Friday, July 29, 2005 +

An Art Poor in Spirit

[Gregorian chant] possesses a purely aesthetic appeal as great as that of any other form of art that has ever existed—an appeal which, however, triumphantly defies all attempts at analysis or definition. Wherein lies the secret of its irresistible glamour and fascination, of its immemorial power to move us? It seems, on the face of it, to be entirely devoid of every attribute of musical beauty which is commonly deemed essential. It has no determinate rhythm, no harmony or accompaniment of any kind, and its melodic scope is severely limited and circumscribed. Nevertheless, when heard in the appropriate surroundings and under fitting conditions, these simple unisonal changes take on a remote, magical, and disembodied quality—a grave ecstasy, radiant yet austere, impassioned yet serene—and glow as with a secret inward fire. The voices themselves seem to undergo a curious transmutation and become impersonal, sexless, super-human almost, giving expression to the inarticulate yearnings and aspirations, not only of the living, but also of the countless generations of the dead and the unborn. If we accept the definition of a miracle as a phenomenon contrary to or deviating from the laws of nature, then we may justly call Gregorian chant a musical miracle, for its beauty and appeal are not to be accounted for by any known laws or principles governing musical art, but exist in spite of them, in defiance of them.
—Cecil Gray, The History of Music

See also Cross for Cecil Gray and Friends.