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Brief on the Reform of the Chant by Pope Gregory XIII (1577)

February 21, 2008

This brief to Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Annibale Zoilo Romano was written by Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Buoncompagno) on October 25, 1577.

Brief on the Reform of the Chant

To Palestrina and Zoilo

Beloved Sons;

Greetings and apostolic benediction!

Inasmuch as it has come to our attention that the Antiphoners, Graduals, and Psalters that have been provided with music for the celebration of the divine praises and offices in plainsong (as it is called) since the publication of the Breviary and Missal ordered by the Council of Trent have been filled to overflowing with barbarisms, obscurities, contrarieties, and superfluities as a result of the clumsiness or negligence or even wickedness of the composers, scribes, and printers: in order that these books may agree with the aforesaid Breviary and Missal, as is appropriate and fitting, and may at the same time be so ordered, their superfluities having been shorn away and their barbarisms and obscurities removed, that through their agency God’s name may be reverently, distinctly, and devoutly praised; desiring to provide for this in so far as with God’s help we may, we have decided to turn to you, whose skill in the art of music and in singing, whose faithfulness and diligence, and whose piety toward God have been fully tested, and to assign to you this all-important task, trusting confidently that you will amply satisfy this desire of ours. And thus we charge you with the business of revising and (so far as shall seem expedient to you) of purging, correcting, and reforming these Antiphoners, Graduals, and Psalters, together with such other chants as are used in our churches according to the rite of Holy Roman Church, whether at the Canonical Hours or at Mass or at other divine services, and over all of these things we intrust you for the present with full and unrestricted jurisdiction and power by virtue of our apostolic authority, and in order that you may pursue the aforesaid more quickly and diligently you have our permission to admit other skilled musicians as assistants if you desire. The Apostolic Constitutions and any other regulations that may be to the contrary notwithstanding. Given at St. Peter’s in Rome under Peter’s seal this twenty-fifth day of October, 1577, in the sixth year of our pontificate.

To our beloved sons Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Annibale Zoilo Romano, musicians of our private chapel.

Strunk, Oliver, Source Readings in Music History, The Renaissance, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, 1965, ISBN 0-393-09681-5, pp.168-169.

Original text from: Raphael Molitor, Die nach-Tridentinische Choral-Reform zu Rom, I (Leipzig, 1901), 297-298.

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