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Recovering a lost art: Visigothic chant re-emerges

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Ensemble Organum strives to accurately recreate this ancient Sacred Music.

While it not as popular as it was even a hundred years ago, most people are familiar with Gregorian chant as being one of the earliest forms of Church music. There is, however, an older and perhaps even more beautiful musical tradition in the Church, which was almost completely lost: Visigothic chant.

Visigothic chant, also known as Mozarabic chant, is the plainchant tradition of the Visigothic/Mozarabic rite of the Catholic Church, primarily associated with Hispania (now Spain) under Visigoth (now German) rule. Daniel Esparza explains why the term “Mozarabic chant” is a misnomer:

It is more commonly known as “Mozarabic Chant,” but this definition is, in many ways, misleading. For historical reasons “Hispanic liturgy,” as it has also been called, is more appropriate.

While it is true that the manuscripts that comprise the canon of this kind of liturgical chant are all subsequent to the Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, it is also true that these texts just gather an oral tradition already described by St. Isidore of Seville in his text De ecclesiasticis officiis.

The practice of Visigothic chant was eventually suppressed in order to unite the Church behind Gregorian chant. For this reason very few manuscripts of the style survive. What sheet music we do have is written in a very early musical form with little if any notation or direction. This has made it difficult to know exactly what Visigothic chant sounded like when it was performed 1,300 years ago.

This recording is from Ensemble Organum’s 1995 record, Chant Mozarabe, a full album of revived ancient Visigothic music. If we have any chance of discovering how these ancient chants really sounded, Ensemble Organum is our best bet. Led by Marcel Pérès, they take pride in being the leading authorities on early Christian music and Gregorian chant. Pérès has founded two early music research centers that strive to study the manuscripts and recreate accurate performances of ancient music.

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