I understand both belong to the plainchant class of music from the pre-Renaissance period. However, I am not sure if they differ in any identifiable way. I have also heard the term Roman chant being used but I suppose that's just synonymous with Gregorian chant.

Here are two different pieces I listened to (off YouTube) for reference:

  1. Kyrie
  2. Dies Irae

The guys who have posted the videos on YouTube have described the Kyrie as Gothic chant and the Dies Irae as Gregorian. To my ears though, they hardly seem different in character. How do I tell them apart?

2 Answers 2


I don't know a huge amount about plainsong however I can think of a couple of possibilities. The first thing to note is that there are definitely some differences between the two videos you post: the Kyrie has elements of polyphony whilst the Dies Irae seems to be mostly in unison.

Gothic could refer to the specific period between the 9th and 14th centuries http://www.mfiles.co.uk/classical-periods.htm#Medieval

Looking at the comment on the Kyrie video, 'Organum Era Notre Dame School' it seems we are dealing with a specific type of plainsong, Organum. Organum means plainsong with additional voices to add to the harmony. The dates for when Organum music was developed roughly coincide with the Gothic period.

The wiki page for the Notre Dame School and this page are both informative too.

Note also that there is such a thing as 'Visigothic' or Mozarabic Chant, but this is a different style that developed on the Iberian Peninsula. Compare this clip to the ones you posted:


Indeed they are similar! That particular Kyrie is called Cunctípotens Génitor Deus, one of many Kyries in Gregorian chant.

What they did, back in the Middle Ages, was borrow it from Gregorian chant, slow it way down, and resurface it with a second voice in a medieval improvization technique called organum, a well-known feature of Notre Dame polyphony, as Christophe mentioned. If you reverse the process by speeding up the Kyrie recording fast enough, the lower voice will sound nearly identical to this chant.

Organum is considered accompaniment, so it does not technically classify as plainsong, though it is based upon the same. While there are simpler organal accompaniments in 9th and 10th century Gregorian chant, the more florid "Gothic" Kyrie leans far closer to the polyphonic side of the spectrum. Keep in mind, at the time it was composed, plain vs. polyphonic was not a hard and fast division between genres, but rather just a simple matter of whether the cantors felt like spontaneously improving the music that day in church.

The term "Gothic chant" appears to be novel. I could trace it only back to Callixtinus' YouTube channel. I wouldn't be surprised if the term originated there. A web search reveals it hasn't been used in any context that wasn't influenced by Ensemble Organum's popularity on the web.

By the way, yes, Roman chant is synonymous with Gregorian chant ... most of the time.

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