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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 11 (2005) No. 1

Sequentia: An Online Database for Research into Chant and Liturgy of the Early Modern Era

A Communication from Nathalie Berton, Cécile Davy-Rigaux, and Deborah Kauffman*

1. The Growth of Chant Research

2. Introducing Sequentia

3. What Sequentia Offers

4. The Entries for the Sources and the Liturgical Texts

5. The Entries for the Musical Pieces

6. Complementary Tools

7. Online Publication of Documents and Articles

8. Conclusion



1. The Growth of Chant Research

1.1 Since the 1990s, interest in the ecclesiastic chant of the early modern era has grown. Long discredited by musicologists and scholars of liturgy as a mere appendage to a period of decadence, and unworthy of interest, the study of this chant has opened gradually to new research by scholars. Several types of inquiries have fueled this resurgence of interest:

Questions of interpretation tied to the rediscovery by musicians and scholars of the religious repertory of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries—notably the practice of musical alternations between organ, musica (vocal and instrumental polyphony), and cantus (singing)1 The identification and study of specific sources, such as the Laurence Feininger collection2

Attempts to reconstitute the musical history of individual geographic areas3 or the musical practices of particular chapels4

The recognition of the work of composers of plainchant5

A growing interest on the part of performers and scholars of medieval music in the different local forms of “Gregorian” chant—diocesan, monastic, or parochial—which sometimes necessitates taking into account later sources that can delimit constants and developments over the course of history6

1.2 Through these diverse reevaluations, plainchant has begun to be considered in all its historic continuity as a full-fledged object of study.

2. Introducing Sequentia

2.1 Because of the large number of melodies and the variety of sung forms (e.g., metrical chant, plain-chant musical, fauxbourdon) used in the divine service (two particular areas of musical expansion in the early modern era), as well as the dissemination of their sources, efficient and in-depth research of chant has not been easy. These difficulties have forced researchers to develop new tools and methods; it is this that has led us to create Sequentia, an online database involving scholars from three French research organizations, and steered by an international group of scholars.7

2.2 Our principal interest is ecclesiastic chant, an expression that was in use throughout the early modern era, albeit with changing meanings. “Ecclesiastic chant” is used here to designate all the sung forms used in the divine service, encompassing such categories as revised chant, neo-gallican chant, new ecclesiastic chant, plains-chants musicaux, metric chant, and fauxbourdon. “Early modern era” here corresponds with the emergence of new cantorial practices linked to the publication of liturgical books issued by the Council of Trent (the Roman breviary, missal, pontifical, and ceremonial). This period extends from the beginning of the Counter-Reformation until around 1840–1850, when several projects for the revision of Gregorian chant began, in particular those of the Benedictines at Solesmes.

2.3 The sources given priority for indexing in Sequentia are books of liturgical chant (antiphonaries, graduals, processionals, hymnals, Directorium chori, and excerpts or combinations of these different books), as well as the parts of other liturgical books (e.g. breviaries, missals, rituals, pontificals)—both printed and in manuscript—that contain chants. The works chosen can be accessed in their entirety or selectively. At present, we are working to make accesible a French version of the Roman repertory, represented by the editions of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers8 (all published in Paris by Ballard): the Gradual romanum (1697), the Antiphonarium romanum (1701), the Processionnale romanum (1723), and the Passions … cum Lamentationibus Jeremiœ … & formulis cantus ordinarii officii divini (1670?, 1683; reprinted in 1684, 1698, 1719, 1723, 1741). The Graduale romanum is now entirely accessible, with more than 1,000 musical works. The Antiphonarium romanum will be put online next.

2.4 No reference works exist for chant from Europe in general during this period, although this French corpus (antiphonary, gradual, processional) was widely dispersed. We intend to complement it with another body of printed Roman chant that circulated widely in Europe throughout the early modern era; for that, we envision indexing editions of chant from Venice or Antwerp. After that, Sequentia will be in a position to offer comparative data of interest to a larger number of scholars, including those who work on other bodies of chant, whether national, diocesan, or monastic. To the books of Roman chant listed above will be added the chants of the Missale romanum (Pius V, 1570; Clement VIII, 1604; Urban VIII, 1634), as well as those of the Roman pontifical (Clement VIII, 1595) and ritual (Paul V, 1614), which appeared in the wake of the Council of Trent; additionally, the chants of the Directorium chori of Guidetti (1589, 1618, 1642) will be included.

