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Chants Encounters

OK, so the screen savers aren’t enough anymore. You want to immerse another of your senses in the world of Christian antiquity. Try hearing next. There’s a lot of ancient chant you can load into your iPod.

My personal favorite is a quirk of history. It’s a recording of Roman chant from the 7th and 8th centuries, Chants de l’Eglise de Rome. At the time, Rome’s native culture was in decline. Byzantine Greek culture was still riding fairly high. A number of the popes hailed from the eastern lands. And entire monasteries from the oriean were fleeing to Italy for refuge from various invaders. So the chant sounds Roman, but you hear deep eastern influences — and I do mean deep. One of the distinctive notes of Old Roman Chant is its sustained bass parts, which make for odd and beautiful harmonies.

Here’s a curiosity: Music from the 5th Century. It’s reconstructed from ancient Coptic manuscripts by an Armenian-American musicologist. He contends that this was the characteristic music not only of the ancient Coptic Christians, but also of the Egyptians, generations earlier, who built the pyramids. I have to admit, my ears have not quite adjusted to this sound.

And let’s not forget our old friend Ambrose, who was deeply influenced by the chant of the East, and wanted to bring something like it to his own church in 4th-century Milan. Augustine himself praised Ambrose’s church for its congregational singing. Listen to Sublime Chant: The Art of Gregorian, Ambrosian, and Gallican Chant.

Does anyone know if there’s a good recording of the ancient Syriac chants of Edessa? As Christians leave that area (in Turkey and Syria), I fear this music will be lost.

7 thoughts on “Chants Encounters

  1. Mike,

    This blog entry ends abruptly: “Listen to …” Listen to what? People looking around for a recording of Ambrosian chant are curious.


  2. Oops. Thanks for the heads-up. Hope this works.

  3. Mike, I also love the stuff by Marcel Peres and the Ensemble Organum. There’s a more recent release of that Byzantine one, too. It’s a bit better, actually.

    For Syriac/Arabic stuff, look for things by Marie Keyrouz. She’s a Maronite Catholic sister in the Order of St. Basil, and has a fantastic voice!

  4. there’s a lovely cd called “Alleluias et Offertoires des Gaules” by Gregorio Paniagua – 4th century. highly recommended! don’t know if it’s still in print but you can find it as disc 3 on this compilation

  5. PAN Records (Netherlands) has released a CD with 16-page booklet, “Qambel Maran: Syriac Chants from South India.” The CD includes the famous acrostic hymn on “Iso M’siha” by St Ephrem. See more details under Releases in

  6. Hello Uncle Mike,
    I’m a fan of Gregorian chant and I have some few of their mp3 @ home. Hope to discover more quality ones online.

  7. You can wallow in chant from all rites (even extinct ones) if you listen to “Radio Walsingham” online. The guy who runs it can answer all your questions; frequently comments on the historical and liturgical context of the music. He has made a CD collection of some of the most obscure and beautiful chants from all eras and nations.

    You may want to link to Radio Walsingham–(Just google for it). If you find it as addicting as I think you will, you can thank me by saying a rosary for my intentions. Enjoy !

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