Sunday, August 29, 2010

What is a Gradual?

Yesterday, after posting that image from the Geese Book Gradual, I received a question in the comment section from a reader named Emily: just what is a gradual, anyway? Thanks, Emily! It occurred to me that I have heard the term used variously... enough that I took its precise definition for granted. Needless to say, my understanding was far from rigorous. So, to remedy this, I asked my very favorite professor: the internet.*

The Gradual and a Gradual are two related but discreet things. The Gradual is a responsorial chant used in both the Roman Catholic Mass and the Lutheran Divine Service. It is sung between the Epistle and the Gospel. Here is an example of the Gradual: the haunting Gradual of Eleanor of Brittany.

In the case of The Geese Book Gradual, the term "Gradual" refers to a particular type of book. A Gradual book is a compendium of all the musical pieces in a mass, omitting the spoken parts. These books were often very large to allow several choir members to read the music from a standing position.

page from a Gradual by the Italian Illuminator Antonio de Monza, circa late 1400s-early 1500s, via the Getty

*If my freshman year Humanities professor (who once gave me a less than favorable grade on a paper because I cited wikipedia in my bibliography) could read this, I'm sure he'd do a facepalm. Sorry, Prof!**

**Not really.

1 comment:

  1. The song in the video isn't actually "a gradual" in the musical sense, the kind sung near the Epistle. Those are usually taken from psalm texts and are predominantly tone 5 in the Gregorian tradition. They change every Sunday.

    What you hear in the video is a version of tone 1 "Kyrie eleison" (Lord have mercy) and is a fixed or "ordinary" chant that doesn't have a different text every week. This particular Kyrie tune is known as "Orbis factor" (Creator of the world) from the first words of the interpolated text (a trope) that was sometimes sung with it, as they do here. There's a decent translation of the text at: