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Plainsong

The various services of the church were sung in plainsong. As its name implies, it was simple, unadorned melody, solemn and ritualistic. Its simplicity does not mean that it is lacking in interest; the smoothly modulating lines of melody at times achieve a remarkable beauty, and many of the more famous plainsong chants have been used by composers as material for more complex works. A particularly fine example is the Mass for Four Voices by William Byrd. (Go to the page where you can hear it.)

An example of a plainsong chant*.

Footnotes

  1. A plainsong chant

    The chant is Veni Creator Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit). It was written in the ninth century; the translation of the Latin which follows was made by Bishop John Cosin in 1627. Listen to the chant:

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    Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
    And lighten with celestial fire;
    Thou the anointing Spirit art,
    Who dost thy sevenfold gift impart


    Thy blessèd unction from above
    Is comfort, life and fire of love;
    Enable with perpetual light
    The dullness of our blinded sight. . . .

    The illustration is taken from a sixteenth century book of chants printed with movable type.