those notes, and it really helps with the pitching.

Finally, the reason we were looking at Mode V last night, was because this Lent, we are going to sing the correct Lenten Ordinary for Sundays, Mass XVII. You’ll never guess what mode the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei are written in?   and look at how they begin….  The 5.12 from Clapham Junction anyone?

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