2.5 Parallel to these first two relatively general and complete bodies of chant, other French sources will be included (sources that will be individual research projects):

Collections of so-called plain-chants musicaux (such as the Masses in plain-chant musical by Henri Du Mont)

Collections of new chant, notably those of the Oratorians of Pierre de Bérulle and the nuns of Val-de-Grâce

Parisian chant from diverse periods, such as that of Martin Sonnet (1660s), Claude Chastelain (1680s and 1690s), and Jean Lebeuf (1730s and 1740s)

Chants composed for new offices in various Parisian parishes

Collections of fauxbourdons, such as those published by Ballard in Les Hymnes sacrez, odes, et noels pour chanter au Catechisme … avec plusieurs excellens faux-bourdons sur les huict Tons (1623) and by Hérissant in Faux-bourdons pour les fêtes solemnelles (1777)

3. What Sequentia Offers

3.1 Sequentia offers a summary description of liturgical books and a thesaurus of liturgical feasts, but also some details that have not yet been developed in existing databases of liturgical chant:9

A description of musical pieces contained in the sources, taking into account the following elements: text incipit, possible author of the text, musical incipit or psalmodic formula, descriptions of the mode and ambitus, possible author of the melody, location within the liturgy (feast, office, rubric), type of piece, and location within the source

A facsimile of each piece

The ability to compare the different musical settings of each text

A searchable transcription of the complete text

The ability to extract a complete table of contents for the source

The potential of reconstituting the order of an office contained in a source

4. The Entries for the Sources and the Liturgical Texts

4.1 The sources are described in the database as in the following example:


Graduale romanum juxta Missale sacro-sancti concilii Tridentini et S. Pii quinti pontificis maximi authoritate editum. Cujus antiquus Ecclesiae cantus gregorianus è puro fonte Romano elicitus accuratè notatur

Titre uniforme

Graduel romain, Nivers, 1697


[as needed]

Lieu de conservation

Collection privée

Auteur(s) intellectuel(s)

Nivers, Guillaume-Gabriel




Autres personnes : Henri Du Mont et Pierre Robert ; voir Image jointe des pièces liminaires


1697 (édition) ; réédition : C. Ballard ou N. Pepie, 1706

Imprimeur ou éditeur

Christophe Ballard (imprimeur et éditeur), ou Pierre Hérissant, ou R. et N. Pepie

Lieu d’édition


4.2 Explanation of the example:

Titre, Titre-uniforme (Title, Uniform Title) The title is a literal transcription of the original title, unlike the uniform title that follows; the latter is used for all internal operations in the database.

Cote, Lieu de conservation (Shelf Number and Location of the Source) These refer to the exemplar of the source that was used for indexing and for photo reproduction.

Auteurs(s) intellectuel(s) (Intellectual Author(s)) This refers to the people, whose names do not always appear on the title page, who were responsible for the version presented in the edition under consideration.

Commentaire (Commentary) Commentaries can be of any type: a listing of any preliminary pages (preface, dedication, avertissement, etc.), dates of the registration of the printing privilege of the edition; a cursory comparison of various editions of the same work, etc. Facsimiles of preliminary pages are linked.

Date The first date listed refers to the exemplar inventoried in Sequentia, followed by the dates of the first and and later editions; these suggest the chronological range of the practice associated with this source.

4.3 Each source is linked to notes describing the texts that it contains in the categories shown below:

Incipit texte

Gaudete in Domino

Auteur texte

[as needed]


Gaudete in Domino semper iterum dico gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus Dominus enim prope est nihil soliciti sitis sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum

Ps. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

V. Gloria

Notes texte

[as needed]

4.4 Explanation of the example:

Incipit texte (Text Incipit) The list of all the text incipits in Sequentia is created and managed so that a single incipit corresponds with only one text. For this we have adopted a proven classic system: where similar incipits exist, each is continued up until the first element that distinguishes one from the other (e.g., Benedicam Dominum qui tribuit, which differs from Benedicam Dominum in omni). If the distinction is not reached until further into the text, an elipsis is used: Simile est … fermento differs from Simile est … grano. The complete list of text incipits in Sequentia is brought up to date regularly in PDF format, and is among the complementary tools available on the home page.

Auteur texte (Author of the Text) Because the database includes the authors of numerous neo-Latin texts composed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the name of the author of a particular text can be searched.

