I have been singing this Pater Noster: Pater Noster

Before Pater Noster starts we have the Oremus. Let's assume that C is Do. Then the recitation notes, we have two, would be A and B. This seems strange to me. The finalis would be A.

When Pater Noster starts the recitation note would be B and G the finalis. Then at "sed libera..." we have the same finalis but go back to A as the recitation note.

In another sheet music for this melody we have something, what I think, is a bit strange going on. enter image description here

This version seems to assume C as Do. If so, then they have changed the melody. If they assume Bb as Do they would have two flats instead of just one. This is strange. It thought it was in some kind of Lydian mode before I saw the Gregorian sheet music. The melody does sound more major than minor.

How do I figure out what mode this Pater Noster is in?

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    I don't have a definitive answer. But I am confused by your confusion about the sheet music. What do you mean by "This version seems to assume C as Do. If so, then they have changed the melody"? They are clearly taking Bb for the original keynote, and the melody is unchanged. They have made a decision to harmonise the melody using E naturals instead of Eb's. As a practical choice catering for modern ears this seems reasonable since the melody sits comfortably in F major, and feels more awkward to harmonise with Eb's (although you could do a version which avoids E's altogether). Jul 12, 2023 at 12:07
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    @PiedPiper this question is much less basic than "What key is this song in?". Jul 12, 2023 at 12:38
  • @JamesMartin in the terminology of Solesmes, for example in the US edition of the Liber usualis, the C clef is the Doh clef and pitch is explicitly relative. Thus, putting the chant into modern notation where the "doh clef" is C -- in other words, without transposition -- may be called "using C for doh." Since the modern arrangement shown here has transposed it down a whole step ("use B flat for doh"), one would indeed normally expect two flats in the signature, but as you note it's quite natural to use the one-flat signature because of considerations of harmony and tonality.
    – phoog
    Jul 12, 2023 at 13:05
  • I thought it was Lydian since it had Mi as the recitation note. Jul 12, 2023 at 16:39
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    It closely resembles Psalm Tone 1 but notated up a step. Normally that tone would begin F-G-A, mediant G-Bb-A-G-A, final A-G-F-G-A-A. Psalm tone 1 matches with mode 1 but they are not the same thing. Not every chant is in a mode. Mode is mostly helpful for matching chants with antiphons, which you wouldn't need to do here. Jul 12, 2023 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


Consensus online seems to be that it is very early chant, which explains its lack of compliance with the usual description of the medieval ecclesiastical modes. The closest fit is hypomixolydian, since the final is G and the melody ranges below the final. This would normally mean a reciting tone of C, but here we have a reciting tone of A. Well, this won't be the last time that a theoretical framework fails to describe a piece of music.

The fact that a modern harmonization has transposed it down a whole step but harmonized it in F instead of B flat doesn't have any bearing on the modal analysis of the melody in medieval theory. Had the original melody included some Fs the arranger might have made a different choice, but as noted by James Martin in the comments, harmonizing this chant tonally is natural for modern ears (and a tendency to raise the leading tone in the mixolydian and hypomixolydian modes was one of the forces leading toward the development of tonality).

Speaking of that, there is no such thing as do in medieval music theory. I am not an expert in solmization, but the entire tune fits in the hard hexachord except for that one E, so that would mean that the initial A of the oremus is re with the G of pater being ut, Only the E requires mutation to the natural hexachord, where it is mi. The remainder of the chant requires mutation back to the hard hexachord because of the B.

By the 19th century, church musicians were using modern solfège syllables, where C is do and B is si, so in this sense "fixed do," but the pitch was not absolute, so in that sense "movable do."

  • In Gregorian chant notation we have a Fa clef and a Do clef. We really do! And yes, the A would be Re as you said. Jul 12, 2023 at 16:32
  • It is also interesting to note that we have some chants with only three notes. The theory of church modes do not seem to be made with those in mind. So standard theory can be problematic in certain cases? Jul 12, 2023 at 17:09
  • @harryjansson the Do and Fa clefs are originally C and F clefs, which is why they have the shape of those letters. The idea of calling them Do and Fa clefs could not have arisen before the late Renaissance. (And in medieval theory, C could be ut, fa, or sol, while F could be ut or fa.) Whether modal ambiguity of a melody is problematic is a matter of opinion. It's also not possible to say whether such a melody is in a major or minor key in modern tonal practice.
    – phoog
    Jul 12, 2023 at 17:27
  • Or before the 18th century in fact, if Wikipedia is to be believed about the timing of the invention of si.
    – phoog
    Jul 12, 2023 at 17:54
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    I also came up with Mixolydian. On further examination, the first part uses A as a reciting tone and the latter part uses B (and a bit of A). Chants with more than one reciting tone sometimes are just called "Tonus Perigrinus." ( Falcon Tone and his brother Franchet?) I don't know if the "Wandering Tone" is a cop-out or if one could analyzing parts of the chant as transposed.
    – ttw
    Jul 12, 2023 at 18:34

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