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MS Florence 2794


Gregorius presul meritis 3v · Anonymous


*Florence 2794 ff. 1v-3 »[G]regorius [presul meritis]« 3v (unicum) · Edition

This text and the edition are also available in a separate PDF-version.

Text: Trope (introduction) to Introitus “Ad te levavi” (Dominica Prima Adventus); sources (10th-16th centuries) and text, see AH49 1906, pp. 19-20:

Gregorius presul meritis et nomine dignus
unde genus ducit summum conscendit honorem;

renovavit monumenta patrum priorum,
tunc composuit hunc libellum musice artis
schole cantorum anni circuli.
Eia dic, domine, eia:

[Ad te levavi animam meam … (Introitus)]

Gregory, principal by merits and dignified by name,
there from where his lineage originated,
                   he achieved the highest honour;
he renewed the monuments of earlier fathers,
and composed this little book of musical art
for the school of singers for the cycle of the year.
Eia sing to the Lord, eia:

Evaluation of the sources:

The unique source, Florence 2794, gives as its only indication of a text the incomplete word “Regorius” in the “Tenor”. George Morton Jones identified in his description of the manuscript this incipit as the first word of the trope “Gregorius presul meritis”, which functions as an introduction to the Introit “Ad te levavi” for the first Sunday of Advent, and he established that the plainchant of the trope is heard in long note values in the tenor. (1)

This chant setting was surely meant as the opening piece of the music collection. The main scribe made spaces in all three voices for big illuminated letters, which should have the height of two musical staves. These letters were like all the other intended decorative letters in the MS never executed, and the scribe never got around to write in the text or correct the details of notation, and he left this and other pieces unfinished along with many empty pages. Especially his notation of hexachordal signatures is inconsistent. All three voices have from the start a one-flat signature, but it soon disappears in the upper voice on the first opening (ff. 1v-2), and likewise in the last staff of the contratenor. In return, the superius’ two last staves on the page have flats on the third line (for e’ – bb. 55-72), which indicate that the flat for b’ is valid all the way through. On the second opening (ff. 2v-3) none of the voices show any flats.

The edition’s reconstruction of the text underlay follows Analecta hymnica; in the 6th line most sources have “Eia dic, domne, dic”, but the setting clearly uses the three-syllable “domine”.

Comments on text and music:

This tribute to Pope Gregory I, which underpins the myth of Gregory as the creator of the yearly cycle of plainchant, was introduced into the liturgy during the Carolingian era, and it appears in a respectable number of early sources of French and Italian origin. (2) In the 15th and 16th centuries the trope appears in many Bohemian sources, (3) and this fact has induced the conclusion that the trope at that time had become a Bohemian speciality retaining an important role in the Utraquist liturgy. (4) However, according to Analecta hymnica missels printed in Paris and Lyons after 1500 still included this trope (AH49 1906, p. 20). But why this tune turns up in a motet at the opening of a chansonnier, which most probably was made around 1480 by a scribe connected to the French court chapel, is difficult to figure out. After probably losing his patron who had commissioned a chansonnier, the main scribe sought to make it more attractive to different customers by adding first a new gathering of folios containing two attractive four-part motets by Compere and Ockeghem (fasc. 2); and finally, he added a new opening gathering (fasc. 1), in which he started to enter “Gregorius presul meritis” (see further The French musical manuscript in Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, Ms. 2794, and the ‘Loire Valley’ Chansonniers). It is conceivable that it was planned as a sort of “dedication” piece, as a musicians’ motet, a tribute to music and the collegium of musicians rather than Pope Gregory. It is remarkable that only when the tune reaches the words “musice artis” in bars 92-96 the setting becomes declamatory chordal.

The tenor carries a tune, which – without being identical – is easily recognisable as related to the tunes published by Bruno Stäblein after 12th-century liturgical books from Nevers and Chartres (Stäblein 1968, pp. 557-558). < It is rhythmized in long note values, but becomes freely melismatic at the end. While all sources for the tune give it in Mixolydian mode with B and E naturals appearing at crucial spots, it is here by the addition of a one flat key signature (and the consequent flattening all the tune's top notes) transformed into G-Dorian, which completely changes its character.

The setting is varied with lively counter-voices after the spacious opening, where the outer voices imitate the tune’s rising fourth. Two-part passages alternate with three-part; there is a passage in sesquialtera (bb. 37-42); important words are emphasised by homorhythm and fermatas (“musice artis”, see above, and bb. 109-112 “Eia dic”); and the texture is enlivened by snippets of imitation on motives from the plainchant (bb. 53-55, 61-65 (S-T), and 75-80) and the concluding octave canon between superius and tenor (bb. 122-127).

As mentioned, the main scribe of Florence 2794 did not finish his work on this motet. We cannot know whether the text he used was in fact the old trope or a new one, changed in order to honour a possible receiver of the manuscript or a contemporary musician – maybe with a different text in the upper voice. The leader of the court chapel, Johannes Ockeghem, could be a candidate for praise as the father of modern music!

PWCH May 2012, revised December 2018

1) George Morton Jones, The “First” Chansonnier of the Biblioteca Riccardiana, Codex 2794: A Study in the Method of Editing of 15th Century Music. PhD-dissertation, New York University 1972, Vol. I, p. 93.

2) For the early sources, see Ritva Jonsson (ed.), Corpus troporum I. Tropes du propre de la messe 1, Cycle de Noël (Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia XXI), Stockholm 1976, p. 102; concerning the Gregory-myth, see Bruno Stäblein, ‘‚‚Gregorius praesul”, der Prolog zum römischen Antiphonale’, in Richard Baum & Wolfgang Rehm (eds.), Musik und Verlag. Karl Vötterle zum 65. Geburtstag am 13. April 1968. Kassel 1968, pp. 537-561, and James W. McKinnon, ‘Gregorius Presul Composuit Hunc Libellum Musicae Artis’, in Thomas J. Hefferman & E. Ann Matter (eds.), The Liturgy of the Medieval Church. Kalamazoo M.I. 2001 (2nd ed. 2005), pp. 613-632.

3) Cf. Andreas Haug, Troparia tardiva. Repertorium später Tropenquellen aus dem deutschsprachigen Raum (Monumenta monodica medii aevi – Subsidia, I), Kassel (Bärenreiter) 1995, pp. 56-57 and 83-86.

4) David R. Holeton, Hana Vlhová-Wörner & Milena Bílková, ‘The Trope Gregorius presul meritis in Bohemian Tradition: Its Origins, Development, Liturgical Function and Illustration’, (Bohemian Reformation and Religious Practice, Volume 6), Prague 2007, pp. 215-246 ( proceedings/brrp6/holeton_et_al.pdf - accessed February 2012): “Like the Gregorian attribution in the Sacramentary, over time the attribution Gregorius presul in the Gradual also ceased to be transcribed and, after 1100, had virtually disappeared from new graduals except in Bohemia where the text came to take on an independent life and formed a part of the rich liturgical life that characterised the Prague use of the Roman rite.” (p. 222) “Because it is at this very time the tradition of including this chant at the beginning of the mass for Advent Sunday disappeared almost completely from the European liturgical repertory outside Bohemia.” (p. 223) “If the non-Bohemian sources reflect the real state of the liturgical repertory in other European regions, Prague would have been the only place where Gregory the Great was still proclaimed as the author of the chant repertory for the whole liturgical year long after the practice had ceased elsewhere.” (p. 227).