Plainchant is believed to originate from the 3rd century AD. Gregorian chant is a variety of plainsong named after Pope Gregory I (6th century AD), although Gregory himself did not invent the chant. The tradition linking Gregory I to the development of the chant seems to rest on a possibe mis-identification of a certain "Gregorius", probably Pope Gregory II, with his predecessor.
Dr Nicolas Bell, curator of musical manuscripts at the British Library, gave a fascinating, illustrated lecture on the Lewes Breviary.
Remarkably, the Breviary contains all the offices for services at the Priory including those of St Pancras and a rare mass for Thomas Beckett. This is unusual as most of these were removed from similar books on the orders of Henry VIII at the Dissolution. The survival of this mass may be accounted for by the fact that the book found its way to France, where it remained, intact, until it was bought at auction by the Fitzwilliam Museum in the 1930s.
Sound recording by Roger Stamp
The Priory of St Pancras once again echoed with the sounds of Gregorian chant last Saturday, the eve of the Feast of the Priory’s patron saint, St Pancras (11th May).
Music from the Lewes Breviary was sung in a special service of evening Vespers. Passers-by in Priory Park stopped in amazement as over 50 singers, dressed in striking grey robes, processed through the site to sing in the ruins of the large reredorter. The spirits of the singers and congregation were undampened by the onset of a sharp shower as they processed to St John the Baptist Church, Southover to complete the service in drier conditions.
The service was the culmination of a day of mediaeval music; a joint collaboration between Lewes Priory Trust and the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge. Experienced singers and local enthusiasts came together in workshops of medieval music.
Cantors: Peter Wilton, Christopher Hodkinson and Jeremy White.
Musical transcription: Christopher Hodkinson
Sound recording by Roger Stamp
Video recording by Colin Stamp, AV editing by Dr Andrew Norris
Dr Mary Remnant is hugely knowledgeable about the music world of the Middle Ages which she brought vividly to life in a fascinating presentation. Her lifelong interest in early music was originally sparked by studying minstrels in church carvings and this led to having reconstructed instruments made for performance. She described and played a range of early instruments, including: the harp, psaltery, rebec, fiddle, organistrum, pipe, shawm, horn, chimebells and percussion. The audience participation in the event was enjoyed by all.
For those wanting to find out more, read Mary's wonderfully illustrated reference work "Musical Instruments: An Illustrated History from Antiquity to the Present".
Musical instrument classification is a discipline in its own right, and many systems of classification have been used over the years. Instruments can be classified by their effective range, their material composition, their size, etc. However, the most common academic method, Hornbostel-Sachs, uses the means by which they produce sound. The academic study of musical instruments is called organology.
Photographs of Dr Nicolas Bell lecture and Schola Gregoriana performance by Colin Stamp