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Celebrating Liturgica Music

Chant Development

The development of chant in the Western Church followed Constantine's edict of toleration and the end of the persecution of Christians. Thereafter Christianity was legal, and Christian worship began to be celebrated publicly. This required the development of new forms, mainly the chanting of psalms to accompany liturgical movement. We know little about the earliest forms of Western liturgical chant.

The earliest documents of Christian music we possess are from Egypt. One is a poem or hymn by Clement of Alexandria, the other is the Hymn to the Holy Trinity found in the Oxyrhynchus papyrus, the only Christian music extant before the ninth century. Both are in Greek and follow Greek musical form and notation.

At some point, perhaps as early as the fourth century, unique local forms of liturgical chant began to develop in the West. During the next three centuries, chant forms developed in southern Italy, northern Italy, Gaul and Spain, apart from Rome itself. By the time of the liturgical and musical reforms under Charlemagne in the late eighth century, a variety of different chant forms had developed in the West. Among Charlemagne's goals was a uniform liturgical rite, including the Roman chant that he admired. The result was a collection of chants of the Latin rite that has long been known as Gregorian chant. This became the standard liturgical chant of the Latin rite, as other chant forms were eventually abolished in its favor.

Up until the reforms of Vatican II after 1963, Gregorian chant remained as the principal chant of the Latin rite.

The following pages provide overviews of specific areas of interest in the chant development of the Western Church.

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