Textes (Texts) The texts are transcribed in full into the database, allowing a search of all the words. The transcription of the text takes into account such formal elements as the symbols or words that denote repetition (e.g. répons).

Notes texte (Notes on the Text) This field allows for pointing out minor variants among the sources, or providing other comments on the text.

5. The Entries for the Musical Pieces

5.1 The musical settings of each text are linked to the text field, and it is possible to search them directly, without making a new request. The entries are constructed as in this example:

Incipit musique [musical incipit numerically encoded, not indexed at this time] Formule [as needed] Mode: 1er ton Indication mode: non Finale: ré Ambitus: la1-mi3 (R: la1-la2; V: do2-mi3) Note(s) altérée(s): sib (1: V.) Incipit texte: Universi qui te expectant Genre: graduel Office: messe Calendrier: Avent, dimanche 1 Source: Graduel romain, Nivers, 1697 Pages: 5 (1) Rubrique: Dominica prima adventus, ad missam Numéro: Graduel, Nivers 1697, Avent, dim. 1-01 Commentaire pièces: [as needed] Voir l’image

5.2 The sample piece corresponds to this text:


Universi qui te expectant




Universi qui te expectant non confundentur Domine

V. Vias tuas Domine notas fac mihi & seminas tuas edoce me

5.3 Explanation of the example:

Incipit musique (musical incipit), Formule These fields encode the musical incipits in numbers, permitting searches and the verification of melodies through cross-checking. Although not now indexed online, this field will soon be used for indexing a body of plains-chants musicaux through coded intervals; we have waited to include this feature in the expectation of more advanced techniques of melodic recognition. The formula field is used for the encoding of formulas of psalm terminations, which will be transcribed in full into the database.

To permit a finely delineated search for modes, a variable issue in the early modern era, five fields are dedicated to indexing the modal description:

Mode, Indication mode (Modal Indication) The mode of each piece is systematically indexed. To take into account the complexity of the notion of mode and the multiplicity of modern views on it, the field Indication mode shows whether the mode is specified in the source (indicated by the response “oui”), or if it has been assigned by the person who entered the data (indicated by the response “non”).

Finale (Final), Ambitus, Note(s) altérée(s) (Altered Notes) These complementary fields are used to describe more precisely the objective elements of each piece and to offer a greater number of ways to search the database.

Calendrier (Liturgical Calendar) This field locates the item within the liturgical year,10 according to the index of feasts of the Antiphonarium monasticum of Solesmes. The Proper of the Time is classified by liturgical season, then by liturgical event: thus, the third Sunday after Pentecost would be indexed “Pentecostes, dominica 03.” For the feasts of saints (Proper or Common of Saints), the name of the saint or of the group of saints is indexed, supplemented as needed by their categories (martyr, virgin, pope, etc.), in order to distinguish between two saints with the same name—“Stephani protomartyr” is thus differentiated from “Stephani papae et martyr.” The octave of a feast is taken into account: “Stephani protomart., octave.”

Pages The page numbers are given for every item.

Rubrique (Rubric) This provides any indications of the order of the liturgy as it appears in the source.

Commentaire pièce (Comments on the Piece) This is used for miscellaneous comments.

Voir l’image A facsimile of each piece is accessible in a Web format by clicking on “Voir l'image” (see the facsimile). This image can be printed out.

5.4 Each piece is linked to the page describing its text, but also to the page describing the source, each of which can be consulted without beginning a new search request. The page describing the piece’s source can be viewed by clicking on the appropriate link, e.g., Fiche du document Graduel romain Nivers 1697.

5.5 The database is designed to be able to respond to requests pertaining to each of the main categories (sources, texts, musical pieces) and their fields. A search can be launched for any part of a text (letters or numbers) indexed by any item in a pre-established list.

6. Complementary Tools

6.1 The following complementary tools are downloadable as PDF files from the home page:

A list of sources that have been indexed or are presently being indexed A complete table of contents of each source (a list of musical pieces) A list of text incipits indexed in Sequentia, noting when it was last updated The order of individual offices A list of publications linked to and published by Sequentia A bibliography of complementary research tools (catalogues, links to other sites or databases, etc.).

