2. The rhythm of Office antiphons

‘Het ritme van de officiumantifonen in relatie tot dat van de Byzantijnse stichera’ [The rhythm of office antiphons in relation to that of Byzantine stichera], Tijdschrift voor Gregoriaans 27 (2002), 54-62, 106-110.

The complete article in Dutch can be found here as pdf (1.4 MB).

An English Translation by Kevin M. Rooney of the complete article can be found in Rhythm, Meter and Tempo in Gregorian Chant (2016), Lancelot Andrewes Press.



While studying office antiphons I noticed that in a whole series of antiphons that are based on one and the same melody, in each case a constant binary meter arises if we interpret the measure of the associated neums from Codex Hartker consistently. Then I saw that these antiphons in this form also obeyed the basic rule for the determination of the length of the syllables of Byzantine stichera. This is the rule: an accented syllable, or a final syllable, which is followed by none or by an even number of unaccented syllables, is long;  the other syllables are short. The relationship that arises thus between these office antiphons and Byzantine stichera must be seen as a strong argument in favor of a mensural interpretation of the neums in Codex Hartker.

We can then formulate the following rules for the various neums, i.e. the simple sign or combination of signs for one syllable:
- The tones of an angular pes and a clivis with an episema each have the length of one chronos (long syllable).
- The tones of a round pes and a clivis without episema have a total length of one chronos, ergo each subdivision value (short syllable).
- A tractulus with episema and a virga with episema have the length of two chronoi (long syllable).
- A tractulus without episema and a virga without episema generally have the length of one chronos (short syllable).
- Two consecutive tractulus on the same pitch at the end of a phrase have each the length of two chronoi (two long final syllables in a row at the end of a ‘redundant cadence’).
- A virga strata (= virga + oriscus) has the length of two chronoi (long syllable), a separate oriscus has the length of a chronos (short syllable). In view of the appearance of similar figures in Greek church music, and the characteristic use of the oriscus with tone repetitions, also in particular when there is a danger that the vowel at the end of a word might not be separated from the same vowel at the beginning of the following word, it seems likely that in the case of an oriscus we have to do with a tone that is preceded by a short upper auxiliary (acciaccatura).

There is yet a second melody upon which several antiphons are based. An analysis of these antiphons leads to the same results as those mentioned above.

Other Hartker antiphons as well show, if we heed the above rules for mensural interpretation, a completely or largely consistent binary meter. In my article I give five examples of this. One of these shows en passant, when the various notations of one and the same tone figure are compared, that a quilisma is apparently a Schleifer-like ornament.

Still there is rather a number of antiphons in which the binary rhythm appears to be interrupted, also if we consider that there may have been episemas left out or other mistakes made, and short accented syllables can fall on an upbeat (provided that they are melodically properly placed), etc. This phenomenon appears more often in Codex Hartker than in Byzantine stichera. As an example of this I have transcribed the well-known In paradisum, including the relevant psalm verse.