Gregoriansk sång i svensk gudstjänst. Historiska och aktuella perspektiv

  • Sverker Jullander


Gregorian Chant in Swedish Liturgy. Historical and Present-Day Perspectives

The article deals with the presence of Gregorian chant in the liturgy in Sweden, particularly the Church of Sweden. An emphasis is laid on Gregorian melodies as they appear in missals, hymn books and other publications, from around 1900 to the present day.

The volume, Music to the Swedish Mass of 1897, comprises an unprecedented wealth of music for the liturgy, largely drawing on early sources. Medieval melodies are included, though adapted to modern metre. At about the same time, the composer Oscar Byström presented the result of his research into vernacular medieval musical sources in three volumes of music (1899–1903). In the official hymnal of 1921, Te Deum and Dies irae were included, with Latin and Swedish texts, and in the hymnal of 1937/1939, some plainsong melodies, now without the previous ‘modernized’ metres and rhythms, were included in an appendix. A breakthrough for plainsong came with the 1942 Music to the Mass, in which the bulk of the melodies for the Ordinary (to be sung by the congregation) were plainsong-based, and, in addition, a number of Gregorian Introits for the ecclesiastical year were introduced. In 1968, a workgroup within the liturgical committee of the Church of Sweden published a supplement to the Music to the Mass, where the melodies of the Ordinary appear in a form closer to the original, and in the same year, an official committee appointed by the General Synod was entrusted with the task of revising the liturgy and its music. In the optional service order published in 1976, there was a strong presence of plainsong material; the number of Introit melodies was considerably expanded, and the notation now included some neume signs. The official service order of 1986, still in use, does not differ much from the 1976 service order as regards the plainsong-based material.

In 1976, and in 1982, supplements to the 1937/1939 hymnal were published, with a number of ‘new’ Gregorian melodies, especially in the first volume, including several sequences and hymns. When the present official hymnal was approved in 1986, the total number of Gregorian melodies was reduced from 17 to 11, and in the three supplements that have followed, plainsong material is scarce.

The new interest in liturgies based on the Divine Office in the Church of Sweden around 1900 was probably due to German influence. The 1914 Vesperale for the Church of Sweden, had an emphasis on musically rich, solemn Vespers services, and did not contain much plainsong material. In the mid 1920s, the situation changed radically. A new official Vesperale with a Psalterium as a companion volume with a large number of psalmodies and antiphons in all church modes, was published in 1925. Already in 1924, Evangelical Office, the first volume of what was later to be known as the Swedish Divine Office, was published by the pastors Arthur Adell and Knut Peters, who were to continue their untiring work with publishing texts and music (invariably plainsong-based) for the Office for several decades, culminating with the two volumes of the Swedish Antiphonary (1949; 1959), containing the complete music to the Offices for the week, and for the ecclesiastical year. The last official publication for the Office (including exclusively service orders for morning and evening prayers in ‘solemn form’) came in 1945.

In the 1970s, when the responsibility for the Swedish Divine Office had been taken over by the Laurentius Petri Society (LPS), a new edition of the Swedish Antiphonary was published as separate volumes for the individual prayer services. The 1990s was a period of increased interest in the Office, which went together with intense publishing activities. In 1990, the first Swedish Catholic book for the Divine Office was published (with melodies in a separate volume of 1993), and in 1995, an ecumenical version of this book, with a companion music volume, appeared. In the same year, another edition of the Swedish Divine Office, with the music integrated, was published by the LPS. These editions reflect different views on how to deal with the adaption of the songs to the Swedish language: the LPS regards it as possible to keep the original form of the plainsong melodies to a great extent, whereas the Catholic Church in Sweden sees the adaption as more problematic, finding it necessary to apply re-composition in plainsong style.

In the final part of the article, some current tendencies are discussed. The use of other music for the Mass than that provided in the official Service Order has increased in recent years, which inevitably causes a decline in the use of plainsong for the Ordinary; a recently published volume of music for the Mass contains no plainsong or plainsong-related material. Introits, Gregorian or otherwise, are seldom used nowadays; on the other hand, psalms and antiphons to be sung after the first of the three Scripture lessons in the Mass are now available for the entire ecclesiastical year. The Office presents a more positive picture; the ecumenical interest, extending to the free churches, has led to several publications, most of which include plainsong-related music. Another trend pointing to a renewed interest in plainsong is the wealth of CD recordings (some of them having enjoyed considerable commercial success) and the growth of specialized vocal ensembles, performing within and outside the liturgy.

Finally, the author discusses the possible future of plainsong in Sweden. Because of the strong tradition of congregational singing, the survival of plainsong in the liturgy will require the participation of the congregation. Careful consideration must be given to the issue of adaption to Swedish, and it may even be possible sometimes to sing in Latin, as in the Taizé tradition. The present decline in the use of plainsong in the Mass may well be reversed, say, a decade from now, as has happened several times before.