7. Online Publication of Articles

7.1 We also plan to publish online (as PDF files) articles that are related to Sequentia’s database. They will provide information concerning plainchant or liturgy that has not found a place in the Sequentia database. This data—proposed and presented by scholars—could be of a diverse nature; for example:

Representative extracts from plainchant treatises or methods by various authors, especially concerning essential points such as the principals of composition or adaptation of plainchant, notation and its significance, or the modal conception of an individual author; examples already accessible on the website concern the Dissertation sur le chant grégorien of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers (by Cécile Davy-Rigaux), as well as the Traité théorique et pratique de plain-chant appelé grégorien by the abbé Léonard Poisson, and the Traité historique et pratique sur le chant ecclésiastique of abbé Jean Lebeuf (by Xavier Bisaro)

Specific data concerning plainchant sources for which a complete index is not planned at this time; an example can be seen on the website, dealing with the liturgical calendars of books from various French dioceses (by Xavier Bisaro)

7.2 As can be seen in the examples presently accessible in Sequentia, we wish these different types of data to be accompanied by scholarly commentary. The articles are signed by their authors. Proposals for publication by Sequentia will be will peer-reviewed, and the procedures for submission will be posted on the home page.

8. Conclusion

8.1 As a research tool, Sequentia provides several possibilities:

Comparisons of sources, from the standpoint of the liturgical texts and/or the musical pieces they contain

Uncovering new original chants

Identification of liturgical texts, or fragments of texts

Identification of canti firmi

Identification and dating of manuscripts

Finding the liturgical contexts of a text or a piece of music

Study of methods of composition or the adaptation of melodies

Study of the circulation of melodies and various types of borrowings

Study of the types of notation used and their significance

Study of various approaches to modality

8.2 Although these kinds of research are primarily the concern of specialists in liturgical chant, they could also interest musicologists or musicians working in other areas of religious music (researching texts and their liturgical occurrences), specialists in neo-Latin literature, historians interested in the liturgy, or liturgists interested in its history.

8.3 The examples accessible at this time—as well as those planned for indexing in the near future—concern the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church, simply because that is the field of the designers of the database. However, it is possible to use the it for ecclesiastic melodies of other sects (we are thinking particularly of the Protestant and Anglican traditions). Similarly, even though Sequentia is dedicated principally to chant books, it will not be limited to them; indeed, its format can be used for analyzing other liturgical books—notably breviaries and missals—and more generally for any book with liturgical texts.

8.4 Because we have a strong interest in advancing the study of European chant of the early modern era, we offer free access to Sequentia to scholars, researchers, and students. Sequentia offers a gathering place dedicated to navigating the study of early modern liturgy and plainchant in its diverse forms, whether at the headwaters of research (through the database), within its main current (the publication of documents), or arriving at the end (through the publication of articles). Researchers and students in diverse disciplines—musicologists, musicians, those interested in literature, historians, and liturgists—are welcome here.


* Nathalie Berton (berton.blivet@wanadoo.fr) is a research technologist at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (CMBV) and a scholar associated with the Institut de Recherche sur le Patrimoine Musical en France (IRPMF). Her work centers around the study of religious music in France during the ancien régime. She has designed for Philidor—the database of the CMBV—a catalogue of petits motets published in France between 1647 and 1789, which she is completing through the addition of manuscript collections and other significant sources of petits motets. Her doctoral dissertation was on the petit opéra in France (1668–1723), and she has edited grands motets by Henry Du Mont and a petit opéra by Henry Desmarest, La Diane de Fontainebleau.

Cécile Davy-Rigaux (davy-rigaux.cnrs@bnf.fr) holds a doctorate in musicology and is a scholar for the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at the IRPMF in Paris. She is the assistant general editor of the Opera omnia of Jean-Philippe Rameau and directs research into chant in France during the early modern era. She is also the author of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers: un art du chant grégorien sous le règne de Louis XIV (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2004).

Deborah Kauffman (deborah.kauffman@unco.edu) is Associate Professor of music history and literature at the University of Northern Colorado and the editor of the Journal of Musicological Research. Her research has focused on French Baroque sacred music, and she wrote her dissertation on the music composed for the Maison Royale de Saint-Louis at Saint-Cyr. She is the editor of Petits Motets from the Royal Convent School at Saint-Cyr (A-R Editions, 2001), and has published articles in Early Music and Performance Practice Review.

1 See Jean Duron, ed., Plain-chant et liturgie en France au XVIIe siècles (Versailles: CMBV, 1997); Thomas F. Kelly, ed., Plainsong in the Age of Polyphony, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); and Denise Launay, La musique religieuse en France du Concile de Trente à 1804 (Paris: Société Française de Musicologie, 1993).

