Irish Music from the 6th to the 9th Century

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter II (continued) | Start of chapter

In regard to the so-called Gregorian Sacramentarium which Pope Adrian sent to the Emperor Charlemagne by John, Abbot of Ravenna, between the years 788 and 790, Dr. Haberl, one of the greatest living authorities on Church Music, says that "it was altered in the copying, and Gallican elements were introduced." Moreover, it contained only the Roman Station-festivals, with additions made by Popes that came after Gregory," so that Duchesne justly observes that "it should rather be called the Sacramentarium Hadrianum." The Pope also sent two famous Roman singers, Peter and Romanus (author of the Romanian notation) to the Irish monastery at St. Gall's, who brought with them a faithful copy of the Gregorian Antiphonarium, but Duchesne considers that this great musical work was also altered by the monks of St. Gall. In any case, owing to the very imperfect method of notation by neums (which really were only aids to memory, or a form of mnemonics to indicate the rendition of the liturgical chant as taught orally), it is only within the past ten years that a scientific attempt to solve the puzzles of neum-accents has been made by the learned Benedictine monks of Solesmes. Certain it is, however, that the Celtic monks, from the time of Sedulius, unquestionably introduced and composed many original melodies for the early plain-chant books, and these musical arrangements were afterwards retained in the service of the Church. As a matter of fact, the name Cantus Gregorianus, or Gregorian Chant, is first mentioned in the first half of the eleventh century, by William of Hirschau, who died July 5th, 1091.

Dungal, an Irish monk, who founded a great school at Pavia, was a particular friend of the Emperor Charlemagne, and at his death, at Bobbio, in 834, he bequeathed to that Irish monastery his library, including three fine Antiphonaries, which are now in the Ambrosian Library of Milan.

In reference to St. Gall's, Ekkhard, the historian of the monastery of St. Gall's, who wrote in the earlier part of the eleventh century (1036), says:—"Moengal came from Rome to the Abbey of St. Gall in company with his uncle Mark, to visit their countryman Grimoald, who was elected Abbot of that monastery about the year 840." This testimony of a distinguished German historian is convincing as to the nationality of Grimoald, Abbot of St. Gall's, and also of Mark and Moengal. Were it not for such an authority, some persons would be very sceptical as to the fact of any Irishman rejoicing in the seemingly German name of Grimoald. It is as well to explain—even to the Irish reader—that many of our countrymen who went abroad were "re-christened," inasmuch as the Irish Christian names—to say nothing of surnames—were not sufficiently intelligible or euphonious for Continental taste. Therefore, do we find Moengal figuring as Marcellus, just as Maelmuire appears as Marianus and Mylerus; Maelmaedhog as Malachy; Gillaisu and Cellach as Gelasius; Gilla in Coimded as Germanus; Tuathal as Tutilo; Donal as Donatus; Aedh as Aidan and Hugh, etc.

In the year 870, the above-mentioned Moengal (Marcellus) was appointed head master of the Music School of St. Gall's, under whose rule it became "the wonder and delight of Europe." "The copying of music became such a feature of the work done at St. Gall's that the scribes of this monastery," as Matthew writes in his History of Music, "provided all Germany with MS. books of Gregorian Chant, all beautifully illuminated." Moengal died September 30th, 890, and had as his successor his favourite Irish disciple Tuathal, whose name is Latinized Tutilo.

Tuathal, or Tutilo, was even more famous than his master Moengal, and was not only a wonderful musician, but was also famed as a poet, orator, painter, goldsmith, builder, and sculptor. We are told that he was a skilled performer on the Cruit and the Psaltery. Père Schubiger published many of the Tropes composed by Tutilo, two of which, "Hodie cantandus," and "Omnipotens Genitor," betray all the well-known characteristics of Irish music. This marvellous Irish monk died at an advanced age, on the 27th of April, 915.

Although music was the great feature of St. Gall's, literature was by no means neglected—in fact, to the Irish scribes of St. Gall's we owe the preservation of priceless manuscripts of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries. It was mainly from the glosses of the Irish MSS. at St. Gall's, dating from 650-900, that Zeuss deduced the rules which formed the basis of his Grammatica Celtica, in 1853. Inter alia, these glosses incontestably proved that part-singing was known to the Irish of the seventh century. Dr. Sigerson in his Bards of the Gael and Gall, gives us a charming translation of "The Blackbird's Song," written in Irish by an Irish monk of St. Gall's about the year 855, and published by Nigra in 1872.

O'Curry says that we have Irish lyrics of the ninth century which will sing to some of our old tunes; and, he quotes a boat-song by Cormac MacCullenan, Prince-Bishop of Cashel, who died in 908, which would seem to have been written for the melody of "For Ireland I would not tell her name"—"Ar Éirinn 'ní neórainn cé hí." Let me add that the first Ode of Horace sings admirably to the Irish melody "Táimre am codla 'r na duirig me," as pointed out by a writer in the London Sun, of October 18th, 1844.

The Liber Ymnorum Notkeri, one of the most ancient MSS. belonging to St. Gall's, is fully "noted," and was illuminated by an Irish scribe. Dr, W. K. Sullivan says that "the initial letter of the Easter Sequence, commencing 'Laudes Salvatori voce modulemur supplici,' is an excellent example of the interlaced Irish style of ornament, with the interesting peculiarity that the trefoil or shamrock is used as a prominent feature of it."

St. Notker Balbulus, the author of this valuable book of hymns, about the year 870, shed undying lustre on the music school of St. Gall's, but he is best known to students of liturgy as the inventor of Sequences. I may add that Sequences were also called Tropes, just as Tropes, properly so-called, were denominated Proses. Although the original meaning of Sequence was a prolongation of the last syllable of Alleluia by a series of neumes, jubili, or wordless chant, yet the name was more generally given to a melody following the Epistle, before the Gospel. We need only refer to an ancient Irish authority quoted in the Book of Lismore for an explanation of the term Sequence; and it is added that "Notker, Abbot of St. Gall's, made [invented] sequences, and Alleluia after them in the form in which they are." In process of time a special Sequence was introduced for every Sunday and feast-day, but Pope Pius V. eliminated all but five.