Lectures on Gregorian Chant

Dr. DiCenso is occasionally available by invitation to lecture on matters related to Gregorian chant, the Medieval Latin Liturgy, and other related subjects.  Please use the form below to inquire about a booking.

Sample Lecture Topics

1. Introduction to Gregorian Chant

In August 2008, London based Universal Records—home to artists such as Amy Winehouse, Bryan Adams and Eminem—released an album of Gregorian chant that took the music world by storm, reaching number one on both the pop and classical charts—even spending two months on the coveted “UK top 20.”  In Austria, the album was only displaced from its number-one spot when the rock band Coldplay released its new album later that same year.  Around the world, the monks have sold more CDs in one go than the most recent releases by Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, and 50 cent—combined.  

Hard to believe it, but Gregorian chant is everywhere in our modern lives: in church and at the concert hall, yes, but also in yoga class, at the movies, on the radio, on YouTube, in video games—even at bars and night clubs.  But what is Gregorian chant?  Where did Gregorian chant come from?  Who composed chant and for whom was it composed?  What was—and what is—the function of Gregorian chant with regard to music, worship and theology?  How, exactly, does chant continue to communicate notions of identity, spirituality, conflict, and power thousands of years after its composition?  How has Gregorian chant managed to persist and survive over a thousand years?  In this lecture you will come to understand Gregorian chant from its beginnings in the Early Christian era all the way to the present day. 

2. When Music Was First Written Down: One the Orgins of Gregorian Chant in the Early Middle Ages

For generations, musicologists have striven to pin down the origins of Gregorian Chant: Where did the chant originate geographically? When did the Gregorian melodies take their definitive form? What role did the invention of musical notation play in stabilizing the melodies and in communicating the chant from one place to another? 

Drawing on his first hand examination of every known source of chant for the Mass before the year 1000, Prof. DiCenso will offer a fresh look at the moment when music was first written down--demonstrating how books without musical notation may have been as important as musical notation itself in tethering sound to the written page during the early Middle Ages.  The talk will draw from the earliest sources of chant for the Mass and will feature several never-before-seen images of 8th and 9th century manuscripts from Prof. DiCenso's recent archival work in Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland.

3. Gregorian Chant and the Authority of Rome: The Story of an Overlooked Italian Source from ca. 850

Gregorian chant is the earliest repertory of Western music to have been systematically preserved in writing.  For this reason, the repertory is regarded as the starting point for most narrative histories of Western music.  Though sources show that the Gregorian repertory had become the dominant form of chant across most of Europe by the beginning of the tenth century, chant scholars have famously disagreed about how and when Gregorian chant achieved its ubiquity and exactly whence it came.  Working directly with the sources of chant that survive from the Carolingian era--and especially with one overlooked source from the north of Italy surviving from ca. 850--Prof. DiCenso has come to conclude not only that we have the wrong date in mind for the establishment of the Gregorian repertory, but also that we have wrongly conceived of the historical circumstances that led to the writing down of an authoritative "Roman" chant repertory in the first place.  This research raises serious questions about how, when, and why "Roman" song became so popular in places far removed from the Eternal City in the early Middle Ages.

Additional Lecture Topics

  • Charlemagne, Gregorian Chant and Empire
  • The Carolingian Liturgical Reforms
  • History of Liturgical Books
  • Teaching Chant as "Popular Music"
  • Saving the Middle Ages: Why Undergraduates Need Medieval Studies
  • Chant and Liturigical Reform: Then and Now
  • On the Reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass
  • Gregorian Chant and the Poliltics of Latin Liturgy
  • The Place of of Chant in the Curricula of Catholic Colleges and Universities in the Present Day

© Daniel J. DiCenso 2018