2 See Marco Gozzi, ed., Le Fonti liturgiche a stampa della Biblioteca musicale L. Feininger presso il Castello del Buonconsiglio di Trento, catalogo (Trent: Provincia autonoma di Trento, 1994); Danilo Curti and Marco Gozzi, eds., Musica e liturgia nella riforma Tridentina, catalogo (Trent: Provincia autonoma di Trento, 1995); and Giulio Cattin, Danilo Curti, and Marco Gozzi, eds., Il canto piano nell’era della stampa: atti del convegno internationale di studi sul canto liturgico nei secoli XV-XVIII (1998) (Trent: Provincia autonoma di Trento, 1999).

3 See, for example, Élisabeth Gallat-Morin and Jean-Pierre Pinson, eds., La Vie musicale en Nouvelle-France (Sillery, Québec: Septentrion, 2003).

4 For example, Bonifacio Giacomo Baroffio, “La tradizione musicale del canto gregoriano delle cappelle Sistina e Giulia nel XVI e XVII secolo” in La cappella musicale nell’Italia della Controriforma, ed. Laura Galbiati (Florence: Olschki, 1993), 105–10.

5 See, for example, Cécile Davy-Rigaux, Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, un art du chant grégorien sous le règne de Louis XIV (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2004); as well as articles by Bonifacio Giacomo Baroffio, Jean Lionnet, and Paola Besutti in Palestrina e la sua presenza nella musica e nella cultura europea dal suo tempo ad oggi, Lino Bianchi and Giancarlo Rostirolla, eds. (Palestrina: Centro di Studi Palestriniani, 1991); and by Jean-Yves Hameline in Henry Dumont à Versailles (Versailles: CMBV, 1992) and in Sébastien de Brossard musicien, ed. Jean Duron (Versailles: CMBV, 1998).

6 See Marie-Noël Colette, “Permanence et changement: l’étude de répertoires anciens, peut-elle reposer sur des sources récentes?” in Il canto piano nell-era della stampa; as well as Giulio Cattin, Musica e liturgia a San Marco, 4 vols. (Venezia: Fondazione Levi, 1990–1992); and Marcel Pérès and Jacques Cheyronnaud, Les voix du plain-chant (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2002).

7 Sequentia is maintained under the auspices of the Institut de Recherche sur le Patrimoine Musical en France (IRPMF), a research organization supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), with offices at the Music Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The online address for Sequentia is http://sequentia.lri.fr. The following list shows the organization of its administration.

Concept and Content: Nathalie Berton (Associate Scholar at IRPMF) Cécile Davy-Rigaux (IRPMF) Deborah Kauffman (University of Northern Colorado)

Realization and Information Technology: Philippe Rigaux (Université Paris-Dauphine)

Collaborator: David Penot (IRPMF Associate)

Advisory Committee: Xavier Bisaro (Université de Rennes) Florence Gétreau (IRPMF) Jean-Yves Hameline (Université Catholique de Paris) Philippe Vendrix (Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours)

8 Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers (ca. 1632–1714) was the organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris and the Chapelle Royale in Versailles, and maître de chant of the royal convent school of Saint-Louis at Saint-Cyr. In the 1680s he was charged with creating a revision of Roman chant that could could be used throughout France.

9 For bibliography, see Chant Bibliography. The vast majority of these databases are concerned with the Middle Ages. The only one relevant to the Renaissance (RELICS) indexes printed liturgical books. No database deals with the liturgical music of the Baroque era. For those that deal with liturgical chant, the music itself often remains secondary. Rare are those that offer encoded musical incipits; for example, the principal interest of Medieval Music and Hymn Melodies (part of the Cantus Planus web site) is the liturgical text. Alhough a few databases that deal with liturgical chant offer a detailed musical approach—such as Hymn Melodies, which features a double classification by musical incipit and final of each piece—others privilege the text and its place in the liturgical calendar by indexing, for example, text incipits, feasts, and ceremonies; databases that index by the type of text include the Antiphonale Missarum Sextuplex and the Chartres Missal (both at the Cantus Planus site).

10 Feasts and names are given in Latin, in order to facilitate international access and to avoid problems of translation—e.g., Stephani is Etienne in French, and Stephen in English.


Figure 1. Nivers, Graduale romanum (1697), p. 5.

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