Discovering the antiquity of Gloria XV

Some thoughts on the ‘antiquity’ of Gloria xv.

I had never sung Gloria XV, until Monday night. I am still a chant beginner, after all. I was so surprised. This Gloria isn’t like anything else you will find in the Kyriale. Its simplicity of form, its narrow range. It seems so un-Gregorian.

When we were last at St Cecilia’s, Sister Bernadette hinted that it was quite possible the pentatonic melody of Gloria XV could have originated from the Synagogues. Could this have been a melody that Christ would have been familiar with?

A forage into the recesses of Google to uncover what those who know what they are talking about are saying and there seems be a consensus that Gloria XV is indeed unusual if not unique. One commentator on Musica Sacra apprises the scholarly notion that it is ” to be a rare survival from the Gallican repertory of chant that was widespread in western Europe before Gregorian chant and before the invention of notation.”

In 2008, Aristotle Esguerra wrote on his blog ‘The Recovering Choir director’ about Gloria XV being ‘an entry point to sung prayer’ for the ‘uncertain singing worshipper’ as his schola were just about to introduce Mass xv into their parish. He goes onto make several observations about the structure of this piece.

“It is predominantly syllabic chant (one note to a syllable);
While the range of the chant is a major sixth (already very narrow), most of the melody resides on three notes spanning a perfect fourth;
There are simple melodic formulas for half- and full stops, making the chant predictable;
In addition to serving as full stops, the melodic elaborations on “Christe” and “Patris” bring direct attention to both Christ and the Father (and indirect attention to the Holy Spirit who falls in between them);
The Phrygian mode revealed in the final “Amen” is not something one would readily associate with popular music.”

Fr Columba Kelly writing in ‘Custos’ the newsletter for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians examines the ancient origins of Gloria XV as the only congregational setting of in the entire Kyriale collection with the exception of the Ambrosian Gloria borrowed from the Ambrosian rite.


Unlike the more thoroughly-composed settings of the Gloria found in the Kyriale, this setting is based on a psalm tone pattern and uses only the notes of the pentatonic scale, a scale common to every culture. The Amen, with its semitone intervals was a late addition to the Gloria.”

The simple psalmodic scheme, the basic cantillation between the recitation pitches G and A and the limited pitch all point to this Gloria being the perfect choice for the new Missa Simplex for the new translation. This piece was meant to be sung by everyone, laity and clergy alike. Why is this not sung more regularly especially if we want to get to the roots of our Catholic musical (sung prayer) heritage?


One thought on “Discovering the antiquity of Gloria XV

  1. Stan Metheny says:

    For a variety of reasons, not least of which is Idelsohn’s conclusions and the points in Clare’s post, there is a very strong possibility that this melody is indeed an indicator of the synagogue roots of much of the chant corpus. To preserve the links between the primitive scale and the text in congregational chant is a real asset.

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