Just when l think l am starting to get the hang of Gregorian Chant, Mode IV comes along and l am right back where l started, in a complete state of ignorance. I struggle with the intervals, I stumble over the flattened Ti’s that seem to pop up all over the place, and then I reach the end to find the melody seems unresolved. Why do I not understand what this all means?
According to our godfather of notation, Uncle Guido d’Arrezzo, I am supposed to feel ‘harmonious’ singing this mode. Well I do not currently feel particularly harmonious limping through the Introit for this Sunday the 4th Easter, ‘Misericórdia Dómini.’. It is Paschaltide, why do l have to sing minor thirds? Why is the modulation of notes so limited at the beginning of this proper? But then suddenly the intervals widen and before I know it I am bouncing up the scale on a major triad to reach the epicentre of the second alleluia.
And it is usually at this point that as they used to say in that quintessential 80s film Ghostbusters ‘WHO YOU GONNA CALL?’, Stan Metheny of course.
And so once again, Stan comes to my aid, as I moan like a petulant child, explaining why some of the greatest of the Introits eg. Easter (Resurrexi) and Holy Thursday and many of the Glorias are written in Mode IV
Stan writes, “one characteristic that Dom Johner and other writers cite about mode 4 is its versatility. It can capture a mood of depression and sorrow as readily as jubilation and move easily from one to other. And the Gloria does just that, as it praises God’s glory and asks earnestly for His mercy in almost the same breath.”
He then continues,
In this Introit, the limited modulation at the start of the chant represents our own limited understanding of the wideness of God’s infinite mercy. Although the earth is filled with it, our vision of that love is very small. We can’t grasp such limitless love. Then suddenly we have a (comparatively giant) leap upwards as we find that God’s action of raising His Son from the dead has smashed through those limitations. Thanks to the sacrifice of the Cross, we can now expand our own narrow capacity for love by accepting the infinite love He has shown us in the Paschal mystery. Alleluia indeed.
So maybe my own limited understanding of the ‘design’ of this mode is possibly not such a bad thing after all. How can I possibly sing the opening line, “Misercordia Dómini plena est terra, ” “the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.” with great gusto when I can only acknowledge my own lack of wisdom or possibly ‘our’ infinite lack of wisdom. The four consecutive notes on ‘plena’ emphasise the ‘fullness’ of God’s merciful love. It really is everywhere. We must celebrate it even if we can never fully grasp its meaning. And as we sing the ‘trinity’ of Alleluias and reflect on the marked contrast of this notation with the opening section. then we can only begin to see as Ted Krasnicki puts it in his study of the Introits for the Liturgical Year, the “triumphant contemplation,’ exemplified in this and other mode IV pieces.
I guess if ignorance is bliss, then maybe a little understanding of ignorance could be deemed heavenly….
“Exultate justi in Dómino : rectos decet collaudátio.”
“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! Praising befits those who are upright.”