kitty Brazelton writing music NYU, History of Music Humanities, Columbia hit the books


Listening Assignment - Kyrie, 1st chant of the Ordinary of the Mass


Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy upon us

Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy upon us

Christe eleison

Christ have mercy upon us

Christe eleison

Christ have mercy upon us

Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy upon us

Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy upon us



Above is a 6-line Kyrie text, the text of the 1st chant of the Ordinary of the Mass. The priest or soloist sings the first line and is answered by the schola cantorum, a chorus who repeats the text back to the priest.

  1. Diagram the form based on what you see and what I have just described. Call the first line A. Is the second line exactly the same? If so, call it A. If you think it will sound similar but slightly different, call it A'. Call the third line B, and so on.

  2. Now listen to Kyrie XI["Chant," The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Angel CD, Selection #10] as listed in your syllabus. Here is again, there is a 6-line Kyrie text in a call-and-answer form. But you have an added variable to include in your assessment of the form: the melody.
    To help yourself to hear what is going on in the melody, you must first find a way to specifically describe the shape of the melody: when and how it rises and falls.

    How to Contour a Melody
    Take out a pencil and several pieces of scratch paper. Listen to the chant over and over until you start to be able to hum it and/or anticipate which way the voices are going to go. Now put your pencil on the paper and let it rise and fall along with the voices. If you make a mistake, just keep going—you can use a new piece of paper and copy what you think you got right while fixing what you think you missed.
    As you start to get a grasp, try to get your drawing to run from left to right in six separate lines corresponding to the lines of text. Although the recording is cloudy and atmospheric, you can hear the new lines by the change in timbre: the sound of the solo voice of the priest versus the sound of the many voices of the schola cantorum.

  3. Now diagram the form again. Is it the same as what you had in your answer to #1? Why might it be different? (Think creatively.)

  4. The last note of every line is a pitch called the final, or home-note. This is based on the paradigm of speech where a voice comes to rest at the end of a sentence giving the statement finality. When a spoken sentence doesn't end in the expected resting-tone we hear it as a question, or an inconclusive statement.
    In music, the ending of a phrase and the approach to that final, rest-tone or home-note, is as important and communicative. The approach and the final together are called a cadence from the Latin verb "cado, cadere" (to fall).
    How many cadences do you hear in Kyrie XI? What syllables in the text are used?

  5. The last thing I want you to learn in this Listening Assignment is the word melisma. A melisma occurs when a voice sings more than one note per syllable. This way of singing the text is called melismatic. When the voice or voices sing one note per syllable, this way of singing text is called syllabic. Although they involve the parameter of text, melismaticism and syllabicism belong to the parameter of melody.
    Locate the melismas in your pencil drawing of the melodic contour of Kyrie XI.

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