Church Music is Just the Worst (Circa 800, part 2)

Last time we heard John the Deacon explain how Alpine bodies are just incapable of the kind of grace in chanting that Romans naturally have. But maybe the Alpine bodies were set up for failure from the start. How? Gaslighting, says the famous Notker Balbalus.

Charles,… sad that all the provinces, regions, and cities differed from one another in the divine praises, that is, in the melodies of the chant, took care to request from Stephen [II], pope of blessed memory [Stephen had died eleven years before Charlemagne took the throne] that he send additional clerics who were greatly skilled in the divine chant. Stephen … gave assent and dispatched from the Apostolic See to Charles in Francia twelve clerics who were greatly learned in the chant, according to the number of the twelve apostles. By Francia, incidentally, which I have just mentioned, I mean all the provinces beyond the Alps. When the above‐mentioned clerics departed from Rome, they plotted among themselves (since all Greeks and Romans are ever consumed with envy of Frankish glory) how they could so alter the chant that its unity and harmony might never be enjoyed in a realm and province other than their own. So they came to Charles and were received with honor and dispersed to the most prestigious locations. And, in these various localities, everyone of them strove to sing, and to teach others to sing, as differently and corruptly as they could possibly contrive. But the exceedingly clever Charles celebrated the feasts of Christmas and the Epiphany one year at Trier and Metz and very alertly and sharply comprehended the quality of the chants, indeed penetrated to their very essence, and then in the next year he followed the same festivals at Paris and Tours and heard nothing of that sound which he had experienced the year before in the above‐mentioned places. Thus he discovered in the course of time how those he had sent to different places had come to differ from one another, and he conveyed the matter to Pope Leo [III] of blessed memory, the successor to Stephen [there were four popes and four decades between Stephen and Leo]. Leo, after recalling the cantors to Rome and condemning them to exile or to lifelong confinement, said to the illustrious Charles : ‘If I send others to you, they, blinded by envy like those before them, will not neglect to deceive you. Rather I will attempt to satisfy your wishes in this manner: give me two very intelligent clerics of your own, in such a way as not to alert my clergy that they belong to you, and they shall acquire, God willing, the total proficiency in this skill that you seek.’ It was done in this way, and after a reasonable length of time Leo returned the clerics to Charles perfectly instructed.

Quoted in With Voice and Pen by Leo Treitler, 156.


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